Give me information
Give me long distance
Give me heaven...
Give me Webster on the line
I CAN HEAR the Manhattan Transfer singers in my head, calling for Webster. Noah that is, the dictionary guy, the lexicographer. However, he may be busy -- turning over.
It made headlines all over the world. Just about one week ago in California, the unthinkable happened. The Menifee Union School District decided that the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary was unfit for young eyes and it yanked all copies from the shelves of its elementary schools.
Some said a phrase in the dictionary found by an inquisitive student was nasty, racy. The school district called it "age-inappropriate."
LOOK IT UP
The words were: "oral sex." The definition: "oral stimulation of the genitals."
Oh yes, the complaint was from one offended parent. Just one. And 200 years after Noah Webster finished his first American dictionary, the school district started yanking the dictionaries. Ahem, is "yanking" a dirty word? Oh, yes it is! I looked it up -- in the dictionary.
Sixty miles southeast of Los Angeles, Menifee has 9,000 students between kindergarten and 8th grade. After removing the book from all of its elementary schools, the school district formed a committee composed of principals, teachers and parents to read the whole dictionary and determine if it's fit for the kids to read.
With something like 470,000 entries, everyone figured the committee would be busy for some time. But, surprise! It's already come back with a decision to return the dictionary to school shelves.
Anti-censorship and free speech advocates immediately began voicing opinions in the news media.
"If a public school were to remove every book because it contains one word deemed objectionable to some parent, then there would be no books at all in our public libraries," said Peter Scheer, executive director of California First Amendment Coalition, in an interview with the California Press-Enterprise.
PERMISSION SLIP TO READ DICTIONARY
Even though the committee has decided to return the dictionaries to the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, it's not over. Students must take permission slips home for their parents to sign, giving them permission to read the dictionary.
Check out what some other writers say about banning the dictionary in schools:
"uyjhnrtfgcujhmuyjhmnr (That was me slamming my head against the keyboard)" -- Cathal Kelly in the Toronto Star.
"Not to dash any idealism here, but it's highly unlikely that any 10- or 11-year-old average American kid who's in the dark about oral sex will stay that way for long. When entering teenhood, blissful ignorance has a shelf-life much, much shorter then however long it would take to read an entire dictionary. Isn't this the time boys start stashing Playboy?" --Melissa Noble in YourTango .
"The wingnuts are almost always the only ones making noise and that's why they so often seem to get their way. It's time for rational parents to make even more noise that they won't tolerate this kind of misology -- especially from schools." -- Ed Brayton in Dispatches From the Culture Wars.
Misology: hatred of reasoning; the fear/distrust of logic -- just a reminder of the wonders of access to a dictionary.
"Those kids these days! With their sexting and their pregnancy pacts and their dirty book reading. I mean, Jesus, have you taken a look at this thing called Merriam-Webster's 10th edition?" --Mary Elizabeth Williams in salon.com.
Williams made a list of a number of sexually explicit words found in the Merriam-Webster's 10th edition. You may want to read her post -- for research purposes.
Actually, you just might want to pull out your own dictionary from its shelf, instead of using the internet, and feel those tissue-paper thin pages between your fingers and remember those school days when you discovered naughty sex words in Merriam- Webster's Dictionary.
I just did with mine. It had been so long I had to blow dust off the top and the copyright reads "1988." I understand a lot of new words have been added in 22 years.
by Sharon McEachern