Thou shall not read

via The Guardian, ‘Oral sex’ definition prompts dictionary ban in US schools

Dictionaries have been removed from classrooms in southern California schools after a parent complained about a child reading the definition for “oral sex”.

Merriam Webster’s 10th edition, which has been used for the past few years in fourth and fifth grade classrooms (for children aged nine to 10) in Menifee Union school district, has been pulled from shelves over fears that the “sexually graphic” entry is “just not age appropriate”, according to the area’s local paper.

Story time: when I was eight, I was a “disruptive child” at school. I got bored easily, talked too much in class, etc. My parents were offered the chance to make me skip a grade or two but they declined. They wanted me to grow up with a group of peers. I am grateful because even though I got easily bored, they also offered me unlimited access to books, reading materials, extra curricular activities, etc. However, I was also told I had to be respectful of other people and be silent during class. That didn’t always happen and my parents were often called to school about my lack of discipline. Frustrated after being called for the nth time, my father decided on a novel approach to “punishment”. Instead of writing “You shall not talk in class” a hundred times (a typical method of discipline back then), I was handed a blank notebook and the Larousse Spanish Language dictionary (fully illustrated in color!). My task from that moment on was to “copy the dictionary”. I was supposed to transcribe it in its entirety. Needless to say, that never happened. I think I never went further than words starting with “ac”. However, this is what did happen: after I ran out of “dirty words” to look up (my eight year old smut vocabulary was somehow limited), I started reading the dictionary. More specifically, I started reading the encyclopedic entries about places, authors, biographies, distant locations. I also fell in love with language and the capabilities of language to tell stories. To this day, I see that “punishment” as seminal to the person I became.

Had my parents been scared of my reading the definition of sexual acts, I do not know if I would believe in the power of words as strongly as I do now. Had my parents thought I needed to be shielded from a dictionary, I think my world view (which at eight was a view of wonderment and curiosity) would probably be much more limited.

For the past decade and a half I have been making all my content available for free (and never behind a paywall) as an ongoing practice of ephemeral publishing. This site is no exception. If you wish to help offset my labor costs, you can donate on Paypal or you can subscribe to Patreon where I will not be putting my posts behind a lock but you'd be helping me continue making this work available for everyone. Thank you.  Follow me on Twitter for new post updates.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top