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Swords or pistols? or a dictionary?

A  shy student   lost his shyness and  became aggressive in class, questioning me on points of fact every chance he got. I had occasionally  encountered this before. It was demoralizing and terrifying when you weren’t sure of what you were doing.

However, I pretty much knew what I was doing. Well,  in Latin, anyway.  Ok , I knew more than they did.  Alright,  I fake it pretty well.  When a kid asked why I didn’t know what a Latin word meant, I hauled out the BIG Merriam Webster English dictionary.

“ You know all the words in here, right?  Well, how about half?  Ten pages? Hey, isn’t English  your native tongue?  You don’t know all the words?”

But this kid challenged me on more than just word meanings. Sometimes it was grammar, mythology,or the time of day. It annoyed the other kids after awhile.  Finally one day I wrote my name and his on the board and sectioned it off like a score board, writing my name much larger, of course.

me  him scores

Used this same technique on five year olds. Its very versatile.

He wasn’t the only one who challenged me. (the context in which I use the word challenge is not as in intellectually challenging. More like challenge to a duel. Swords or pistols?)  Another student corrected my pronunciation of a five syllable word, irrevocable.

There was a strained silence in the classroom.   I’m not omniscient. We looked the word up. We were both  wrong.

Often I was grilled on English vocabulary I taught them. They assumed that if they had never heard or read a word, it didn’t exist and I  had just made it up on the spot. So I offered,“You want to bet your grade on it?”

Some poor fool always took me up on it. Dictionaries were tossed through the air.  (My husband once argued with me on misanthrope.  I was right. He was wrong. There was no way to penalize him, though.)

I wrote thirty words on the board. Three of them I made up. They had to identify the fake words.

No one ever thought to actually look the words up.

( I had to check myself. You would be surprised at what is considered a word.)

Kerfuffle  is my favorite real word.  My favorite fake word  is arismatic.


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