Tag Archives: literature

Words Mean Something

I think I may have mentioned before that I am a word lover.  Actually, I’m more of a word freak.  My kids would tell you that I get giddy over recognizing Latin or Greek roots in words.  I love the Word of the Day feature on my homepage.  And I nag the kids in their writing  and speech about choosing their words carefully.  I know that writers can agonize over each word to give their sentences exactly the right tone.

That’s why, why I was outraged to learn that Mark Twain’s most famous works will be revised in a major act of political correctness.  Apparently, a certain Twain scholar has taken it upon himself to replace the “N-word” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer with he word “slave” in a new combined edition of the books.  Also out are the words “Injun Joe” and “half-breed.”    The thinking here is that the new wording will be less offensive to readers so that middle school and high school teachers can begin assigning these classics once again.

Where to begin on what irks me about this English professor and a publisher taking such liberties?  Most obvious is the fact that by changing the dialect and vocabulary of the characters, he is changing the characters themselves.  This is not a matter of translating, say, Chaucer because no one understands Old or Middle English.  This is putting new words in a character’s mouth, words that Twain could have chosen but didn’t.  Mark Twain knew the meaning of the words he chose and used them for a reason.

What I find to be so laughable is this professor’s desire to protect kids from a word that they very likely use themselves or certainly hear repeatedly in the hip-hop music they love.  The “N-word” is routinely tossed about in song lyrics and teenage conversation, especially by the demographic group that would cry offense if someone of another race were to use the word.  That is a garbled, “sensitive” way of saying that it seems it’s OK for black kids to refer to each other as “niggers,” but it is a mortal sin for white kids to use that word.  There, I said it.  I half expect to find the PC police stalking my comment box now and posting hateful messages.  So the word is just fine in song lyrics, but it’s offensive in classic American literature??

Here’s what I find offensive in the so-called “literature” on high school required reading lists: sexually explicit scenes and 4-letter words.  I know a lot of that language is part of kids’ everyday vocabulary; I hear it all the time in the mall or at the library.  But to me, it’s offensive.   I also find detailed descriptions of rape, oral sex, and even consensual sex to be highly inappropriate for high school kids.  Books containing these, however, are forced on kids as “literature” by librarians and English teachers.  Take, for example, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.  It’s very explicit in its description of sexual abuse.  Found on some required 9th Grade reading lists is the more recent The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  It’s loaded with shock-value scenes in place of plot, but it’s cheerfully assigned with a little disclaimer  about mature content for parents of Ohio freshmen.  Teachers really think kids are comfortable discussing such scenes in front of the whole English class?  But teachers will argue that’s what makes the books “real” and “relevent.”  Hmmm.

So are we supposed to be sensitive about are word choices or not?  I’m confused.  Mark Twain…bad; hip-hop artist…good?

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Orthodontics: the 8th Circle of Hell

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, he describes of the 9 circles in which Hell is divided.  The 8th circle belongs to the crooks: thieves, the fraudulent, and hypocrites.  By way of a huge generalization, this is where I would put orthodontists.

My darling daughter is in braces– has been for just over a year–and wore an orthodontic appliance before the braces.  We are on our 3rd orthodontist due to the frequency of our military moves (twice in the last 4 years).  My words of advice: never switch orthodontists!  You might as well offer to pay 3 times the actual cost of the treatment.  Unlike dentistry, orthodontics are billed based on a contract price for the entire treatment plan rather than on a fee per procedure basis.  That contract amount is then broken down into front end costs (for diagnostic images and to put braces on), final costs (taking off the braces and fees for retainers), and finally the monthly fee (to cover regular adjustments) which is calculated based on estimated treatment time. 

After completing 11 out of 16 months of the estimated treatment time, we received orders and left the practice–not before paying 90% of the contract price due to the high front end costs and the convoluted calculus used to determine what we owed on “earned” or used treatment.

Now that we have reached our new duty station, we’ve consulted a new orthodontist to try to complete darling daughter’s treatment.  Big surprise: the estimated treatment time is longer than the other guy’s estimate.  The new doc “wants to be fair,” so he’s only going to charge us his own diagnostic fee, a monthly fee, and a whopper of a fee to take off the braces and follow-up with retainers.  By the time we are finished, my daughter’s beautiful smile will cost roughly $7500.

So which one is the bigger crook: the doc who gouged us at the beginning of the process or the one who is inflating his end costs while trying to be fair?  If you’re like me, you think they both belong in that 8th circle.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about capitalism and trying to make a profit.  But I’ll bet both of these guys swear they “support our troops” and really “appreciate our military”.  Funny way of showing it.  Maybe the answer is a bigger orthodontics insurance benefit to compensate for what I’ll call the PCS Penalty you pay if you’re unfortunate enough to have to heed the call of duty during treatment.

The next time one of these doctors puts a “We Support Our Troops” sign in his window, or someone tells me how lucky I am to have free healthcare and such great dental insurance, I’ll ask them to show me their perfectly straight smile for a moment.  Then I may end up doing time in Dante’s 1st circle for violence against one’s neighbor.

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