Mighty Red Pen

September 26, 2011

There’s a party goin’ on right here

Filed under: Lit review,Perilous punctuation,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 6:42 pm
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Well, hello there! Did everyone have an enjoyable National Punctuation Day on Saturday?

Saturday also marked the start of Banned Books Week, and I’m honoring the week by reading Lord of the Flies, a book I haven’t read since I was in high school.  I quizzed Mister MRP (an English teacher) about the value of teaching this book to our high school students nowadays. Among other things, he said it’s an appealing book for teachers because the symbolism is so accessible to students. What do you think? Is there still a place for this book in the current high school curriculum?

I don’t often re-read books because there are so many great ones I can barely find the time to read once, let alone twice. But I was compelled to read Lord of the Flies after reading Stephen King’s foreword to the most recent edition.

“Imagine my surprise (shock might be closer) when, half a century after that visit to the Bookmobile parked in the dusty dooryard of the Methodist Corners School, I downloaded the audio version of Lord of the Flies and heard William Golding articulating, in the charmingly casual introduction to his brilliant reading, exactly what had been troubling me. ‘One day I was sitting one side of the fireplace, and my wife was sitting on the other, and I suddenly said to her, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a story about some boys on an island, showing how they would really behave, being boys and not little saints as they usually are in children’s books.” And she said, “That’s a first-class idea! You write it!” So I went ahead and wrote it.’


Bonus MRP moment: September 27 is MRP’s fifth blogoversary! Show some birthday love and please vote for MRP in the Grammar.net Best Grammar Blog of 2011 contest!


January 22, 2010

Websterogenous zones

Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 8:27 pm
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When I first read about the California school distract that removed copies of the Merriam-Webster dictionary in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms because it contains an entry for oral sex, it seemed kind of snicker-worthy. But the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became. According to The Press Enterprise:

After a parent complained about an elementary school student stumbling across “oral sex” in a classroom dictionary, Menifee Union School District officials decided to pull Merriam Webster’s 10th edition from all school shelves earlier this week.

School officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the “sexually graphic” entry, said district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. The dictionaries were initially purchased a few years ago for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms districtwide, according to a memo to the superintendent.

“It’s hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we’ll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,” Cadmus said. She explained that other dictionary entries defining human anatomy would probably not be cause for alarm.

“It’s just not age appropriate,” said Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district.

Well, apparently the dictionary is bringing sexy back these days. I immediately went to Merriam-Webster to see what this racy entry was all about.

It turns out the aforementioned graphic description is “oral stimulation of the genitals” and further refers you to (avert your eyes!) cunnilingus and fellatio. Well, gee whiz, sounds downright pornographic, doesn’t it?

I don’t want to downplay the panic in Menifee but okay, well, I do. I find it kind of hilarious that they think that kids (or anyone for that matter) are being corrupted by reading the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The dictionary. Heaven forfend that a parent of a 9 or 10 year old should use it as a teachable moment if their kid comes across a term such as oral sex when they are searching the dictionary for the definitions between oracular and ornamental

I hardly think we should be standing in the way of kids getting proper information about s-e-x, and any youngster who is intrepid enough to look in the dictionary to find out what it’s all about shouldn’t be dissuaded from educating themselves. It’s not as though Merriam-Webster is some kind of gateway porn. Today the dictionary, tomorrow Penthouse Forum!

H/t @EditorMark and @emckean.

September 6, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Case of the Resigning Librarian

There’s a lot that’s interesting about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin but, as a word nerd, I’m most intrigued by the Case of the Resigning Librarian. From a recent Time magazine article:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Mary Ellen Baker (Emmons at the time) eventually resigned. According to the Anchorage Daily News, “Palin pressured Wasilla librarian“:

The stories are all suggestive, but facts are hard to come by. Did Palin actually ban books at the Wasilla Public Library?

In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her — starting before she was sworn in — about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

Were any books censored banned? June Pinell-Stephens, chairwoman of the Alaska Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee since 1984, checked her files Wednesday and came up empty-handed. Four days before the exchange at the City Council, Emmons got a letter from Palin asking for her resignation.

Pinell-Stephens also had no record of any phone conversations with Emmons about the issue back then. Emmons was president of the Alaska Library Association at the time. Books may not have been pulled from library shelves, but there were other repercussions for Emmons.

As with many of the stories emerging about Palin, the details of the Case of the Resigning Librarian remain a little murky. For example, exactly which books Palin was hoping to have removed isn’t clear yet (a supposed list posted at librarian.net has proven to be a fake but the discussion there is interesting). Librarians Against Palin is tracking this issue, and you can also follow it at Library Journal, which isn’t that probing in its analysis but has some good links.   

So, who wants to send Sarah Palin a Happy Banned Books Week card?

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