I’m giving a vocabulary test. I don’t like vocabulary tests. I’m tired of them. Even though I don’t love tests, vocabulary is important. Not just for students, but for me. I’m getting old. Words change their meaning. Not being up on vocab is a dangerous thing.
I used to be at the epicenter of student pop culture, even though growing up I was a walking anachronism. You’d think technology would enhance this, but in fact, it’s done the opposite. It’s let me “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Streaming music online has let me drift off into indie-music obscurity, getting pleasantly out of touch.
In the process, I miss the shifting tide of vocabulary. Using old words has dated me.
Awesome is an 80’s word. So not “awesome,” to say. You can’t say “dude.” A “ratchet” is no longer a tool. It should never be said in public. Neither is “ho.” Used outside of December, it’s not nice. I tried to explain garden “hoe” to a student. She couldn’t make the connection–even with a picture.
Vocabulary is important. So is context. Kids think I’m a hippie because I grow vegetables and my vocab’s stuck in the 90’s, which reminds them of the 60’s if you just flip the first number. I tell them I’m not old enough to be a hippie.
Recently, I was discussing basketball, informing a student I’d defeat him on the court. I stopped just short of saying “yo mama.” It is also a dated expression. I admitted I couldn’t shoot well but I “could play some Big D.” That, in my day, meant “defense.” Coach would yell up and down the court, “Give me some big D.” We’d win the game. I was the good at defense.
Defense is important. Stopping the other guy from scoring a basket means they didn’t get two points. This is the same as if I was able to score a basket, though with none of the glory and recognition. I learned to hang in there and never give up. It’s not a bad lesson for life.
Big D doesn’t mean “defense” anymore. It refers to the male fifth appendage. Never, ever, ever say that in the presence of teens. Even when discussing a sporting challenge. The class stopped. Something was desperately wrong. Even the good kids were drowning in their own laughter.
Someone finally filled me in. Time for me to study vocab again. Maybe even take a test.
I remember being overseas. I was teaching English, using a book from the 50’s.
“The cock crows at…”
“Mary is gay.”
“John went to fetch some water.”
Not cool (“cool” being another dated word). I took out my pen and began crossing off words. “You can’t say this.”
I have stepped over the generational divide. My vocabulary’s old and I even try to pick up the check at restaurants rather than ducking into the bathroom dividing the bill to the last cent. That’s how you know you’re really old. I’m stuck in my music instead of theirs. And I watch the Discovery Channel instead of MTV.
“Miss, did they have TV when you were in school?” I look at the student in front of me. She’s serious. I must respond politely.
“Yes, I was born in ’71. Computers weren’t invented. There was no Internet. You had to pick up the phone. Which was wired to the wall. To text, we wrote it all down, put it in an envelope, and put a stamp on it. I had a cast-iron Royal typewriter in high school and an electric typewriter in college, but by then they had a computer lab, but you had to fight the nerds to use them.”
“Wow.” She soaks this in. The phone buzzes in her back pocket. She goes to look, but remembering she’s in school glances at me and walks away. thinking.
“Thank God I didn’t have to live back then,” she thinks. But there are no words, because the vocabulary has changed. So she takes her leave, incredulous, in silence.[images: thisisgrame.wordpress.com and http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/retro%20cars]