After my post about using the word “masticate” in an essay, a friend emailed me about a vocabulary snafu she had in high school:
Once upon a time, when I was in 7th grade, the school put up anti-TV propoganda — signs all over the school explaining the evils of watching television.
One sign announced all the terrible things television leads to, including in the list “lewd thoughts.”
Having never seen the word “lewd,” I asked my (science/English) teacher what it meant.
She said, “Why don’t we get a dictionary and look it up.”
So we got the Merriam-Webster from the back of the classroom, and she thumbs through it until she finds the word. She looked at the page, said, “oh, it just means ‘inappropriate,'” and slammed the dictionary shut.
As soon as she left, I looked up what Merriam-Webster really had to say, “Sexually unchaste or licentious.”
Why would you use a word that you don’t want your students to ask about?