A way with words
I kept meaning to post a few blogs in 2020 but… I just didn’t want to use the C-word.
In teaching, I have heard another C-word spoken often as part of ordinary teen vernacular. It pings back and forth around school like a tennis ball over a net. By the end of the first class of each week I have usually stopped being jolted by the sound of it and started to think about the term objectively, and then nonsensically. How is it that four letters arranged in a certain way have such capacity to shock? They sum up frustration and anger so succinctly, that’s why. You can use it as a noun, a verb and an adjective, and also as a teachable moment. Once, when an adolescent lobbed it across the classroom at their BFF during one of my lessons, I immediately stopped to address it.
‘Do you know what that word means?’
He didn’t, which was absolutely fantastic.
‘It means vagina. Why are you calling your friend a vagina?’
‘No I’m not.’
‘Yes, you are.’ My apparent confidence on the matter alerted the entire class to the truth of it.
Look, it’s not my intention to deliberately shame my students all the time, but in this case it resulted in a significant c-word usage reduction in my class, and for that I was very pleased. I didn’t mention to this particular bunch of 14 year olds that c-- had been bandied about by literary giants DH Lawrence and James Joyce in their writings as far back as the 1920s. Perhaps that was unfair of me but if I had done so there would have been far too much explaining to do to my Head of Department come assessment time.
I digress. Let's go back to the other perhaps more insidious C-word. We were aurally assaulted with it on a daily basis in 2020–more if you were slightly addicted to the news like I am - and it's not over yet. I said to my husband back in February, ‘If I don’t stop hearing that word on the news soon, I’m going to scream.’ Obviously I had to eat those words otherwise I would have lost my voice quick-smart.
What a year we had, eh? 2020, unprecedented (an overused adjective to describe the overused noun). PPE, quarantine, epidemiologists. Our vocabularies have certainly grown. As for ‘social distancing’, personally I am a big fan. Duck, weave and smile at strangers. This introduced etiquette seems to have made our society a somewhat friendlier place, if you can overlook the toilet paper scandal.
Iso–short for isolation–is something the majority experienced and I did not, due to the nature of my employment. All I’m probably allowed to say is that teaching in 2020 = flipping phew! While my husband holed up in his impromptu at-home office back in March and continues to stay there for the ongoing future, and while my teenagers set up to learn at the kitchen table, I headed on out of the house. Just like the hairdressers, supermarket workers and nurses, I continued to experience the type of close social interaction that would colour the rest of society green with envy (if there wasn’t the germ threat of course). In some ways, despite the experienced element of fright, this worksite inclusion staved off all feelings of loneliness and procrastination, and allowed me to ignore the fact that not one but two borders locked me away from the New Zealand side of my family.
Although admittedly my mind and body limped through the last few weeks of Term Four, the Christmas holidays have been a joyful time of introspection, relaxation and bursts of creativity. This coming year I’m taking leave from yet another word starting with C–the classroom-to embark on postgraduate study. I really hope when I return it will be with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and a whole heap of fresh ideas. The funny thing is, and I never thought I’d say it, but I think I’m actually going to miss hearing that earlier C-word.