Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Word Police

A word has come to my attention. It also seems to have come to the attention of school librarians everywhere. And I'm going to use the word more than once in this post, so if you are offended by words, feel free to click along to another site for now.

For those of you who are left, the word of the day is 'scrotum'. See, that didn't hurt, did it? And yet, school librarians are banning a book just because it uses that word.

Here's the story. The book is called "The Higher Power of Lucky". It is written by Susan Patron, who also happens to be a librarian. And the book is this year's winner of the Newbury Award, the most prestigious award in children's literature. Sort of like being named the Oprah Book of the Month. The book was first published last November, but it wasn't until it won the award that people started to take notice.

And what did they find? Right on page one, Lucky, the 10-year-old heroine of the book, overhears the word when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog on the scrotum.

“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much,” the book says. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

There ya go. That's the word. Used in context. And it is freaking people out. The book has already been banned in a handful of states and it looks like there are more planning to follow.

The author says the intended audience is 9-12 year olds. Sounds right to me. When my kids were that age, they had heard the word scrotum. They knew what is was. They also knew testicles, balls, nut sack, berries, and probably some words to describe it that I don't even know! Kids know these things. This just doesn't seem like a horrific thing to me.

But one librarian who was interviewed said this was what she would call the "Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope." Has this woman ever heard Howard?!?! Howard talks about scrotums at the breakfast table!

I'm just baffled by peoples' reaction. I can't believe a library would censor a book based on the proper use of the name of a body part. But one elementary school librarian said parents wouldn't want to have to explain that kind of vocabulary. Really? I would not want my kids to know about their bodies? Gee, don't speak for me, lady! If I'm nervous about explaining vocabulary to my kids, that is my issue. Not theirs. Not the author's. And not the librarian's.

I'm sure a few of you may be thinking...gee, glad Em isn't the person making the final call on the books my kids read! And that's okay. Every parent has to make that choice. But that seems to be the key. It is the parent's choice. When we ban books and censor material, parents never get the opportunity. I trust myself to make choices for my kids. I don't trust the Word Police.

37 comments:

Marie said...

Well isn't that bizarre? I see nothing wrong with using that word! And you're right, that age group knows the word, plus a lot of others for the same part of the anatomy! And they're talking about a dog... I'm all for teaching correct terminology!!

bardouble29 said...

Amen, my friend preach on!

I too am one that wants to make the decision about what my kids read and don't.

My step daughter Alyssa was an avid reader. I just snagged the books from her and read them too, that way I knew what she was reading and we could talk about the book together, it made for fun mother / daughter time.

T. said...

My kids actually have that book somewhere in the den of clutter they call their bedrooms.

It was a good book.

When my daugher was two, we taught her the appropriate name for her body parts, one of which was vagina. My son, a year later, learned about his penis and his testicles...which since followed as scrotum, nuts...you name it.

My parents freaked out. They thought it was inappropriate for a two year old to know the medical terms of their body.

WTF?

Call me a bad parent. Sheesh.

The word police can kiss my ass. Or buttocks. Or what ever they would rather call it.

Great post Em.

Kati said...

LOL This is probably the best thing that COULD happen to this book (or any other, for that matter). As SOON as a book is banned, or taken from a library, it becomes just about THE MOST DESIRED book in the world. For a book to make the "banned books" list, means that suddenly MORE people than ever will want to read this book, than may have wanted to read it based on the title or the summary (on the back) alone.

The world's best way to get a child (or almost anybody else) to do something is to tell them that they mustn't. As I said, this is probably the best thing that COULD happen to this book, really. Hell, look what has happened with Harry Potter. The more people try to ban the HP books, the MORE people that actually go out & read them.

Not to say that I actually approve of banning books, but I can see that in the long run, this librarian's actions will really benefit the books & result in a LOT more people reading it than would have otherwise. Heck, there's a whole movement based on picking books from the "challenged or banned" list, and reading them JUST to say you did. And you often find very good reads on them. Judy Blume is a popular "banned" author. Harry Potter, of course. Madeline L'engle is another one.

*grin* Glad to see this librarian has made such a stupid move, because this book will now be guaranteed a place on the must-read list of most kids.

CSL said...

Good God. I remember a book getting banned when I was in middle school because the girl talked about getting her period. We can't have middle schoolers knowing about that!! Why are we so squeamish about actual body part names and turning a blind eye to inappropriate sexualization at that age. And from what I hear from my middle school son, "scrotum" is pretty mild stuff anyway. (Says the Mom whose 12-year-old gave his teacher Ms. Ball the nickname Ms. Testicle.)

Elle said...

LMAO I had to laugh at this. Good grief, you can't say scrot without people getting all bent out of shape. Heck, I've heard small children on playgrounds utter worse things than something anatomical. I read that book about the farting dog to my kids... they think it's hillarious. True there are no balls in that story, but the dog is hooked up to a fart-catcher. Talk about literary genius!

Let's face it people, unless you are packing ovaries, scrotum's are everywhere. What I really want to know is whatever happened to freedom of speech?

Red7Eric said...

I read this story earlier today, and it did seem rather silly.

Aren't aren't librarians supposed to be these libertarian types who are total free speech junkies? These people who want to ban this book don't remind me of any librarians I know.

Weird.

Beth said...

Preach it brother!!!

My kids have known the words for their body parts since they were tiny, little things...give it a break. they hear lots worse on tv.

Dorky Dad said...

Groan. Oh no. We wouldn't want our kids reading about a dog scrotum in a book. We'd rather they hear about it on the street among friends.

People depress me.

Jocelyn said...

I'm pretty sure Howard Stern, each morning, eats his oatmeal *out* of a scrotum.

I agree--nothing makes me more furious than some governing body trying to decide what my kids get to be exposed to. *My* decision, asswipes. (oops, um, ignore the word "asswipes" if it offends you...I meant to type "scrotum" there)

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I don't either. Good post!

Winston said...

OMG... Horrors! He said scrotum!

The "goody-two-shoes" (where did we ever get that expression?) are at it everywhere. There was a ruckus around here last year because the schools and librarians decided to ban "To Kill A Mockingbird". Said it promoted racism, rape, and murder. Damn fools...

You are right, the kids already know it all. That does not give us license to ignore what they are exposed to and shirk our responsibilities. But gimme a break... scrotum?

Ruth Dynamite said...

Our society is so hypocritical. Banning this book will surely increase the "lure of the forbidden scrotum."

Jazz said...

Scrotum! God I love that word! I should have put it in my favourite words post....

Anyway, what is wrong with a 10 year old knowing the word scrotum. Or penis or (the horror!) vagina for that matter. Seems to me that naming things by their real names would do away with the stigma.

Chelle said...

This is one of those things that gets my blood boiling!!! I so agree with you. I It is up to the PARENTS to make the decision of they want their child to read a book....that has won a Newbury Award nonetheless...or not!! I am not sure why people have such sticks up their ass this day and age about the stupidest things!! They will ban everything and before long, what will be left to read???

Grrrr...I hate it when people feel like that have the right to determine what kind of books my children (or any children) can and cannot read. SOmeone else here said it, too.....this book is sure to make the "must read" list for kids....LOL

Jill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jill said...

I hear "The Vagina Monologues" was renamed "The Hoohah Monolgues" on a theater marquee in Florida after a complaint from a lady whose niece asked her what a vagina was.

I'm happy to hear that it's not just parts of the male anatomy that are offensive.

Steven Novak said...

Ooooohhhh...scrotum...ohhhhhh...

It's gonna ruin their young lives I tells ya...ruin em' but good! ;)

Steve~

mist1 said...

Maybe if I had read books like this as a kid, I wouldn't be spending so much time trying to find out what scrotums (scroti/scrotae?) are all about now.

Thomas said...

http://conroetexas.blogspot.com/

This is where I teach and they went after F 451.

Hell, I even taught the kid in question.

I hate book banners.
I REALLY Hate book banners.

I think scrotum is a fine word.

TV

radioactive girl said...

When I was little, I believe around 3, I had just learned the word penis. I kept asking my grandpa if he had one. He kept intentionally mishearing me and telling me he did have some peanuts.

I am all for teaching kids the proper words though, and at a young age so they aren't a big deal when they learn them. My son knows all his parts...except he always mixes up his elbows and his wrist. Banning the book will probably make more people aware of it though, so maybe it is a good thing.

Wizened Wizard said...

Hey, Em, that's actually a SCIENTIFIC word, and that might lead children to think that other science (like that fool Darwin put out) is true!

Meanwhile, these same folks who object to scientific honesty are fine with telling their kids about a guy having nails driven through his limbs (do they call them arms and legs or is that too scientific?) so he could die up on a wooden cross for us: a lovely and wholesome thing to ponder if you're a tot.

God protect our children!

And please, Jesus, protect me from your followers...

Trish said...

This is proof that the powers that be have too much time on their hands.

Star said...

And these are Librarians??? They should not be alllowed to use the title. Perhaps if the author had used a "cutesy" name instead of the correct word they would have found it less offensive.

Rebecca said...

I'm NOT a fan of censorship, so this one made my blood boil.

Rene said...

I couldn't believe it when I saw the controversy. How can it be a controversy? How stupid.

My son pretty much reads what he wants (he's 11). Most words he's heard often, mostly from his mother. Okay, all from his mother. So I don't get too worked up.

Baron Ectar said...

Unbelieveable and unreasonable - please dont let the word police in my bedside drawers - I have a awful book with some words in it they would ban it for - lets see its called - Holy Bible!

Big Brother said...

You would think that librarians would be the ones that protect free speech. After all it was just the word scrotum. The kids probably know words that are much juicier than that. As a parent I would much rather teach my kids to be discerning readers than have someone else censor the books and block their reading them. After all our kids probably see worse on TV.
Things are really getting out of hand, in some places they have even banned "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" because they are not politically correct. Censorship is a very slippery slope and we should never go there.

Teena said...

I never got to read books with such words when I was a kid. I read pretty tame stuff.

somewhere joe said...

Sshhh! If we don't name it, maybe it won't exist!

creative-type dad said...

I feel pretty bd for that dog. I sure wouldn't want a snake to bite my....uh "s" word

Above Average Joe said...

All that matters is if the book gets kids interested in reading. Let the parents then explain the word. I wonder wat the call it on Sponge-Bob or Rugrats. Probably not so simple to explain.

Rainbow dreams said...

well thats what it is.... and most kids do know the word, and as you say, plenty others. Yes, I want to be involved in deciding what my kids read or not, but I can't account for what they hear in the playground, and I'm sure it's far worse than scrotum!

liv said...

oh, and you forgot the "family jewels."

southern boy, indeed!

Michele said...

well my goodness... don't you all know that 'scrotum' is an extremely offensive word? 'balls' or 'bag' is far more appropriate for 9-12 year olds.

velvet girl said...

How ridiculous. While they're at it, they should be banning biology and health texts.

Even my six year old son knows what a scrotum is because that's what it's called.

-velvet

Gunfighter said...

Welocme to nouveau-puritanical America.

What a horrible shame.