January 25, 2010

Reading the Dictionary

The LA Times reported (from a story in the Menifee Local News) that the Menifee Union School District removed the dictionary (Merriam-Webster, 10th ed.) from its schools due to it containing objectionable terms like "oral sex."

"It's just not age-appropriate," said school spokeswoman Betti Cadmus told the newspaper. "It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature."

The school board will decide later whether to return the dictionaries to the classrooms. One board member told the Press-Enterprise that there are probably more objectionable terms in the dictionary.

Fortunately, only weirdos like me actually read bits of the dictionary, so they don't have much to worry about on that front. I feel sorry for those school board members, who will soon be presented to such frightening terms as "penis," "vagina," and "masturbation."

Here's to the fourth and fifth graders of Menifee Union School District, who will soon be Googling "oral sex" when they hear it on the bus or in gym instead of looking it up in the relatively benign dictionary.

The follow up article contained this gem:

The collegiate dictionaries were purchased several years ago to allow advanced readers in the fourth and fifth grades to look up words that they didn't know, Cadmus said.

Other less extensive and more elementary dictionaries remain available to students, she said.

As happens to often in our system, it is the best and brightest who stand to be punished. Let's hope cooler heads prevail at the review so that these kids can continue to enjoy their dictionary and perhaps get a couple of giggles when they accidentally (or, more likely, purposefully) stumble across a dirty word.


  1. Oh dear! You are probably right about this sending kids on a search for more info.

  2. No!!!!! This is an early April fool's joke, yes? Pure insanity! Banning a dictionary??? Okay, so it's better for a child to learn a definition improperly - like from the internet or another kid - than from a reputable source?

    I think my head exploded a little.

  3. @Leigh: I'm afraid it is not a joke, however much I would like it to be one.

  4. This astounds me! I don't rant often but it is mind-boggling to me how a less-educated populace with a smaller vocabulary is going to improve our world. And that it's happening in a so-called cosmopolitan city like LA (I know that's a big word - too bad there's no dictionary to look it up in!)...

  5. It's just ridiculous that they think they are protecting the kids when all they are really doing is taking away their opportunity to be empowered by knowledge.

    I remember that my friends and I read the dirty words in the big library dictionary when we were in grade school. Then we got bored and moved on to something else. There's nothing like a dull dictionary description to take the exotic shine off a forbidden word.

  6. You put it perfectly Alyce. I think the dirtiest definitions are in the OED, where you get examples of the words in context. And no elementary has the OED.


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