In one of his routine linguistic miracles, it was George W. Bush who famously declared, “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”
In answer to the former president, I always think of Wilson Watson. He taught students at Catonsville Community College for 35 years before slipping gratefully into retirement a couple of semesters back.
But across the years, he collected sentences. These sentences were offerings from students as part of classroom assignments. They also provide at least a partial answer to Bush’s question: Nope, some of our students certainly is not learning.
Or as one of Watson’s scholars put it: “Some people use bad language and is not even aware of the fact.”
Here are some other examples of student offerings:
“The children of lesbian couples receive just as much neutering as those of other couples.”
“In the field of (mortuary science), there’s a great need for morgulititions now a days because of all the people dying.”
“The person was an innocent by standard, who just happened to be the victim of your friend’s careless responsibility.”
“The nurses of Bonds Secure Hospital are on strike.”
“Romeo and Juliet exchanged their vowels.”
“Jogging on a woman’s ovaries can be dangerous to her health.”
“The French benefits of this job are good.”
“It’s really uncomfortable to be all squished up in the back seat of a limo with a full length Kremlin under your skirt.”
“Jogging is excellent exercise anywhere, but I prefer to jog in a warm climax.”
“Willie Loman put Biff on a petal stool.”
“In ‘Grapes of Wrath,’ Jim Casey’s death is like a crucafixation.”
“Just imagine not being able to feel a lover’s worm kiss.”
Some of these offerings suggest students who have heard words used conversationally but read so little that they’ve never connected them to proper pronunciation or spelling. Others are grammatically clueless. Still, others reflect a shaky sense of history.
For example, Watson told his students, “Use ‘Benjamin Franklin’ in a sentence that makes sense and is historically accurate.”
A few examples:
“Benjamin Franklin discovered America.”
“Benjamin Franklin was a wild guy.”
“Benjamin Franklin discovered America while fling a kite.”
On another occasion, Watson asked them to use Christopher Columbus in a “historically accurate” sentence – with these results:
“Christopher Columbus sailed all over the world until he found Ohio.”
“Christopher Columbus discovered America while sailing in Spain.”
Asked to use the past tense of “fly” in a sentence, one scholar wrote, “I flought to Chicago.”
Another explained, “I was absent on Monday because I was stopped on the Beltway for erotic driving.”
Erotic driving? Isn’t that what an earlier generation referred to as “necking”?
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).