Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff
Pulled from the Menifee, Calif. Union School District
(2010) because a parent complained when a child
came across the term “oral sex.” Officials said
the district is forming a committee to consider
a permanent classroom ban of the dictionary.
Source: Mar. 2010, p. 55.
I started to imagine how this all went down. So for your entertainment, here's my peek into a book banner's mind.
Miss Mary Sunshine dumped the freeze-dried potatoes into a bowl and added the requisite water, milk and butter. All with a smile on her face. Ah Betty, she thought, looking at the woman on the au gratin potato box, this is the life. With three angelic children who did their homework without a fuss, who wouldn't be happy? And look, little Jamie is even reading the dictionary. The dictionary! With thoughts of Ivy League schools and six-figure salaries dancing in her head, she began to stir.
Jamie grabbed the big red book and hauled it over to the counter.
"What do you have there, James?" Mary asked.
"Look at this word I found."
"Is it sanguine?"
Jamie looked at his mother with something approaching annoyance.
"No, it's something much better than that." He turned the book around so his mother could see. Just under his finger was the word, oral sex.
Mary put a hand to her throat. Her spoon clanked against the bowl, sinking into the milk and powder soup mix. Her pulse clocked a new record as she pulled her heavy sweater away from her neck.
"It says that it means --"
"I know what it means," Mary snapped. She slammed the book shut.
"Do people really do that? I mean, that's kind of... gross."
Something in his innocent nine-year old face jolted her sensibilities.
"Yes, it is gross. Of course it's gross because its a... a joke."
"Yes, it's a joke. A very bad joke," she said with a nervous laugh. She gazed at the title of the book. Merriam Webster collegiate dictionary? What was his teacher thinking, giving a child a collegiate dictionary?
"Why would someone put a joke in the dictionary?"
"I don't know, maybe because they want to keep you on your toes." His mother backed up, taking the offensive dictionary with her. "Stay there and I... I'll get you a different dictionary to work from."
Taking the stairs two at a time, Mary ran to the playroom. Within thirty seconds she was back.
"Here you go," she said, handing Jamie a thin book.
"But this is a picture dictionary."
"Yes, well, I'm sure that it has all the words you need in it."
"It's a DISNEY picture dictionary."
"What? You don't think Mickey Mouse has a good vocabulary?" She opened the colorful spine and pointed. "See right there. Proud." She ruffled Jamie's hair. "Now that's a word you should know because I'm so proud of you! Now, go finish your homework."
Jamie took the book and shuffled back to his seat, vowing in his mind to check out the dictionary at the public library. If that one word had the power to turn his mother into a nutcase, just imagine what else he could find.
Later that same evening, Mary was still having heart palpitations from her earlier encounter with her son.
Oral sex. Oral sex. Oral sex.
It was a big bass drum beating at her temples.
Oral sex. Oral sex. Oral sex.
She stomped into her bedroom with the book in hand and shoved it under her husband's nose. "Look at it. Just l-look at what they're teaching our son."
"The dictionary?" her husband asked.
She flipped to the page with the offensive word. "Not just any dictionary. A collegiate dictionary!"
Her husband smiled with pride, thinking his son must be pretty advanced. Mary scowled. "He found this word in it." Unable to speak the offensive word aloud, she pointed to it, her hand trembling.
"And what did you say to Jamie when he asked about it?"
"I told him it was a joke."
"I did. What else was I supposed to do?"
Oh, I don't know, maybe explain it to him, her husband thought. But Mr. Mary knew better than to make this suggestion. When Mary went on a crusade, especially one involving her children, there was no stopping her.
"Where are you going?" he asked as she opened the door.
"To call the school principal. This book should not be in an elementary school classroom."
When she was gone, her husband sighed and opened the book. Grabbing a pen, he crossed out the definition of oral sex and scribbled something else.
Oral sex- a recreational activity designed to torture the imaginations of those who are less fortunate.
"A joke, indeed," he said to the empty bedroom. A joke indeed.
Okay, hope that wasn't too racy for some of you. If you haven't entered my banned book contest, please remember to do so. It'll still be running next week even though banned book week will be over. Have a good weekend!!