Sunday, February 18, 2007

What's Wrong with Scrotum?

If I needed inspiration to blog, I found it today in my New York Times. No, this isn't a political diatribe on the dominant leftist media culture. Sorry to disappoint you. Rather, it is a simple expression of incredulity that people have nothing better to complain about than the use of the word "scrotum" in a book called "The Higher Power of Lucky." No one would have noticed the use of the word, of course, except that "Lucky" won the 2007 Newbery award for children's literature. So all eyes are on it.

What is so terrible about the word "scrotum"? It's a great word, frankly. It sounds vaguely latin, which naturally appeals to the mediterranean half of my heritage. It could be a legal term, like res ipsa loquitur: scrotum factotum, your Honor!

But really, I want to know why people are so offended by the word? It's a part of the male anatomy. Let's look it up. According to Merriam Webster Online: "the external pouch that in most mammals contains the testes." Is "testes" a bad word too? According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online: "in most male mammals, a bag of skin near the penis which contains the testicles." Yikes! "Penis" and "testicles" in one sentence! From Webster's Online Dictionary: "in males, the external sac that contains the testicles." If you ask me, "sac" is just as bad as "scrotum."

According to the NY Times article, librarians are upset because the book's intended audience are 9 & 10 year olds. "I don't think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson," said one librarian. Come on, lady! You're supposed to be an educator and know how to deal with kids! It's very easy to finesse those kinds of questions from kids. "It's a part of a boy's body connected to the penis." Or just say "It's your nuts." You'd get lots of giggles. So what?

Personally I think there's some bias against male anatomy going on here. Does anyone believe that had "Lucky" mentioned "ovaries" that the librarians would be up in arms? Or ovum? Of course not. Somehow little Jimmy or Suzie's vocabulary questions would then be valid. Ovaries are feminine. Not threatening (unless you're talking about me with PMS, but that's a topic for another day). They're soothing even. The cradle of life. Like Mesopotamia. As opposed to the male organ. So menacing! So evil! We better not talk about it.

I haven't read the book so I can't say if its content really is objectionable. I volunteer in our middle school library occasionally and as I execute my shelving duties I notice lots of books that cause me to wonder, based on their titles alone, but no one seems to be censoring those. Look at some titles of Joan Lowery Nixon: A Deadly Game of Magic; The Stalker; Secret Silent Screams; A Deadly Promise; Whispers from the Dead; A Candidate for Murder; The Name of the Game Was Murder; Murdered My Sweet. Seems to me this writer has an obsession with death. Is that something we want to encourage our pre-teens to explore? (The answer is that Nixon was a mystery writer, and I guess murder makes good mystery.) How about Lois Duncan's books, with titles like these: I Know What You Did Last Summer; Summer of Fear; Gallows Hill; Killing Mr. Griffin. More death. (These are supposedly psychological thrillers so I guess that makes them OK. As long as "scrotum" isn't used.) And don't even get me started on Lurlene McDaniel, who has authored these gems: The Girl Death Left Behind; Don't Die My Love; Baby Alicia Is Dying; Till Death Do Us Part; and Too Young to Die. Each of these writers has whole shelves devoted to her books. I haven't read any of them, but since people are objecting to "Lucky" on the basis of a single word, even without having read the book, why aren't they also objecting to these death books based on their titles?

In case there's any doubt out there, let it be known that I do not advocate censorship based on titles or words that are nothing more than the names of body parts. I do advocate censorship of bad writing. Let's have fewer "Clique" novels in schools and more Jane Austen.

So apropos of scrotum, here are a few of my favorite words: albeit (no one actually uses this word but I like it anyway); nevertheless (I don't care what facts you spew. I stand by whatever it is I said); loathe (I love the stretched out "ohhhh" sound); zyzzyva (I want to use this word in Scrabble); kadosh (wonderful Hebrew word that means "holy". I like the part of the Jewish service where you say "kadosh kadosh kadosh" and you do calf-raises, thereby exercising your body as well as your spirit!); shall (a throwback to when people used to be civilized); caveat (and its extended "caveat emptor"); madonna (when pronounced with a Pittsburgh Italian accent with hands clasped and pointing toward heaven); octogenarian (from the infamous" octogenarian widow" of law school); and my all time favorite, jejune (see Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan).


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