Pub Rants

What’s In A Word?

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STATUS: Iffy. Today I managed to knock a whole glass of water on my keyboard. I ended up leaving the office early so as to work on my laptop and let it dry out. Guess who might be buying a new cordless keyboard tomorrow? We’ll see. Sometimes they dry out and work fine.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Jewel

Obviously a lot if you’ve been following the news lately regarding the controversy surrounding an anatomy vocabulary word in Susan Patron’s Newbery Medal winner THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY.

Never mind the bollocks! We have librarians!

Librarians who obviously think young minds cannot handle the term scrotum. Not a slang term or a crude reference, mind you, but the medically correct term for the pouch of skin that contains the testes.

Oops. Shouldn’t use a word like “testes” on this blog! That might sound too similar to testicle. Thank goodness I didn’t accidentally use the word nutsack instead.

Seriously, it’s this kind of ruckus that makes me shake my head in wonder.

(And don’t you love that word ruckus? I think I need to see more fun words like that in the sample pages I’m reading and use them in everyday situations. Today, despite Chutney’s loud protestations, I told her she couldn’t join the dog fracas at the park. Invariably she goes Napoleon on a big dog and it turns out silly. Fracas! What a lovely word.)

But I’m distracted. Tomorrow I plan to go out and support Susan in the best way possible. I’m going to buy her book. In fact, it sounds so good, I think I might buy several copies and send them to all the young people in my life because I have no problem with them knowing the vocabulary word of scrotum (and that it’s an unhappy moment if a snake bites a male puppy dog there.)

37 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    I say we take those timid libraians and smack em with a wet noodle. maybe even take away their vibrators.

  2. Anonymous said:

    sheesh. people will get up in arms about anything! talk about a waste of energy – isn’t there a better cause for these people to get involved in?

  3. Anonymous said:

    Okay, your keyboard isn’t ruined and it’s fully recoverable. I used to do PC support for Dupont and for Philip Morris. I encountered instances where drinks were spilled on keyboards and into them. You will need a screwdriver and a hair dryer.

    Shut down your computer and unplug the keyboard. Carry it to a sink and pour out any liquid. Get a screwdriver and check the underside of the keyboard for the screws. You might have to puncture a label to get at one. Remove the screws and carefully open the case. You should see a circuit board. It might have an additional screw holding inside the case. If so, carefully remove that. It should then lift out. Do so and hold it in the air while you aim your hair dryer at it on a gentle setting. If it feels too warm to your hand, then hold the hair dryer farther away as you aim the flow of air at the keyboard. Be sure you send the air through the circuit board. Many have more than one layer. Also, be sure you aim the air flow through the keys because those may be holding water as well. In my experience, it took only about fifteen minutes to dry out the keyboard. Then visually inspect it to make sure there are no droplets left within the case or on the circuit boards. If satisfied, reverse the process by attaching the circuit board back into the case. Then assemble the case together. Sometimes it will take more than one attempt to align everything. The only real important thing to remember is that the screws are going into plastic, so never over-tighten. Just make it snug. It’s not likely to come loose. When the keyboard is assembled, plug it into the computer and then turn the computer on. It should boot up and operate properly.

    In case you’re skeptical, keyboard manufacturers generally use distilled water to clean the circuit boards before assembly to remove impurities from the solder and plastic. Then they dry the whole thing before assembling it.


  4. Anonymous said:

    And here I always thought librarians were against censorship. But I guess medical terms are to dangerous for children nowadays…

  5. Anonymous said:

    My sister is a middle school librarian. She has the book on order and intends to feature it (like she features all award winning books). Do not judge all librarians by the actions of a few! Someone may start to judge writers…

  6. Kim said:

    Personally, I can’t see the word nutsack in print and not giggle like a 13 year old boy (which I’m soooo not).

    Don’t you hate when someone else screams “It’s for the good of the children!”?? Frankly, I’d rather my kids know the correct terms and NOT be embarrassed or afraid to use them. Not to mention that I’m perfectly capable of deciding such things for my own kids.

    It’s a little scary to see how uncommon common sense is and how quickly relatively intelligent people can go to pieces of silly words.

  7. Chumplet said:

    I heard you could put a keyboard in the dishwasher. Got nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work, just pay $15 for another.

    But – I think the keyboard in this case is part of a laptop, no?

    An external keyboard will probably be necessary. I sure hope the gear underneath didn’t get damaged. Usually, a rubber membrane protects the guts.

    My darling husband spilled coffee on my Thinkpad and we had to get a wireless keyboard for it.

    If it’s just water – I hope it dries out.

    verification: grkprr – something a cat does when it can’t decide whether to be aghast or happy.

  8. Anonymous said:

    I don’t usually giggle helplessly when I read this blog, but I managed today.

    I’m sure most librarians think this…ahem…fracas is stupid. The kids I teach use much more colourful terms than “scrotum” quite regularly. Who do the “just-say-no-to-nutsacks” people think they’re protecting? I’d be relieved if the tots used the correct words instead of the crude euphemisms for a change.

  9. The Grump said:

    I read the original NYT piece on this. My questions are still
    “Which librarians?” “Where?”

    I would think that librarians range the censorship spectrum like everyone else, but I prefer to think of the librarians who “wrassled” with Homeland Security.

    The real problem is that “the suits upstairs” might get more timid in which books they’ll allow into print. So, it’s almost our patriotic duty to go out and buy the book

  10. Katherine E. Hazen said:

    Tomorrow I plan to go out and support Susan in the best way possible. I’m going to buy her book. In fact, it sounds so good, I think I might buy several copies and send them to all the young people in my life because I have no problem with them knowing the vocabulary word of scrotum (and that it’s an unhappy moment if a snake bites a male puppy dog there.)

    I generally just get gift cards for the nieces and nephews in my life. I generally figure that they’re more likely to read if I let them pick out the book themselves, but as soon as I saw all the “ruckus” I had decided to buy the book for them as well a myself.

    I don’t have kids yet but I don’t imagine myself ever keeping them from reading things because the word scrotum is used. I know how awkward it can be to have your kid using words that people feel are ‘impolite’ but they’re the word. As a writer I hate the idea of keeping words from my kids when I have them. My mom sat me down when I was a kid and explained anatomy the birds and bees to me when I was a kid an asked her what horny was. It didn’t seem weird to me to be asking my mom then but now that I’m older and realize how strange that must have been for her. I’m so glad that she didn’t lie to me though. I hope I’ll have the courage to tell my kids the truth the way my mom did, with grace and tact, and without hiding anything from them.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Librarians who obviously think young minds cannot handle the term scrotum.

    There are people who think that preschoolers can’t understand the word ‘stout’ (as in a stout pig).

    Why not just take things in stride and let the kids learn on their own?

    Hopefully Susan will be getting lots of sales out of it, though – controversy sometimes is the best publicity. (I had never heard about the book until all of this!

  12. Urbie said:

    As the person who, in the first grade, was told that I needed to get out of the fiction section and go back to the picture books, librarians don’t always fly with me.
    Biases aside, I think that the media is doing what it always does: focusing on the words of a few and ignoring the majority of them.

  13. jessie said:

    Please don’t judge us all by the actions of a few! I, for one, can’t wait to get the book in at my library. The librarians who are refusing to order this book seem to be mostly school librarians in conservative elementary schools. Public librarians (like me) tend to be a whole different breed.

  14. katiesandwich said:

    Thank goodness I didn’t accidentally use the word nutsack instead.

    LOL over and over and over again! And it’s quarter ’til one where I live, so my formerly asleep husband isn’t very happy with me right now.

    Add me to the list of people who think this controversy is silly. I was raised in a family where people didn’t use the correct term for body parts, and believe me, it only makes it harder to adjust to the adult world when the time comes and you’re expected to know what these words mean. Seriously, I was probably about thirteen before I knew what a scrotum was.

    Also, trying to prevent a child from reading a Newberry winner is a serious mistake. Those books win that award for a reason. The Witch of Blackbird Pond was–no joke–the best friend I had in junior high. I’m not exaggerating, I read that book seventeen times because it was so relevant to where I was in my life. The Newberry book in question today might well have the power to affect a child in this same way, and it is a crime to let that happen.

  15. Anonymous said:

    When I was in third grade, someone snuck a few pages from a magazine that was quite a bit south of Penthouse onto the playground. We were all fascinated by the photos (though we didn’t quite know why) and damn if we didn’t all spend
    the rest of recess just standing there memorizing every single picture.

    That would be considered “a traumatic occurence” by today’s standards, though in the seventies it would have been chalked up to “kids learning about sex on the street”.

    How is use of the word scrotum going to stack up with kids (who do this shit, still) sneaking a few downloaded shots from Jenna Jameson’s latest pelvic exam into the washroom?

    Give it up, librarians. Sadly, your institutions are dying… nobody listens to techno, either.

  16. Atyllah said:

    Great post – yep, with you all the way!

    But, I’ll say this, it’s created so much media hype and discussion that it can only do Susan’s book sales the world of good!

    The cynic in me wonders whether it wasn’t a cunning marketing ploy all along!

  17. Saipan Writer said:

    I followed the story pretty much along the way and my thoughts have evolved as the story has grown.

    First, I thought the censorship was a joke and then really sad. Read about it here:

    Then I wondered what would be censored next (like this video by HHS). Read here.

    Then, after searching for the answer to the question–what librarians, where, who, wanted to censor, I had this worry:

    My thoughts fwiw. (well, grammatically that would be fwtw).

  18. Anonymous said:

    …it’s not the word they object to anyway (most of them) but the loss of their jobs by the religious loons that employ them.

    Religion has nothing to do with it. I’m religious, and I think this debate is a load of crap. This isn’t about religion; it’s about a bunch of people who have a stick crammed too far up their asses.

    Word ver: mivaz. Give me a “t” and I have all the letters I need to spell “mitzva”

  19. Patrick McNamara said:

    I have technical computer training and have taken a few keyboards apart. But it’s not something to do unless one is comfortable with it.

    The first thing to do is to unplug the keyboard from the computer or turn off the computer. You want to prevent the liquid from contacting the powered circuits. Next, turn the keyboard over flat onto it’s face so that any excess liquid can drain.
    Keyboards are arranged with a plastic sheet below the keys to protect against splashes. Below that is the circuit board. You want to keep as much liquid off the circuits as possible, particularly when the keyboard has power. Carrying it around can allow the liquid to drain down onto the circuit board.

    I do not recommend putting a keyboard into the dishwasher. The humidity isn’t good for it and it’s more likely to put water into the keyboard. It’s possible to get away with it a few times but eventually it will fail. And if you do, you’ll need to leave it for days, preferably on it’s side, to dry out. It would be faster to just leave the keyboard sit and dry on it’s own, especially if it’s just water. It is possible to put parts of the keyboard such as the faceplate into the dishwasher, but you need to take it apart first and make sure everything is thoroughly dry before reassembling.

    I also don’t recommend anyone taking their keyboard apart unless they’re comfortable with the idea. There are some problems than can be created, particularly hair and dust getting on the contacts and preventing keys from working. It’s also possible to damage the circuits by scratching or banging them.

    If you do wish to dismantle and clean your keyboard, You’ll want to use rubbing alcohol to clean with. It’s possible to use distilled water, but it can take time to dry. You should also use dust-free cloth for wiping, although it’s possible to get away with just using facial tissues.

    Heat isn’t good for circuits, so it’s better to avoid hair-drying them. Besides, it’s more likely to allow dirt deposits to remain. Wiping tends remove more than drying. The main thing is to avoid dirt on the contacts which will keep keys from working.

    It’s easy to blame the librarian for being oversensitive, but parents can be even more sensitive. They’re the ones that put pressure on the librarians. Young boys will joke about such literary findings, yelling and screaming it across the schoolyard, which can cause trouble in the schools. The appropriateness would have more to do with the context of the word. But it’s not a problem until there’s a fuss made.

  20. John B. said:

    words that are statistically unlikely to all appear in the same blog entry, but, in fact, do so today:


  21. Maprilynne said:

    “Thank goodness I didn’t accidentally use the word nutsack instead. “

    Oh man, I LMFAO!!!! It totally reminds me of that scene from Love Actually.

    Natalie: Hello, David. Oh, sh&*, I can’t believe I just did that. Oh and now I’ve gone and said “sh&*” – twice.

    Prime Minister: Well, at least you didn’t say “fu%#”, right?

    Natalie: I just knew that I was going to fu%# up my first day.


    Really though, it’s a fetching body part. Get over it!!


  22. Demon Hunter said:

    Susan used the correct verbiage. As usual, all the controvery is going to do is assist her in selling a heap of books. So, the librarians just ensured massive sales of this book. They’re helping it! Too funny…

  23. Anonymous said:

    When you are a school librarian in a conservative community, working under administrators known to bend over backwards to avoid appearing soft on “family values”, then yes, it is reasonable to view the book with dismay. Not because you personally think there is anything wrong with it, but because you know it’s one more battle you are going to have to fight. All it takes is one hysterical parent who hasn’t even seen the book, just heard that it’s, gasp, pr0n!, to start a huge ruckus.

  24. Happy Days said:

    OMG. Your post was just too funny. Of course, your blog will now be blocked from public access in many libraries.

    (Chortling to self)

  25. Lee said:

    Okay, I suppose Susan could have used the words, “Balls” “The Family Jewels” or how about “my little friends”. Oops, can I say that here? And oh, my there are so many other colorful words in the english language, that our youngsters are using to describe that particular part of the male anatomy, that can give a Librarian’s heart a little jolt. Kids are much more savy today then in the past. Really they can handle it. I think some of these people who are complaining or protesting, need to pick up a hobby to occupy their time. There are more important things to worry about, other then how to say “the sack” in a book.


  26. Robin L. said:

    I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective as a parent of young kids (which I know some of the others here are, also). I’m not saying “this makes the censorship right”, but, there’s a reason there is debate here – it’s not all crazy, and it wouldn’t occur to me if I didnt have a 6 year old daughter.

    I have *not* taught her all of the correct words for male anatomy, nor have I taught her about the mechanics of sex, and I don’t plan to for a little while. The reason is that she is very frank and forthright and I don’t want to squelch that in her. She’s too young to be spot on with what is appropriate conversation in all circumstances. If she knew, and were familiar, with the word scrotum, it would be very like her to say “Billy, don’t hit Bobby in the scrotum, it could really hurt him and he might not be able to make babies later.”

    While true, I’m not ready to defend that conversation with other mothers who might not want her referring to their sons scrotum. Some kids develop verbal ability much ahead of their ability to discern “appropriateness”. I personally wouldn’t care to have a boy in her class refer to her vagina – but if he, at 5, knows that word and can use it in a sentence, he may well use it and use it inappropriately. The key is understanding developmental milestones and introducing words at the appropriate times. I *do* want my daughter to know the right words, just not till the rest of her catches up (and since she likes to read the front page of the newspaper, I’m always monitoring and explaining).

    All that to say – if a book geared toward young children contains a word like scrotum or vagina, I wouldn’t want it censored, but I would very much appreciate knowing about it so I can decide if I want to read and explain it, or skip over it before I’m just idly reading aloud to her.

  27. Anonymous said:

    Not having read the book in question, I do wonder: why did the snake bite the dog in the scrotum anyway? Why are we even having this debate? The author had to realize it would be controversial on some level, and really, I just wonder… why there? Is it somehow intrinsic to the rest of the story? I really am curious.

  28. Deb said:

    Not having read the story, of course I am not qualified to comment. One wonders, though–with snakebite and a small dog, could the bite not have landed anywhere on a dog’s anatomy & been equally dangerous? That said, did the author have the snake nail the dog in the privates just to engender this type of controversy? Hmmm?

    And I am an advocate, having 2 kids of my own, of not teaching children proper medical terms ’til they’re old enough. A friend had a 2 year old son some years back, and insisted on teaching Jeff “proper words” for his anatomy. Unfortunately, she started his training by having him name his foot. Jeff would obligingly say “foot” and point to it. Then “knee;” he would touch his knee to the ground, just where his foot had been when he’d named that. Finger, hand, head, elbow, wrist…the same.

    It was a real piece of art humor to watch Jeff try to touch his Future Family Jewels to the floor in order to say the name…


  29. celerysoda said:

    The scrotum ruckus has a lot of librarians shaking their heads in wonder, too. The NYT reported on a vocal minority, as other commenters have indicated. Most of us don’t understand the fuss. We have a copy, plus the audiobook, so our patrons can hear the word “scrotum” read aloud as well!

  30. Janny said:

    Deb’s comment is well taken. Could not a snake have bitten a puppy anywhere else and had it be just as painful or dangerous? Why do I suspect that that author put that part in deliberately just to CAUSE enough controversy to sell more books? It smacks of little more than a junior-high version of a kid flinging around dirty words just to get attention; she had to know if she HAD to have a puppy bitten in that spot, that some people would be upset…and not just religious nutjobs. (BTW, matter, why is it culturally okay to link those two words? It’s way more offensive to use that terminology than it is to use the word “scrotum.” Maybe we need to do some reframing?)

    And there is a matter of age-appropriateness here as well. I’m not dealing with that anymore, as my kids are grown, but I would not have liked to have my little girl running around talking about “scroti” (is that the plural?) either–for much the same reasons as a previous poster brought up. Same with my son. We’re pretty forthright in our house, and we tend to speak our minds…somewhat loudly at times, and sometimes without thinking about the appropriateness of the context. This would apply even more so with kids, whose boundaries are still in flux at the point in time they’d be reading a book like this. So I can see both “sides” at this point.

    To me, the issue isn’t censorship at all. It’s a matter of what we’ve become “used to” and desensitized to in our culture. Many people who work with kids say “the kids can handle this” (meaning material that previously may have been taboo in a book, movie, etc.). I’m not so sure; the fact that kids bandy about more vulgar terms for the same body parts doesn’t prove they CAN handle it. If anything, it proves the opposite. We as human beings tend to use euphemisms and/or vulgarities for that which is a little strong, a little embarrassing, a little scary. Kids may want to “appear” to be able to “handle” all this stuff by having rough language for it, but that doesn’t make it so. Insisting that their use of vulgar slang proves they’re somehow more “advanced” than previous generations is, to me, little more than sticking our heads in the sand. It’s not more “advanced” to be more callous than your parents are; it’s just lazier, or cruder.

    The author is laughing all the way to the bank, in either case. And frankly, I don’t like the impression I have that she and her publisher knew exactly what buttons to push to make sure she became a household name.

    Me? I’d much rather be a household name based on something else other than a body part. Just because you CAN write a scene a certain way doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Unless, of course, shock value (or thumbing your nose at a certain part of the population) is all you were going for in the first place.

    My take,

  31. Scott Marlowe said:

    I don’t see anything wrong with using such language, and I don’t think the librarians should be the ones deciding what I can or cannot check out from the library.

    This is exactly the sort of thing parents need to police for their own children. Course, many parents fail horribly in this regard then they want to blame the creator for polluting their children’s minds… ha!

  32. BuffySquirrel said:

    It always amazes me the power people give to certain words. Maybe it will eventually occur to them that they needn’t be shocked by these words–and if nobody’s shocked, the kids won’t gain anything from screaming them across the playground.

    I fail to see why any author should censor their own writing to please a minority of people who attribute undue significance to some combinations of letters above others. They’re just words, people.

  33. Shannon said:

    I think what some of the parents who are concerned about their 6 year old learning these words need to consider is that this isn’t a picture book. It’s a book about an 10 year old girl, written for approximately that age group (Grades 4-6). Children younger than that may have the reading capability to read it, but they’re probably not going to. I think the author uses that word because it sets up Lucky’s (the girl) life as gritty and difficult. In the story, her mother has died and her father is absentee. She’s left with a step-mother she thinks doesn’t love her. In her bordom, she listens in on 12-step meetings and decides to find her “higher power”. It seems similar in tone to other “hard life” kids novels, like Maniac Magee. Considering the character and the plot, it seems like the word is appropriate. In a novel about growing up too quickly despite yourself, having the dog be bitten somewhere else wouldn’t be the same.

  34. Amy said:

    Yes, the reason that the snake bites the puppy on the scrotum makes sense. Much of this story is about Lucky growing up and learning things–like the proper anatomical names for sex-related organis. Geez, let’s come up with all kinds of insidious reasons why the author wrote that and not give her the benefit of the doubt that she knows what she’s doing. Cripes!

    I do wonder, Robin L., what the problem is if your girl would say, “Billy, don’t hit Bobby in the scrotum, it could really hurt him and he might not be able to make babies later.” Who does that hurt? It’s a wonderful response. Sounds like _you’d_ be embarassed, that’s all. My 6-year-old girl, 4-year-old boy, and 2-year old girl use the words “penis and “vulva” in appropriate situations, and my 6-year old understands we don’t typically use those words in public, and though my younger kids don’t always, they don’t just say the words at random intervals, and adults understand if they do say the words and kind of chuckle at it if they should say them in public _because_ of the fact it’s so innocent. Now, my 6-year-old doesn’t know how a penis and scrotum help to make babies, but having her know the words is important. The nameless and the unknown are scary.

    Again, adults are the ones who have problems with these words. Children know all sorts of words before they understand what sort of functions the objects perform. This whole thing is so ridiculous it makes me ill.