Euphemisms and Substitutions

Euphemisms and Substitutions

We all use them.  We all need them. Euphemisms can help avoid sticky situations. 

When my classes read Mark Twain’s PUDD’NHEAD WILSON aloud, taking parts, we opted not to have that n-word in our mouths and ears.  I don’t advocate changing a classic text, but I told them to spare themselves and each other and find other words (good practice for life) that would not offend, and they did — man, woman, child, nursemaid, field worker, enslaved person.

When a student would utter a word unacceptable for school, I’d often give a chance to rephrase to a “better choice” rather than give a detention.  I’d advise making that change in vocabulary permanent to avoid future slip-ups.    

My Aunt Dot’s favorite expletives were sugar and fudge.  She said if they were to be in her mouth, she wanted words to be sweet.

The tone still tells the story.  I once said, “Nice signal, mister” when driving with my very young niece.  She asked if mister was a bad word, but I was saved by referring to Mr. Rogers.   

Dad told a story of a boy, coming from picking up groceries for his mom.  He fell in a puddle and was so upset he said some things he shouldn’t have.  His teacher, a nun, was in hearing distance and chastised him.  “Did I hear you using the Lord’s name in vain?”

“No, sister,” he replied. “I just said ‘Cheese and crackers got all muddy.’”

A friend subbing for my jr. high classes told a particularly infuriating boy that it was a shame when mental constipation met verbal diarrhea, and the youngster wasn’t sure enough of the meaning to respond . . . just sat down and got quietly back to work.  

Now as we deal with censorious ‘bots on social media, we may need to improve our skills, learning key words for which we might need to substitute others.  

One example, in not my finest moment — my response to article on sexual harassment got me a warning on FB,  (apologies to men of intelligence and character.  I was angry and didn’t mean all y’all).  “Men are idiots.  Women should be in charge.”  I did chastise myself afterward for the slip, as it was mean and unfair, and ill-written. I could have made my point without the trigger word “idiot.”  Perhaps “these selfish, undisciplined incompetents make me wonder if women should be in charge for the next 100 years” would not have been challenged.

We had trouble for a while with links to the story-lovers website . . . no idea what they thought we were doing to those stories.  

A friend was put in FB lockdown for a post about a photo shoot . . . perhaps photo-taking session would be okay?  or misspell it a chute?

**Aside, I learned from Naomi Baltuck to change the motions for “Going on a Bear Hunt” from gun to camera, and now I am much more comfortable telling that to pre-schoolers.

Another friend was in FB jail for saying a certain coach should . . .

 (euphemism time)  “be trodden upon heavily” 

or (rhyming slang) that she would “go all pomp & circumstances on her face.”

Kate Thornton, author, often posts a reminder to “Punch a Nazi”* and it always gets through, but white trash and anything that says “all men are…” get a banning. She has successfully substituted the term “pale refuse” or “wht trsh” for the former. 

*Despite my intention to be a pacifist, I have come to agree with her sentiment.

Doc Cross was jailed for a comment I did not see but can surmise.  He wrote, “Instead of what I actually said, I might now say that the chap in question might need a size 12 EEEE suppository.” 

A friend was put in FB jail for posting a Betty White photo with her quote about butterflies.  That makes no sense.

The inmates are running the asylum . . . we need evasive tactics and special cakes for those in FB “jail..”   

Feel free to send me more suggestions, and I’ll add to our repertoire.  Even if we can’t make sense of this cyber-world, we can have fun trying. 

Wrapping Up A-Z

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Wrapping Up A-Z

I chose to blog on “Tales Out of School” because, eight years into retirement, I was feeling nostalgic about my teaching years.

I loved the opportunity to reminisce about teaching and my students. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if my wonderful kindergarten teacher had been less so.  No other work gave me the satisfaction of teaching, and no other work was as challenging, truly (to borrow from Peace Corp) “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Storytelling became part of my life in connection with my teaching, and it made teaching much more fun and successful. I was disappointed that I haven’t done more storytelling, but then realized it had already helped me with the career that was my dream from the age of four. (I started kindergarten before my fifth birthday. I don’t think they allow that now). I had most trouble with V so did it last and a little late, but it did nag at me until I completed it.

I enjoyed this April A-Z Alphabetical Challenge even more because of my participation as a “minion,” visiting and commenting and passing along messages. I just barely scratched the surface of all the interesting blogs out there. It’s reassuring, as it is with books, to know that we will never run out of good reading. I also got some ideas for future blogging, on storytelling travels and maybe some family stories.

The end of the challenge coincided with the beginning of the St. Louis Storytelling Festival (and one stressful afternoon when I had to go buy and install a new router for my modem — thanks, Valnet tech. support for walking me through it). I’ll put in a bit of musing on the Saturday concert . . . just for fun.


Stories Saturday night were wonderful . . . and I made it home safely despite staying a bit past dusk.  
It was so good to hear Lynette Ford and Heather Forest . . . and just my imagination, or was there a love and marriage theme going through that concert?

Dinner at Spiro’s was wonderful, too . . . great conversation, excellent food!   
This interview with Jane Yolen was on NPR as I was driving to Spiro’s

Dinner conversation included everything from engineering to students to stories (of course) to books:

Hinton’s _The Outsiders_ “Stay gold”

J.B. is a 1958 play written in free verse by American playwright and poet Archibald MacLeish   (Wiki info)
(I’ve requested it from our library 😉

Now remembering another . . . with a Garden of Eden theme
R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play in the Czech language by Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rosumovi Univerzální Roboti(Rossum’s Universal Robots).[1] However, the English phrase Rossum’s Universal Robots had been used as the subtitle in the Czech original.[2] It premiered on 25 January 1921 and introduced the word “robot” to the English language and to science fiction as a whole.[3]

Next Monday, 5/11, Story Swap McClay Library   – 6:30 p.m. Second Monday every month at 2760 McClay Road, St. Charles 63303
Join area storytellers Mary Garrett and Michael Bennett and others to hear and tell stories for all ages. Folk tales, personal stories, tall tales, myths — all welcome!

As for today, “May the 4th be with you.” AKA “Metaphors Be With You”   A super day have! ❤


Violence/ Values / Tales Out of School

Picture 1
A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Violence/ Values / Tales Out of School

I found this one harder to write than I thought it would be, so it’s late and woefully incomplete, but at least fills the empty spot in the alphabet.

I tried to emphasize good values in literature and stories, and to show my students that they were valued, and was so glad never to witness much violence in school.

One of my first diagnosed ADD students was best reached by letting him help. Once I saw him after school, on his way to fight another boy, but when offered the option of helping his favorite principal put shelves in the locker of a favorite teacher’s daughter (whom he also liked), it was no contest . . . peace won!

A young man whose problems stemmed from mistreatment I’m not sure I could have survived needed escort from class to class because of fights. When no one came for him, and I had a planning period next, I offered to be the escort, which gave us a chance to talk. He said sometimes people just pushed him too far and he would get angry. I told him that it would upset me too much to have him fight in my room, so could he please just let me know, and I’d get him safely out of the situation. When tested, he did exactly that. There were a couple of other teachers who had won his confidence. We did our best to have one of us in the picture and he did his best to control his anger.

One student, convinced that I “hated” him, settled down when I took him aside, looked him in the eyes and said, “I don’t hate you. No one should hate you. You are a good person.” I added, “I still won’t let you disrupt class, though,” and he smiled.

Reading and hearing stories and writing one’s own can help see the world more positively. I left because of illness, but I was in a certain assistant principal’s sights. She had targeted specific people and managed to get rid of several, so my time might have been nearly up anyway. The situation inspired a short story, “The NCLB Murder.” (There were those who wanted to help with a real murder, but that’s just too messy, so I offered fiction).


Zzzzz/Alarm clocks / Tales Out of School


Zzzzz/Alarm clocks / Tales Out of School

Classes started at 7:25, teachers were supposed to be in school half an hour before that. Those early times were hard on all of us. One student failed American Lit. three times . . . all three times he was scheduled for first period. Why he wasn’t moved to a later class, I’ll never know. Another young man quit his late-night job at a filling station in order to pass and graduate. His father made up the monetary difference for him, a good investment!

Toward the end of the final week of my teaching career, I looked at my sleepy first period students, raised my fist in the air and vowed, “As God is my witness, I’ll never set my alarm for 5 a.m. again.” They clapped. I’ve kept that vow . . . well, mostly.
There was that one early flight to Hawaii, but I fudged and set the alarm for 5:05 😉

. . . Thanks to all who organized the A-Z Blog Challenge


A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

Young / Tales Out of School

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good11084301_10152820080385028_48227205056877781_n

Young / Tales Out of School

My high school English teacher said teaching kept him young and open-minded. He may have had a point. My students constantly introduced new ideas, music, humor, and help with technology.

Appearances are the tip of the iceberg, and visual reminder of the wisdom of picking battles and letting them express themselves.
Early on, a favorite student sported an awesome mohawk. We loved him so much, we had him walk on stage during a talent show skit, as teachers sang, “Why can’t they be like Donny, perfect in every way? Nothing’s the matter with kids today.”
Earrings become common for males, and then there were multiple piercings, of more than just ears.
Tattoos became common.
One of my sweetest students sported very imaginative hair colors, which she told me her mother helped her do. When she said she wanted to participate in Renaissance Faire, I pondered authenticity of period, and then realized she could join the Fairy Realm. She was adorable, and in far more comfortable clothing than my long wool skirt. My great-niece Moriah was also a glamourous fairy. More about the Ren. Faire at



Xylophone/ eXtra credit/ eXamples / Tales Out of School


Xylophone/eXtra credit/eXamples / Tales Out of School

Xylophone must have been given away when I moved. It was a really cool one on which one could rearrange the pipes to create different patterns of notes, and children loved it. I’m sure I gave it to someone who would appreciate it, but I don’t seem to have a photo.

Irises bloomed today, though, so that’s a good photo choice. 😉

Queen of eXtra credit . . .
I had no qualms about adding points to papers that exceeded my expectations, to the point that some of my junior high students had grades of 120%. Only one student ever complained of a “mathematically impossible grade” and had me remove the extra points.

Someone once said that the problem was school scores were small compared to video games. To compensate, I told students that if they didn’t think an assignment carried enough points to be worth their while, they could add as many zeros as they wanted, as long as they added to both the points earned and the points possible.
(Math lesson in English class? Why not? The math teacher and I shattered artificial distinctions by pointing out the similarities of rules for sentences and equations).

I often gave at least partial credit for clever wrong answers, and extra credit for cleverness added to right ones. I would coach students that on standardized tests, they should give the answer they knew the testers had in mind, the “best” answer. On my tests they had the option of writing their own explanation, making a case for two or more options. Few took the trouble, but those who did usually got full marks.

Goofus and Gallant — remember them from Highlights Magazine?
After the last final, I was inputting grades when a father emailed to ask how his son had done. Now quite well enough, but close and he had been trying, so I called down to Industrial Technology and asked his teacher to have him stop by before leaving school. Message not received, but he came by anyway, to return a book. I told him to call his mom to say he couldn’t leave until he was passing, and he set to work, typing a paper on how technology had influenced his life.

Meanwhile, enter Goofus, checking his grade and launching into a rant because he wasn’t passing (had, in fact, been failing all semester). My sense of fairness took hold of me as I noted that I’d given a last minute chance to Gallant. I started looking for missing assignments Goofus could do to raise his grade, but each suggestion prompted a new rant, so I asked him to leave so I could complete my own work. Soon, though, a principal warned me to expect a call from Momma Goofus . . . who proved by her own ranting that the acorns don’t fall far from the tree.

Meanwhile, Gallant was quietly typing away on the computer in the back of the room. I read a bit of his paper over his shoulder and entered the grade as he continued to work. We printed out his work, because it was GOOD, and he called his mom for a ride home. I walked with him to the car to wish him and his mother a great summer, and wished I had a video of the two interactions as an example of how to succeed (or not) in school.

A2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good


Walden Pond/ Weird / Tales Out of School


Walden Pond/ Weird / Tales Out of School

Henry David Thoreau said: “In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends.”

When I watch the little pond, which I have named Walden, freeze and then thaw to welcome geese, I think of Thoreau. I do feel warm and cozy, with much to do, some “have to” and some “want to.” Three guesses which get priority . . .

I used to tell students that if they really understood the unit on Transcendentalism, they’d all probably walk out of the school. Then the reality of consequences would rear its ugly head, and we’d all stay in the classroom. Pass me some more Soma please.

Thoreau said to distrust any enterprise that required new clothes. My friend Chris Crow said he chose shoes with the goal of still being able to smile at his last-period class. Comfort is a necessary component of such active work, “on” non-stop all day. A parent once described some of our teachers as looking like “aging hippies.” I’ll accept that, if it leaves me able to focus on the students instead of my self, and “You’re weird” ranked as the highest possible compliment from the most discerning students.

11084301_10152820080385028_48227205056877781_nA2Z-BADGE-000 [2015] - Life is Good

New Year’s Change and Resolutions

Maintain health, friendships, and enjoyment of life to the best of one’s ability . . . goals for 2015.

** On New Year’s Day the Y will have an open house.  I’ll do a short tai chi class at 11, open to all who would like to come by.  Early arrivals have been known to receive free t-shirts and there will probably be snacks.

(but not probably as fancy as these cakes  ❤


Change?  A rambling remembrance of change and decisions . . .

I don’t leap into change, tending to hold onto the known and comfortable until nudged toward the brink of a new decision.  Generally, after the leap I find myself in a place I like . . . and settle into a new, comfortable routine.

A story once made the rounds about a man praying vociferously, “Please, Lord, just let me win the lottery.  It would really make a difference in my life.  Please, just let me win once.”  From above, a booming voice, “Meet me halfway.  Buy a ticket.”

I bought one lottery ticket when I heard that story, just in case there was a Plan and I needed to do my half.  I didn’t win, I hadn’t really expected to, and there went my dreams of travel and hiring a chauffeur . . . I couldn’t think of much else I’d like to change.

I bought another lottery ticket when I was trying to decide whether or not to retire.  Winning would be a sure sign.  Instead, I received a much more clear sign; sarcoidosis, probably from the mold in our school, impeded my breathing and made it clear that I needed to leave.

I had also expressed a desire that year to “meet some nice men in the coming year.”  Mom used to warn us to be careful what we wished for.  I hadn’t specified “men to whom I won’t owe co-pays.”  To be fair, all the “ologists” were very nice men, and they did get my health back on track after I left that building.  I did also give myself a trip to Hawaii as a retirement present . . . no chauffeur yet, though.


Retirement was foreshadowed if I’d paid attention.  A couple of years earlier, my doctor made me stay home for the whole month of November (pneumonia). Much as I loved my students, and teaching, I found it surprisingly easy to stay home reading and resting (and lesson planning and grading), and my students appreciated me when I decided to “come back and save (us) from this horrible sub.”  As a preview of retirement, I discovered it was rather pleasant and relaxing to have fewer responsibilities.  I’m feeling the same way now about retirement . . . once I got over the guilt of not “reinventing myself” with a new work load . . .

Lessons in dreams . . .  while still teaching, I had a recurring dream that I couldn’t find my classroom and it was time to teach a class.  I’d end up in an office building and then a park . . . as I neared retirement, my dreaming self decided to stay in the park, “They’ll be okay.”  Thanks to lovely new teachers, they really are.

A student who expressed dismay at my plans to leave was just fine once I reminded her that she would be graduating at the same time as I retired . . . graduating forever.

I recently came across my official Certificate of Credibility, issued after a student, denied some concession, told me that was “why you have no credibility with your students.” Colleagues signed it, and then most of that class asked to also sign.  Take that, ornery student!



One more memory:  I taught one of my high school students to knit during lunch.  I had brought in my knitting as a visual for our reading of “House Taken Over.” Afterward, she had wistfully shared that she hadn’t wanted to learn to knit when her grandmother offered, too young to be interested, “and now I want to learn and my grandma is gone.”  I said I could fill in for her grandma, and she learned quickly!


May your new year be filled with love and laughter, health and happiness, the familiar and some new, all in pleasing proportions.  Hugs!

X-rated Ban


I learned to set limits on my students’ writing, for my own sanity and for job preservation —

G-rated material only, no graphic violence because I couldn’t handle it, no explicit sex.  Yes, their minds did go there, but I didn’t care to.  I found out early on that even a seemingly innocent request to write prepositional phrases on the board could go astray: in the cabin, on the bed, under the covers, next to his body . . . stopped and erased quickly.  I told them, “my mother won’t let me read that sort of thing.”

They would point out how successful Stephen King was, and I admitted that was true, but when they became that successful, I still wouldn’t read anything violent they wrote.  I would, though, appear on the talk shows to congratulate them, and “if you get tired of a sports car and would like to give it to me . . . you know I’ll never afford one on my salary . . . ”  😉

Then a student told me, “I know you don’t read Stephen King, but you’ll like this one” and handed me Nightshift with “Quitters, Inc.” bookmarked.  I trusted her evaluation enough to risk reading the story, and she was  correct.  It made excellent points about smoking, how unhealthy it is and how hard a habit it is to break, and it raised discussion issues about whether ends justify means.  I read it with the short story classes from then on, sometimes handing out “Don’t Smoke” stickers afterward.

Wisdom of the Young


My co-stars on the storytelling CDs . . .  Brianna, Hannah, and Josh. ❤

In The King and I, Anna sings, “by your pupils you’ll be taught.”  There is so much to learn from their young, fresh outlook on life.

Jillian once, when she was very small and I complimented her on a great hint for some kitchen chore, “I don’t know it all, but I know some things.”  These days, she’s my go-to person on technology questions.

My alderman’s daughter, at a neighborhood picnic, laughed at the adults’ discussion of exercise.  “I don’t exercise,” she explained.  “I PLAY” . . . and she ran over to the swings.  Healthy attitudes . . .

 Joy once encouraged me, “Run, Aunt Mary.  It’s FUN!”

photo of my mom with Joy . . .  >Mom and Joy (3)033

They have so much to teach us, even as they are learning new things every day.

 There comes the day when spelling won’t work as secret code . . . “Shall we stop for i-c-e-” ICE CREAM!!!!!   “Want to go to the z-o-o?” YES!! ZOO!!!

The lessons of childhood continue to mold the adult.  I loved when my high school students would pick up on the Reading Rainbow song and join in, “Take a look, it’s in a book . . .”

I used to give students extra credit for finding errors in published sources and then correcting them, and they found plenty.

I also gave credit when they showed me a new perspective on something, even sometimes on things I had read fifty times.

After a really serious vandalism incident at our high school, a student made me feel a little ashamed of my own punitive thoughts when she said, “If they had parents as good as mine, they’d never have done anything like this. — Empathy, understanding . . .

 . . . and then there was a student I didn’t even know, who when he heard me complaining that a mandatory inservice would take up half the weekend, “Half a weekend is better than none.”  Perspective.

While I do have the bumper sticker “Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story,” I believe in using the teachable moments in fiction and sharing good values in my stories.

Mr. Fox is a story full of important lessons on courage and caution, and it helped my sophomores understand Pushkin’s “The Bridegroom.”  I first told the story when my Dan Keding CD stopped playing right in the middle and my students insisted I finish it.  Then, darling scholars, when I got a new CD and a new player and played it again for them, they sweetly told me they liked mine better . . .

My ESOL students ably critiqued my telling of La Llorona one year.

Dan’s “Two Warriors” story ends with “You can’t hate a man once you know his story.”  Often when we know what’s going on in a person’s life, we are much more able to help.  I often said of difficult students, once I knew their background, that I might have acted out even more if it had been I.

A teaching colleague whose wife got a raise was a bit surprised when I remarked on how well he was dealing with her earning much more than he was.  I was glad to see that vestige of the ’70s mentality gone, and perhaps it was never an issue for intelligent and reasonable men.  He then polled his students, who all agreed that more money in a family is good, no matter who brings it in.

It’s amazing that the things former students remember are not always the lessons we plan, but are more often the moments of kindness, the lessons in grace . . . and it goes both ways.  When my mother was very ill, my students shared cards, prayers, Chicken Soup books, and kept me going through it all, and when I thanked on student, she said, “Remember last year when I needed help?  Well, now it’s your turn.”

On a lighter note, one day I reached high to write something on the board and felt the underarm seam of my blouse RIIIPPPP.  A student immediately defused my embarrassment by asking, “If you are going to throw that away, could I have it for my mother’s fabric art?”  Silver linings everywhere . . .

Like my friend’s daughter, I think perhaps we should just play.


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