This past weekend it cracked me up to follow the coverage of the children’s book that has everyone up in arms about the use of the word “scrotum.”
Now, last time I checked, scrotum wasn’t a “bad” word. No one calls someone else that in the playground or tells someone what to do with theirs. If they have one.
However, this year’s recipient of the Newbery Medal, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, will be banned in some libraries for Patron’s use of that irksome word. In the book, a 10-year-old orphan called Lucky overhears someone explaining that a rattlesnake bit his dog in the scrotum. From The Higher Power of Lucky:
Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important.
So, fast forward to the book winning the Newbery, some school librarians getting their mitts on the book and … all hell breaks loose. According to The New York Times:
The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books
OK: so never mind debating if “scrotum” is an acceptable word for young’uns to read. (Fer cryin’ out loud!) What cracked me up was the coverage given to the issue by two really well-known media outlets, The New York Times and Associated Content. I won’t go so far as to say someone borrowed heavily from someone else’s lede, but … well, here they both are. You decide.
The Times piece opens thus:
The word “scrotum” does not often appear in polite conversation. Or children’s literature, for that matter.
And from Associated Content, datelined one day earlier:
It’s rare to hear the word “scrotum,” in polite conversation. Seeing it on the first page of a children’s book has some parents and teachers up in arms.
I don’t know about you, but “polite conversation” is not the first place my mind goes when I hear (or read) the word “scrotum.” And, you know, I beg to differ with both of these publications. Scrotum is totally acceptable in polite conversation. Case in point, of the three sentences that follow, which would you mostly likely use at a cocktail party?
1. The baseball whacked John right in the sack.
2. When the baseball hit John in the nuggets, he couldn’t see straight for a week.
3. When the baseball hit John in the scrotum, play was over for him for the balance of the game.
See what I’m saying? You want polite conversation? If what you’re describing is that part of the anatomy, then “scrotum” is totally the way to go as opposed to … you know … well, all of the alternatives.
From The New York Times again:
The book has already been banned from school libraries in a handful of states in the South, the West and the Northeast, and librarians in other schools have indicated in the online debate that they may well follow suit. Indeed, the topic has dominated the discussion among librarians since the book was shipped to schools.
For scrotum? Are you serious? If anyone is on the anti-scrotum side of the fence, please e-mail me and let me know what we’re supposed to call it. Or are we meant to pretend it doesn’t exist? Pretend that we’re all like Barbies and Kens under our clothes. (All the bumps without the machinery.)
“I think it’s a good case of an author not realizing her audience,” said Frederick Muller, a librarian at Halsted Middle School in Newton, N.J. “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.”
C’mon Fred: give it the old college try. It’s not that hard. How would you explain a thumb? A clavicle? A coccyx? Scrotum is like one of those: a bit of the body, nothing nasty or magical. Nothing in the least bit mystical. Our own discomfort in explaining this to children says a lot more about us than it does about them. Or Patron’s book.
Honestly? I worry about the children raised in a world without scrotums. You should too. What are they supposed to do? How are they meant to function? Or do we expect to raise them to adulthood calling their sensitive bits by ridiculous cutsie names?