Here's more from my absolute favorite columnist, hoping he won't mind I copy the text in full -
LINK TO SF CHRONICLE ARTICLE
You've probably read about this already, but I thought I'd repeat the cogent details. There is a children's book called "The Higher Power of Lucky," which concerns the adventures of a plucky 10-year-old orphan who somehow eavesdrops on a 12-step meeting. That is not a promising premise, but the book won the Newbery Medal, the Oscar of children's literature, so maybe author Susan Patron brought it off.
(Imagined dialogue: "Gosh, Lucky, do we have to keep coming back?" "No, Buster, we don't. Isn't that the bestest news you've heard all day?" I'm being unfair.)
But the book is the center of controversy for a whole different reason. Lucky overhears another character say that he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, in the scrotum. Yes, the scrotum. That's what the fuss is about.
I am happy to report that, as yet, no school boards have banned "The Higher Power of Lucky," although just wait. On the other hand, the Internet is buzzing with librarians expressing outrage at the use of the word and pledging not to buy the book for their institutions, and other librarians saying, "Are you mad? 'Scrotum?' Kids shouldn't read that word? Heck, half the kids have one, for heaven's sake."
Again, all dialogue imagined.
This is not, strictly speaking, a censorship issue, because librarians are supposed to select books for their libraries, and they can do so on criteria they find appropriate. It could be an issue of fear, of librarians unwilling to defend "scrotum" to angry parents and school administrators.
(And, to be candid, scrotums are pretty indefensible. Have you seen those things? Uglier than toes, most of them. Wait, no, I'll calm down. Just a brief moment of giddiness. I blame the overuse of parentheses. I got into the habit as a young man. I need a 12-step program. Maybe Lucky could come listen to that one.)
There are all kinds of dirty words. There are blasphemous phrases, which are becoming less acceptable than they used to be because our God-addled culture is taking offense at casual cursing -- although perhaps when "God damn it to hell" is meant literally, it's still OK. Then there are the common words for excrement and intercourse, which are taboo because they're taboo, but at least everyone knows it. But "scrotum"? Is that a known corrupter of youth? How about "underpants" or "nipple" or "pubic" or "herpes" -- are they bad too? I remember when librarians just had to worry about the Dewey Decimal System. Come to think of it, "Dewey Decimal System" sounds a little iffy. Best not to write about it, dear authors.
All of which reminds me of a story. On our weekly rides down to Castro Valley for her horseback riding lessons, my granddaughter, Alice, and I have discussions on a wide variety of philosophical and equine subjects. A few weeks ago, she told me that one of the horses she rode, Papa, had serious digestive difficulties.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"Every time I jog on him, his stomach just rumbles all the time."
This didn't seem right to me. Not the data -- Alice is extremely trustworthy on factual matters. But I suspected the interpretation might somehow be flawed. When we got to Miss Molly's Academy for the Horsely Arts, I asked Miss Molly herself about it. She looked at Alice.
"This is just when he jogs, right?" Alice nodded. "Oh, that's his penis slipping back and forth in his penis sheath. It's very loud." Alice nodded. The information did not shock her; it did not even strike her as funny. (It struck me as funny, but I am not as serious-minded as Alice or, indeed, as most children.) Molly said it in a very matter-of-fact way.
So here's my theory: We have gotten too far away from our agricultural heritage. Kids who grow up on farms know all about elimination and procreation and penis sheaths. Animals behave like animals, and it doesn't take a big imagination to figure out that humans are animals too. If a dog got bit on the scrotum by a rattlesnake, there would be more important things to worry about than what to call the place where the dog got nipped.
My solution: field trips. Lots of field trips. Lecture-demonstrations. Maybe that will make those squeamish librarians more comfortable.
I watched Alice while she rode that day, and I listened. Yup, there it was -- I'm surprised I didn't notice it before. Kind of a "slurp slurp slurp" sound. Twenty minutes later, I learned that horses have frogs in their feet, but that's another story for another day.
I know that this is a tempest in a teapot, and that most librarians are doing the sensible thing and staying out of it. Teapot tempests, though, are my bread and butter.
Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine; I never understood a single word he said but I helped [email protected]
This article appeared on page E - 18 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Note from Osso - Jon Carroll has written many wonderful columns about cats and mondegreens, columns I savor like fine gelato, but also covers other subjects.