During her acceptance speech for the Mark Twain Prize in 2010, Betty Whiteobserved: “We laugh a lot. That’s for sure. Sure beats the alternative, doesn’t it?” Even though the 90-year-old queen of comedy could have been describing my class the other day, do not believe any of my students when they say I was her teacher.
See, there was no way class would be funny. It was Grammar Day. Students were working on subject – verb agreement and intervening expressions. We were deciding whether to use a singular verb or plural verb in a sentence. Where is the humor in this lesson? Thus, the thought, “How can I make this interesting?” nagged at me like an Honors student begging for extra credit to improve her grade from a 99% to a 100%. Let’s face it; grammar is not a Mark Twain story.
Well, I needed not worry. To paraphrase Bill Nye the Science Guy in Interview with Wired.com, April 2005: “The more you find out about freshmen, the more opportunities there are to laugh.”
I won’t bore you with all of the sentences. The first one was a typical, banal grammar worksheet sentence: Folk, in addition to rock, (is, are) my favorite music. Do you know the correct answer? IS. Give yourself a cookie for being brilliant!
Immediately, though, the kids focused on the fact that they do not listen to folk music. They informed me that they listen to Hip Hop, Top 40, and Country. As many years as I have been teaching, you would think I would notice their overwhelming concern for the content of the sentence instead of the grammar as a harbinger of the comedy to come.
The next sentence was Weight lifting, as well as wrestling, takes strength. A few grins cross some faces. I give the class my am-I-missing-something look. Grinning, Gary inquires, “Isn’t it obvious weight lifting takes strength?”
I smile and respond, “I guess Mr. Obvious created this worksheet.” Several students laugh.
The next sentence gets three-quarters of the class laughing: Jupiter, plus Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, is a gas planet. Pronouncing “Uranus” as “your anus” produced a few guffaws. However, Nick, an astute young man, noticed the pun in the sentence. “Uranus is a gas planet.” Nothing like a flatulence joke to crack up a class. I had to give him extra credit for noticing the pun before me.
Of course, we were not done. Within three sentences, mass hysteria erupted with A hoe, in addition to a rake and a ladder, is missing from the garage. I awaited the avalanche of conjectures on where the missing hoe might be.
After I doubled over, four students fell out of their desks, three students ran to the bathroom, and one boy had his breakfast milk squirt out of his nose, we were ready to move on. Back to the calm, boring sentences. Then, a hiccup. The sentence was The VCR, plus a compact disc player makes a good holiday gift. My favorite facetious freshmen revealed their inquisitive natures’.
“What’s a VCR?”
“How old is this worksheet?”
“Are you sure you didn’t teach Betty White?”
“Thanks,” I reply sardonically. Then, I misread the next sentence: The doctor, together with his staff, BEATS many patients. I was supposed to say TREATS. Teaching about malapropisms wasn’t on the agenda. However, teachable moments happen at odd times…
Speaking of teachable moments, I learn from the students. The next sentence was The Big Dipper, accompanied by the Little Dipper, circles the polestar. I innocently commented, “Who says polestar? Isn’t it the North Star?” Ninety per cent of the class was snickering. I was confused. I was missing out on the joke. Then, one student divulged to me that “circling a polestar” could be a stripper on a stripper’s pole. I turned red… as red as the shirt of the Star Trek crew member about to die. And I laughed. Not at the stripper reference, though. I laughed because I thought the “Uranus is a gas planet” was funnier. Does that make me less mature?
As the great bard said: “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” Not Shakespeare silly. Jimmy Buffett.
I am curious, so I have to ask. Which sentence did you find funny? Why? (It helps to if you pretend to be 15 years old) Do you have any humorous anecdotes to share? I’d love to read and share them.
March 13 was the anniversary of the discovery of Uranus. So Happy Uranus Day! Do you know how hard it is to type when laughing?
- Happy Uranus Day (astronomyandlaw.com)