The S-word in action
I recently joined a new listserv on children's literature. It's quite an active list, and I happened to join right in the middle of a lively discussion about Peter Pan, a story I have always thoroughly enjoyed and am not quite ready to give up. But that's not what I want to discuss here.
Most recently, the buzz on said listserv has been about the recent Newberry Award winner The Higher Power of Lucky. I haven't read the book, and I don't think I actually will, because its topic is not one that I am invested in. However, there seems to be somewhat of a kerfuffle (love that word) over the author's use of the word "scrotum" on the very first page of the book. Pause a moment to gasp in shock appropriately, then move on.
On February 18, 2007, the New York Times ran an article titled "With One Word, Children's Book Sets Off Uproar". Many responders on the children's lit listserv feel that the article is one of the best examples of biased and sensational writing they've recently seen (here is a choice quote from the article to illustrate their concern: "Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase"). In fact, one member actually said that she was one of the librarians interviewed for the article, and who was subsequently misquoted. From what I've seen on-list, many members of which are school librarians, there seems to be a major mountain and molehill episode going on, most of which was caused because A) the book is the Newberry winner, which generates more readership, and B) the NYTimes article "made it so." (I just watched the Patrick Stewart episode of Extras where he mocks his famous line.)
On the first page of The Higher Power of Lucky, the eponymous heroine overhears a story during an AA meeting of a man whose dog was bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. That's really as much as I know about the issue. Amazon has a "grade 4-6" indication, and most people are saying something in the 9-12 year old range. Many people (on the list and other places) are questioning the word choice, wondering if there wasn't perhaps a better anatomical term (see also the recent Florida kerfuffle over "The Hooha Monologues".....).
Then I found a link to a Chicago Tribune editorial. One of the comments in particular sums up the entire episode for me: on 2/19, "Anon" said: " suppose what's really shocking here is that the dog was apparently not "fixed." What kind of lesson does THAT give to both kids and parents?" I find this question more appropriate than perhaps even Anon meant it to be. First, domesticated animal/pet overpopulation is a serious issue in this country and around the world. Second, it truly does demonstrate the ridiculous levels of concern that Americans in particular (it is interesting to see non-American responses on the listserv) and even more especially, neurotic parents, place on language at fairly odd moments. There may truly be parents out there who are more concerned with the "scrot** word" (to differentiate from the other s-word) than the N-word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.