Sunday, February 13, 2011

He Got Wore Out. . .

My friend Bijoux (the blogger formerly known as Cocotte) was recently talking about her high school honors English class, and it reminded me of a story from my own high school days. . .


One of my high school classmates, and a good friend besides, was a guy named Jon. Jon was bright and ambitious, and, since both of us were honor-student-types, we tended to have a lot of our classes together. Jon aspired to a certain type of suave sophistication (which wasn't always the most natural thing in the world, growing up as we did in the middle of the North Woods; and occasionally, his sophisticated aspirations came across as, how-shall-I-say. . . just a trifle pompous; but hey, a kid can dream). Rather than football, basketball and baseball, which were my favorite sports, Jon was on the swimming, tennis and golf teams (which might or might not give you a better picture of my friend Jon, but there it is).

Jon and I often ended up being engaged in a kind of friendly competitiveness - I tended to have a little higher 'academic ceiling' than he did, but he was more punctilious than I was about not allowing himself to get B's in classes he wasn't so interested in, so he actually graduated higher than I did. And, as I noted above, he was more, uh, 'socially motivated' than I was - more concerned about how his hair was cut, what kind of clothes he wore, how good-looking his girlfriend was, and stuff like that. Not that I was exactly UNconcerned about any of those things (altho, to be perfectly candid, my 'concern', such as it was, manifested itself more at the level of 'Gee, I wish I had a girlfriend'), but suffice it to say that I didn't assign them the priority that Jon did.

We met each other in about fifth or sixth grade, I think, and quickly became friends; our friendship was solid all the way through high school, although we haven't kept in real close touch since then.


Jon and I were in the same Honors English class pretty much all the way through high school. Our junior year, I think, we read, as virtually all high school students seem to, The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. Every day, our teacher would assign various students to read parts in class that day, and we just read our way through it in class like that, over the course of a couple weeks.

One of the days, Jon was assigned to read one of the parts; I don't recall the name of his character, but he was one of the men of Salem who was most earnest to see the young witches brought to a justly deserved end. One of Jon's lines was simply to shout, accusingly, "Whore! Whore!" at one of the accused women (I'm sure my more literarily-inclined readers will be able to cite Act and Scene, the name of the speaker, and the 'witch' to whom it was directed; to which I say, Good for You; c'mon over here, and I'll paste a Gold Star on your forehead). With his flair for the dramatic, and his sense of literary sophistication, Jon straightened his back, sat upright, and fairly yelled, according to character,


The class sat in stunned silence - did we hear that right? Did he really say 'wore'?

I knew instantly what had happened. Jon certainly knew the word, 'whore', but it was one of those that he'd often heard, but rarely seen in print (looking back, it seems almost touchingly quaint; but hey, we were WAY up in the North Woods, and printed sightings of the word 'whore' were not easy to come by). So when he saw it in print, he didn't recognize it. And he just 'sounded it out' according to 'standard rules of pronunciation' as best he could.

But to the class-as-a-whole, it looked for all the world that Jon - clever, bright, suave, sophisticated, occasionally-pompous honor-student Jon - didn't know the word 'whore'. The silence held for a second or two, then gales of uproarious laughter cascaded forth. Of course, it wasn't just the mistake; it was the hilarious irony that Jon was the one who made it.

The teacher was merciful, and silenced the laughter more quickly than he'd have had to. Jon, who still had no idea what was going on, just sat at his desk looking utterly bewildered.

Our teacher was a bit of an effete sort, and he just leaned against the wall, gazing at Jon with a bemused expression. Finally, he spoke. "I believe," he explained, "that that word is pronounced 'HWORE'," with particular emphasis on the leading 'h' sound.

Instantly, Jon's face went beet-red. The class resumed its laughter, as Jon became embarrassingly aware of his error (and of course, almost no-one else would have been quite as embarrassed as Jon was, which just amplified the effect), and the joke of which he'd unwittingly made himself the butt. As the laughter began to die down, Jon stood up at his seat, clenched his fists and fairly shrieked,


at the top of his lungs. And after that, we could all get back to the business of reading The Crucible. . .


Both yesterday and today have been beautifully warm and sunny days, with temperatures pushing 50F. We can even see the pavement on our street, which has been snow-covered for over a month by now. This morning, it was even above freezing as we walked to church. I took my warm hat with me, not least because Jen and I have been trading sicknesses for the past month, and I didn't want to needlessly set my recovery back. But even 32F felt warm enough that I soon removed my hat, the better to enjoy the unseasonable warmth and sunshine.

I suppose it's one of the benefits of living in Michigan that, by mid-February, even 32 degrees feels like summer. . .


  1. This is great. I was an avid reader as a child, but it's funny that you come across a lot of words that you come to understand their meaning, but you never hear spoken or never associate with the spoken word. My word was 'chaos.' When read, I thought it was pronounced chay-oce and though I understood it to mean confusion of some sort, I thought it was different than the word I heard as 'kayos.'

    I think I was about 18 when I finally put two and two together. Fortunately, it was not while reading amongst peers!

  2. Ah, Bijoux, dear faithful friend. . . If it wasn't for you, I'd only have the crickets to talk to. . . ;)

    I'd guess that it's more common to have words you've seen in print but never heard, than the other way around. I know I've had several of those, myself (altho, for the life of me, I can't think of one off the top of my head right now. . .)

  3. That's a great story. I well know the pain of reading a word, aloud, that you've either never seen in print or heard pronounced. One of mine was "Armageddon".

    Keep in mind, I was ALWAYS the best reader in every situation I was ever put in. That's why I make my money being a voice-over person now. I read very well. Hadn't ever heard that word pronounced before having to do so in a school play, though.

    (It was a comedy, but for the life of me, I can't remember the name of it.)

    Anyway, on the first read-through, my line was something like...

    "Well, call St. John and tell him Armageddon is on."

    Which I interpreted as...

    "Well, call St. John and tell him ar-MEG-a-don is on."

    Rest assured, I've never since mispronounced it. I wouldn't hear that laughter again for a million bucks.

  4. Suldog - Well, thanks for the advance warning; I'll keep my million bucks in the bank. . .


  5. pretty funny story. there was a kid in my english class who was a nice kid. kind of a quiet, under the radar mild prankster but nothing terrible sort of kid who gained respectable if not spectacular grades. he was generally well liked if not among the popular. just sort of an average nice guy with a great sense of humor. one thing he struggled with was reading aloud. that poor guy would get singled out seemingly every time we read a play for some part that would require long speeches or lots of unfamiliar words. i always felt awful for him having to do that.

  6. Lime - That actually sounds like a couple of my kids. . .

    Did he feel picked on?

  7. What a great story. I followed the link from Uncle Skip's place (we're all award winning bloggers ;-)). Really enjoyed reading this.

  8. Carolina - (*shuffling feet from side-to-side*) Aw, shucks. . .

    Any friend of Skip's is a friend of mine. . .

    And, uh. . . where are you planning to hang your award? ;)

  9. in the one english class we shared he was clearly being picked on by the teacher and several of us loathed the teacher for it.

  10. Thank you for my FIRST, literal, "I almost spit coffee out my mouth" computer moment. The picture of that young man yelling WHOOOREE!!!!!... You have the best stories, Craig!

  11. Well, I think part of it is, I'm enough of a fool that funny stuff keeps happening around me. . .