Sunday, February 22, 2009

Secret Society for the Perversion of Language

I’ve always suspected that English teachers belong to a secret and cruelly-intentioned society, whose only purpose is to embarrass and bewilder the rest of us. One of my English teachers had mastered the tactics of this imagined society. I’m certain he was a high-ranking official, at least in the American-English sect of the cult.

Mr. McDole relished hearing the bell that signaled the start of class, when he would chuckle to himself as he surveyed the class with a devilish smirk. He always spoke as if auditioning for a Shakespearean play, with every word being the shouted word - to ensure that all of his audience (and maybe a few out in the street) could savor the perfection with which he delivered his lines.

Each day, Mr. McDole’s class seemed to play out in the same degrading fashion. We were: Incompetent Buffoons, Scurvy Knaves, or one of my personal favorites, “Insignificant Sons of (what you will).”

Class would begin with some Shakespearean-like pontification from Mr. McDole, followed by a question. We always thought this question was somehow related to what he had just been talking about - we weren’t sure.

McDole’s question would be followed by all of us want-wits slouching down in our chairs, scrunching our eyes closed, and making powerful contortic efforts to retract our heads into our necks. This went hand-in-hand with chanting, “Not me…Not me…,” under our collective breath.

Next, Mr. McDole would choose his victim and, true to his oath of fidelity to the secret society, impale the sufferer with a Shakespearean-style barb, quickly expanding his fusillade to include the entire class:

McDole shouting: Provide the subject in the following sentence. “Jim escorted Penny to the theatre.”

(Sound of slouching, head retracting and a strange murmuring hum)

McDole, shouting: Mr. Snodgrass!

Doug Snodgrass: (Incoherent, muffled sounds coming from the top of Doug’s neck.)

McDole, shouting: SPEAK! You Impertinent Toad-Spotted Idiot!

Doug: (Head popping up just long enough to respond with a question of his own), “Jim?”

McDole, shouting: Wrong! Mangled, Weather-Beaten Gudgeon! The correct answer is Penny!

McDole, shouting: Miss Morgan! Subject of the following sentence please, “James escorted Penelope to the theatre.”

Startled, Jackie Morgan’s head accidentally pops out of her neck and (almost crying) she responds, “Penelope?”

McDole, shouting: Why must you insist on demonstrating that you are a Beetle-Headed Skainsmate!?! WRONG!

Now Jackie is really crying because she doesn't know what a skainsmate is… none of us do.

Mr. McDole would then turn on the rest of the class and begin shouting even more vehemently, “The lot-of-you are nothing more than Beef-Witted Miscreants and Dog-Hearted Malt worms!” And thus the days would pass in Mr. McDole’s class.

I was one of the lucky ones - I’m pretty sure he liked me. I might even go so far as to say I was one of his favorites. You see, Mr. McDole knew he could always count on me to hold up under the rigors of his bombastic barrage of questions until, overwhelmed, I would shout back, “I just don’t know Mr. McDole!”

To surrender an “I don’t know” was openly admitting inferiority to all members in the sect, and this at the hands of one of its leading disciples. I could tell that Mr. McDole looked upon my stoic tolerance of his abuse favorably, because the worst thing he ever called me was a “Bawdy, Pox-Marked, Hasty-Witted, Clack-Dish!”
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