Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sign of the Times: Graffiti

When I was in seventh grade my parents decided it was time for their five children to start attending school in the nearby town slightly farther away from our home than the tiny town where we had been enrolled. Up until then we had gotten our education in a farming community that was basically a cluster of houses around a grain elevator. My class, with four students, was the largest of the eight classes housed in the two-room school.

I loved that school, but today's story is not about that. Today's story is about walking to school in town. My Much Older Sister and I rode to town with Dad when he went to work at 7:30, then walked the dozen blocks or so to the junior high. It was on that daily trek that I saw a puzzling word written in chalk on the sidewalk. The word rhymed with "cluck" and I had no idea what it meant.

People, I was in junior high and I didn't know the most notorious dirty word in the English language. (Friends from my youth, does that explain a lot about me?) I had to ask Much Older Sister what it meant, and she rolled her eyes and ridiculed my innocence but explained.

I knew this was a word whose primary function was to SHOCK. I mean, if it weren't meant to be shocking, the bad boys with chalk would not have written it there where it jumped off the pavement and into my mind forever.

This morning during my around-the-block cool-down I came across scribblings on our front sidewalk. Some kids with chalk obviously set out to shock me and the other fogeys who live around here, because there under my feet were anatomically-correct drawings and helpful labelings.

Instead of being shocked, though, I found myself laughing. Unlike the graffiti of my junior high words, these drawings were labeled with the "correct" terms for these body parts. This diagram and these terms could have been used as a visual aid in the fifth grade birds-and-bees talk the school nurse gave every year when I was a kid.

But then I thought of a couple of years ago when I mistakenly sat next to the seventh grader cluster at a basketball game. Oh, my. Not only did they know what my cluck-rhyming word was, they used it in every.single.sentence. They weren't trying to shock, they were conversing.

It occurs to me that we have gone full circle when anatomical terms are used to shock, and shocking words are used conversationally.

I have to admit, I find that shocking.

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