Let’s play word association — the game where I say one thing and you say the next thing that pops into your head, and then I judge you because whatever you said, I’m sure I would have said something much cleverer. When I say, “William,” you say, “Mary,” or “Shakespeare,” or something equally as obvious and non-offensive. A response like “Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States,” would be a little less conventional, but I’ll allow it.
p. Now, what do you think of when I say, “children’s book”? How about if I add “Newberry-award-winning” or “third grade level”? Are you thinking of the word “scrotum” yet?
p. Yes, scrotum. In this year’s winner of the Newberry Medal, “The Higher Power of Lucky,” the taboo anatomical reference shows up multiple times. And — surprise, surprise — people are getting their panties in a twist over it.
p. I’m a little torn on the issue myself. At first, this was because I wasn’t exactly sure what a scrotum was. I knew it was a naughty word, but I’m innocent, I’m naive and I’m really bad at anatomy. So I Wikipedia’d it, simultaneously learning all about the scrotum and turning Wikipedia into the exciting, shiny, new verb it’s always wanted to be.
p. After my very enlightening Wikipedia session, I still didn’t know quite how I felt about the choice of this particular word for use in children’s literature. On the one hand — in case you couldn’t tell from my own sparkling-clean language — I am not what you would call a “fan” of censorship. If people want to put scrotums (or is the plural “scrota”?) all over their books, I feel like we should let them do their thing. They’re the authors — the people we entrust to educate our children; if they don’t know what they’re doing, we’re in trouble.
p. Obviously, no favorite childhood books educated me about this particular subject (thanks a lot, Mercer Mayer), and the lack of such a literary learning experience forced me to publicly admit my ignorance in a silly column devoted to the word “scrotum.” No parent wants their child to go through that kind of humiliation, or, worse yet, to turn out like me.
p. On the other hand, no parent or teacher wants to undergo the blush-inducing experience of having a nine-year-old demand of her, “So Mrs. May, what the heck is a scrotum?” Scrotal knowledge seems to be the realm of the middle-school-and-up crowd. People who still partake of “potty breaks” and Dunk-a-Roos just don’t sound right lisping through a story about one of the many unattractive features of the male genitalia, do they?
p. Maybe I’m not giving the kids enough credit. They probably don’t have to Wikipedia things like that. Third-graders today are hip, they’re worldly, they watch Discovery Health Channel (okay, just the ones being groomed for medical school, but I’m sure they pass the juicy bits on to their friends at recess). Who am I to say what they should be reading?
p. The offending scrotum of the story doesn’t even actually belong to a human. It’s a dog who suffers the mortification of having his scrotum discussed by not only the young, overly precious dog owner hero of the story, but also by the children, the parents, the librarians, the teachers and snarky little nobodies like me. Even more embarrassing for said dog, the scrotum in question appears as the unfortunate victim of a rattlesnake bite. There is no sex and no human nudity. I think dog nudity does occur, but everyone (weirdly enough) seems to be okay with that.
p. With these qualifiers in mind, I’m becoming convinced that the scrotum story is all right for the children. It teaches them to stick it to the censorship man. It encourages building online research skills. And when all is said and done, I think even the prudes can be happy. When the children see those Wikipedia pictures, they’ll probably be put off their Dunk-a-Roos and their scrotum talk for the next few years. And then we can all focus on the more pressing issues of rattlesnake bites and dog nudity.
p. __Lauren Bell is a Confusion Corner columnist for The Flat Hat. She creatifies verbs like it’s nobody’s business.__