A severe case of foot and mouth

I understand Edgar Allen Poe when he writes about the Imp of the Perverse: that little gremlin inside you that forces you to do or say the one thing you know you shouldn’t. Like stand up in the middle of a wedding ceremony and shout ‘I shagged the groom!’ when it is, in fact¨, true. It happens quite frequently to me in class, which is a worry. Although my particular perverse Imp never gives me any warning it is about to shoot its mouth off, and it seems to have a thing about dictators. In class a while ago I was trying to explain the ending ‘-phobe’ as in ‘technophobe’. The students seemed to understand the suffix, so I decided to go one step further, writing a series of words on the board to illustrate the opposite ending ‘-phile’ as in ‘Bibliophile.’

‘Now, can anybody tell me what this opposite ending means? Exactly, good! It means you love something… so If you look at this word, then, you’ll see…. (Francophile…… Oh, well done, nice one.) …. er, well, it doesn’t mean someone who loves Franco, even though it looks like it, it means someone who’s a fan of France. Someone who really loves France…..?’

They looked a little sceptical. Not about the terminology, about the concept. The Spanish really hate the French.

‘There are plenty of them. Really.’

But this was nothing compared to the insane example that popped uninvited into my head a few months ago when trying to explain what the word ‘quotation’ means. I have to put this into context before I illustrate my spectacular gaffe: imagine a job where every few minutes people are asking you off the top of your head to explain and contextualize random phrases like ‘pushing up daisies’ or ‘in house’ (as opposed to ‘in the house’), or ‘run a tight ship’. You spit out little gems of wisdom like a snowplough spewing out grit all day. And sometimes you get tired, and somewhere in the brain the synapses get lazy, or wires get crossed. So I surprised even myself when a student asked me,

‘What does quotation mean?’ and I replied

‘Oh, it means words someone famously said, like… er…. Hitler once famously said ‘Exterminate all the jews.’

Fuck, fuuuuuck!……. not that! Where did that come from? What is wrong with me?

Luckily the student didn’t catch my first example, and I kicked it under the carpet where it belonged and started again, with something appropriate like ‘and of course, Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ That’s a perfect example of a quotation.’

And an example without using a dictator reference would certainly make teacher look like less of a twat.

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