Our school district has implemented a new automated phone notification system. We get phone calls with the principal or someone else’s recorded voice telling us about Meet the Teacher night, school assemblies, no-school days, etc.
The one we received this week seemed oddly and unnecessarily euphemistic. The Middle School principal announced that there would be a school assembly about bullying on Wednesday. The presentation had previously been given at the high school.
The oddness started when he resumed speaking after the first bit had been repeated in Spanish. “This is a serious subject,” he said. “However, there are two words in the presentation that could be seen as the equivalent of ‘evening television language’. If you do not wish your child to attend the assembly, please notify the school and we will make other arrangements.”
Evening television language? Did he mean profanity? Why not just say so? The problem with euphemisms is that they are so easy to misunderstand, especially across cultural differences. Profanity is fairly universally understood to involve certain words. But evening television language? Only, this wasn’t even evening television language, but simply words that might be seen as equivalent to it. I wish I understood Spanish so I could tell if the Spanish speaker had made a literal translation of “evening television language” or had converted to some euphemism that would be understood by Spanish speakers.
I wasn’t inclined to withdraw my child from the assembly based on two words. I mean, she listens to uncensored Mackelmore and Pink songs. We’ve watched Pitch Perfect ad nauseam. She reads extensively. And, well, quite frankly, she goes to public school. I have a hard time believing that either of these two words will be new and/or shocking to her.
But I do wonder what they are. And why they didn’t just tell us the two words. Maybe he could have spelled them in a low whisper, like when fifth graders are talking about “naughty” words. If I were a concerned parent, I’d be forced to call the school to ask what words they were. I hope there aren’t too many concerned parents, or the poor secretary will be doing nothing all day but repeating these two terrible words to parent after parent, all day long. I’ve asked Jane to take pen and paper and write down all the candidate words she hears. I’m curious.