The Oral Exam

The professor swept into the room with his usual quick shuffle, weighted down by his shoulder bag and the heavy stack of papers under one arm. He swiped a hand over his beard and two girls in the front row glanced at each other and simultaneously put a tally mark at the top of their notes. They were never sure whether he was trying to smooth the unruly thing or just remind himself that it was still there.

“Are we ready?” he asked, with his back to the class, pulling the projector screen down from the ceiling. He had to try twice before it clicked into place. Turning back, he ran a hand down his beard again. Another tally mark.

“The quiz?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at his students as he scanned the room. “From the quiet in here, I’m guessing you’re all either asleep or you’ve sent your dummy selves to take notes for you today. Bad day for it. Try next Friday. We’ll be discussing semicolons and the only thing you need to know about them, is that they’re rubbish. The quiz!” He flicked on the projector. “Are you ready?”

The class straightened up in their seats as he turned the lights out, half to get ready for the quiz and half just to keep themselves from falling asleep in the dark.

“You know how this works,” the professor told them. “I play a video clip. You listen. When the clip is over, you shout out a translation for what just happened. I said, shout. Everybody loves shouting. Especially when they have no idea what the answer is. Here we go.”

The professor pushed play. There was a slight pause before the video played, a tense and awkward silence. Tom, leaning his chair against the back wall, started to snicker just as the clip started:

Neekers, a bright-smiled fifteen year old with long brown hair, turned to her older sister as she came downstairs. “Elephant!” she said.

“Hello, friend!” half the room shouted.

“Large gray mammal!” a few others said at the same time.

“Pachyderm!” said one or two.

The professor glared around the room. “Which is it?” He got the same jumbled shout as before, then quickly pointed to Tammy who was sitting in the second row.

“Hello, friend,” Tammy said. “Slang derived from how it sounds if you say it really fast, or really sleepily, in a Cockney accent.”

“Excellent,” the professor said, hand to his beard. “Next!”

Gwen walked lazily into Neeker’s room.
“How was the movie?” Neekers asked.
Gwen flopped down on the bed, arms falling off either side, eyes closed. “Ugh. Bucket abuse.”

“That movie was extremely boring!” Tom shouted.

“Wrong!” the professor said.

“That movie couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” Alex shouted.

“Very wrong,” the professor said. “But worth arguing in a paper, assuming that Gwen watches musicals.”

“Lots of people died in the movie,” Susan said.

“Wrong, because you didn’t shout,” the professor said. “Explain.”

“‘Kicking the bucket’ is a euphemism for dying,” Susan told him, with a shrug. “Too many people kick the bucket in a row, and it’s called bucket abuse. Also, point of interest, if the character is only badly wounded, it’s called stubbing your toe on the bucket.”

“Above and beyond the call of duty there,” the professor said, in joking reprimand. “Next!”

Gwen ran past the camera, fast, half turned to see what was chasing her. “Moooom!” she shouted. “Neekers is respecting me!”
Neekers appeared a second later, dashing toward her. “Come back here! I’m gonna celebrate you!”
“All I did was ascribe value to her!” Gwen said. She shrieked as Neekers caught her and tackled her to the ground.

“‘Respect’ means ‘punch’!”

“‘Celebrate’ means ‘kick’!”

“‘Ascribe value’ means ‘poke’!”

“But all with an affectionate connotation!”

The professor sighed. “Why am I not surprised you remember that perfectly. It’s the most violent lesson we’ve had so far. Who can tell me where it comes from?”

The class was suddenly very quiet.

“We don’t know,” Alex said hesitantly after the silence stretched too long.

“Exactly right,” the professor said, pointing to him. He winked at the shocked looked on Alex’s face. “We haven’t the faintest idea. It just turned up some sleepy weekday morning. Next!”

Neekers walked in the front door, and gave Gwen a hug. “How are you?”
“Purple,” Gwen said.

“Impulsive, completely absurd non-answer to a completely absurd non-question,” Tammy said. “Nobody really wants to know how you are.”

“One of the great crimes of modern greetings,” the professor said. “So glad a language has finally tackled the problem. Last one!”

“They broke my decree,” Gwen complained.
Neekers glanced at her over breakfast. “They ran over it with a truck?”
Nodding, Gwen rolled her empty cereal bowl across the table like the steering wheel of a careening truck. “VROOM! If they’re not careful, I’m gonna take their trucks away.” She let go of the bowl, pretended to gather something large out of the air and held it tight against her chest.”
“Then they’ll use sticks,” Neekers warned her.
Gwen pulled the imaginary sticks out of the air as well.
“Then they’ll use bows and arrows.”
Gwen grabbed the imaginary bows and arrows.
“Then they’ll stomp on them.”
Gwen grabbed those as well. “They have no more feet,” she said petulantly.
“Then they’ll punch them.”
Gwen snatched them out of the air. “No hands!’
“Come back here and I’ll bit your kneecaps!” Neekers shouted.
Falling against her chair back, Gwen laughed.

The students hesitated for a moment, glancing at each other, each silently trying to sort out what had just happened.

“Gwen is complaining that the characters in a television show she’s watching did things that she mentally ordered them not to do,” Tammy said slowly. She glanced to the girl next to her.

“Neekers questions how badly the tv show went against Gwen’s instructions, the truck representing total demolition,” Susan said.

“Gwen laments her lack of control over her television watching experience, by threatening to remove their power to countermand her,” Tommy said.

“Neekers points out that she has no control in the situation,” Alex said.

“Gwen continues to argue,” Susan said.

“And Neekers puts an end to the complaint by interrupting with a funny quote,” Tammy said.

The professor nodded along to their explanation, running his fingers through his beard. He paused after they’d finished. Glancing at each other for support, the students wait.

“Wrong,” the professor said.

Everyone straightened in their seats for another guess.

“Because no one was shouting!” the professor shouted.

You, dear readers, are now prepared to survive a day in my house. The idea to explain some of our slang came from the Daily Post’s A Manner of Speaking.

What slang do you use in your house?


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