Ninth grade honors English was great. We had a small class of no more than 20 students, one of which was my cute and dorky crush. We read Roman and Greek mythology and Don Quixote. We acted out the most famous soliloquies from Shakespearean plays. And we learned how to express anger, frustration and regret without using your everyday four-letter words.
Mrs. O was like my mom. She didn’t tolerate cursing. My mom’s punishment was bad. I quickly stopped saying words I knew would land a whole jalapeño or bar of soap in my mouth. Mrs. O’s punishment, subtracting points from our overall grade, was ten times worse. Let me remind you, we were the honors class. Points meant a lot to a bunch of 14-year-olds trying to get to college.
Whenever a classmate got caught saying “that sucks!” or some other non-FCC approved word, cursing, Mrs. O would call out “ten points!”
My classmate would immediately pull out a blank sheet of college-ruled paper and begin brainstorming alternate words for “sucks.” If he was lucky, others would offer some suggestions.
Once you turned in the ten words, you were pardoned and the points were tacked back on to your grade.
At the time, this was just a pain. We had better things to worry about, like memorizing Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Besides, why was “sucks” even considered a bad word?
Thirteen years later, I’m glad Mrs. O challenged us to come up with ten alternate words to whatever curse word she caught us using. If it weren’t for her and my mom, I’d be a potty mouth and no one would ever be surprised when I let a “fuck!” slip out. Then again, it’s also Mrs. O’s fault that I adopted a classmate’s alternative for “sucks” and occasionally say, “that sarks.”