words, words, words

I would like to think of myself as a reasonably well-read,well-spoken sort of gal. "Eloquent", not so much, but words are my friends, not my enemies. And then I remember the following occasions upon which words caused me great pain, and all these sorts of illusions are dashed.

-1999, Nebraska. I'm driving my exchange sister to the airport to pick up a friend, when she notices that the interstate signs all say "To Municipal Airport", not "To The Lincoln Airport". She, being a non-native speaker, asks "what does municipal mean?"

Now, in my defense, I was driving on the interstate and looking for the best route to the airport, and didn't really want to get into the levels of governance and their nomenclature. I looked at her briefly, and said "the. Municipal is a long word for the. The airport."
I don't know at what point in her life she realized that "municipal" was mis-defined for her that day, but she's never again asked me what a word meant.

-2004, Minnesota. I'd chosen to sign up for a Ph.D-level Shakespeare seminar taught by the most wonderful prof in the Lit department, because 1) this professor was truly amazing and probably close to death and I felt that I should take every opportunity to take his courses before he was no longer around, 2) I was crazy and felt that overacheiving in such ways was somehow a good idea while finishing my B.A., especially in that last semester of undergrad with a full course load and the looming prospect of having to obtain gainful employment. The syllabus noted that our final papers, 70% of our course grade, were due on the day of the penultimate class meeting.
I never questioned it.
In my head,"penultimate" meant "the Tuesday after the last regular class meeting- the one after the ultimate, right?", and I operated under that theory for the full semester. Then, on the actual occurrence of the penultimate class meeting, he asked us to turn in our final papers. "What?", I sputtered, "but those aren't due for another two weeks!"
Oh. Oops. Perhaps a dictionary might have cleared that due date up for me. I had to admit, out loud and to a room full of Ph.D candidates, that I didn't really know what "penultimate" meant. Had I not saved my drop-a-class-free pass until that final semester of undergrad, I would have earned the very first failing grade of my life.

Lesson: words are your friends, so don't fuck with them, or they will screw things up mightily for you.


The Domina said...

Ha ha ha ha! This is the best entry ever.

Lyz said...

Does it make you feel better that I had to look up "penultimate" too?

Ruth said...

oh man. that is a serious nightmare for me. at least the professor died soon after, right?

bad joke. wah waaaaaah.

angiesyounglover said...

i just got butterflies for you! did you feel like you were going to throw up that day? and i'm guessing he didn't let you off the hook?

nadarine said...

AYL: sadly, no. I had to either take the fall or drop the class for no credit, and thank god I was able to do the latter. He then cancelled our lunch date for the following week due to his disappointment in my literacy skills (or lack thereof).

angiesyounglover said...

WHATTT. what a slam. :(

nadarine said...

AYL: Oh, I would've cancelled that lunch date with me, too. Snobbery and all. A free lunch is sometimes dependent upon your ability to read a dictionary, it seems.

Katie said...

The "penultimate" story cracked my shit up.

But really, (and no disrespect to your most likely dead professor) what kind of jackass puts in his syllabus that a paper is due on the "penultimate class meeting"? Just put down the freaking due date, you pretentious fool! I mean, I had both a nearly-dead Milton professor and a nearly-dead Shakespeare professor and both of them put actual dates in their syllabi.