Othello And His Frenemies Are In The House

029My neighbor dropped by yesterday.  Or more accurately stated, marched up my front walkway with a stack of papers under her arm and a determined expression on her face.

The house was unusually quiet for a Monday afternoon, and the table was unusually clear.  Well, there was a spot in front of one chair without school books or art supplies, anyway.  The front door was open, so I called for her to come in from my corner of the table.  She slid into the chair with a sigh, dumping her papers on the table, and exclaimed, “I have to get these graded and I keep falling asleep at my house.”

I warned her of the impending barrage of piano students and siblings that were due in the next hour, but she assured me anything would be better than waking up on her couch again and discovering that she still hadn’t finished.

And so she corrected English papers and I fielded emails and worked on lesson plans.  She is an English teacher for a high school in Long Beach.  She has been teaching for over 30 years.  I have been teaching and tutoring English for the last few years myself, so we often commiserate on the state of the language.

After a few minutes she grimaced and said, “What the–?”  She handed me a test paper on the Shakespearean play, Othello, and asked,  “What does that say?”

The question on the test asked for a description of the character Brabanzio’s reaction to a certain event.  In answer, the student had scrawled the words “In the hose.”

After some deliberation, we determined that the lad had intended to write, “In the house.”  Wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, I conjectured that perhaps during a lively discussion of this event in class, one of the students had summed it up with the euphemism, “in the house,” and that this student had thought the phrase so fitting to the event, that he assumed she would know what he meant by it.  And that also, he was perhaps dyslexic and therefore didn’t realize that he was leaving concepts out of his sentences. I then tried to come up with a connotation of this phrase, (“I have arrived!”  “The gala can start now!” “Everyone is glad to see this certain person!”) that would fit the event.

A few minutes later, she came across another paper with the same response.  “Ah,” I responded to her wisely. “This just adds credence to my theory.  This must have been a comment that was made in class, because another student remembers it.”

When she discovered a third paper with the same answer, I was about to claim it as proof positive, until she noticed that one of the other answers on the page was identical to the same question on the other two tests.

“Oh,” I responded flatly. “So they were just cheating.”

“Well, that’s bad enough,” she exploded, “but they copied something that made no sense, and this one kid didn’t even copy THAT correctly!  ‘In the hose,’ indeed!”

She continued correcting, then stopped again, puzzled, and read aloud another question: “Describe the relationship between Iago and Roderigo.”

I waited.

She sighed and read the answer: “They were frenemies.”

026“Okay,” I reasoned, “Perhaps the student truly does not realize that that is not actually a word.  They hear it used all the time – how would they know it’s not correct?”

“Oh, it may actually be accepted in the dictionary already,” she countered.

I looked it up.  It is.

Eventually she came to an answer that stopped us, speechless, in our tracks: “What is the play Othello about?”

The answer: “An African American guy.”

I just don’t even know where to start with that.


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