What’s In a Word

What’s In a Word

I was sitting at my desk while my homeroom students were filing in. I noticed one of my afternoon students standing at the door staring at me. She looked like she had been crying. I walked over to her and asked if she was alright. She quickly handed me a note and scurried off.

I returned to my desk and opened the note. It was from her mother. The sentence that really jumped out at me was, “How dare you suggest my daughter is having sex with her boyfriend.” I had no clue what this was about. It was going to be a long Period 1 before I could get to a phone.

I last saw this student the previous afternoon, and we were carrying out an experiment in the physics lab. Both she and her boyfriend were in the same class. They hadn’t been going out for very long and he was one of those clutch-and-grab boyfriends; ie, at every opportunity he had an arm around her or was touching her – he was seldom more than a whisper away.

At one point she approached me. I was standing behind the demonstration desk at the front of the room and she had a question about the procedure being followed. Her boyfriend, who was in a different group at the opposite side of the room, also walked over, but it was obvious he wasn’t there to see me. He stood immediately beside her and as she spoke his face kept getting closer and closer to her’s. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – it looked so bizarre. He looked like he was swooping in for some passionate osculation (that’s a cool expressing for kissing).

I said, “Hold it there. You’re being a little too intimate. This is neither the time nor the place.” I directed the boyfriend to return to his bench. He did. I finished my conversation with the girlfriend and she returned to her experiment.

So, now it is the following day and Period 1 is over. I quickly made my way to a telephone and called the girl’s mother. I opened by saying that I felt terrible if I had said or done anything to upset her or her daughter but I was at a loss to know what was going on.

“Well, Mr. Caines, you told them you thought they were having sex.”

“Me? Really? When did I say that?”

“Yesterday. You said that they were being intimate.”

Suddenly a light went on. Now I had a frame of reference.

“Well, he certainly was being intimate.” I explained exactly what had happened. “To be intimate means to be close on a personal level. I didn’t say that they were being sexually intimate. He looked like he was going to kiss her – right in front of me. Sexual intimacy is just one type of intimacy. I certainly would not have suggested that.

“Mr. Caines, perhaps you should avoid using words that have more than one definition.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond; particularly, if I were to avoid using words with more than one meaning.

Several years later, I ran into the daughter. It was nice getting caught up. Among other things, she mentioned that she was happily married (not the same guy).

I guess she got that intimacy thing figured out. She also told me that she was the mother of two beautiful children.

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