Slips of the tongue spark smiles

I've been writing too many heavy commentaries lately. This winter's been so ugly that people might just start jumping out of windows if I keep going in this vein.

So now, for something lighter, I'll talk about the weirdness that sometimes comes out of students.

A professor at Kansas University's School of Nursing remembers a gal who was trying, during a demonstration, to get her partner to swing her arm in a circle to show her range of motion. Moving a limb in this way is called circumduction.

You guessed it: The student urged her partner to demonstrate "circumcision of the shoulder."

Of course, students at every level are notorious for writing wacky stuff, too. A KU geography professor was surprised to learn, for example, that "Mussolini invaded Utopia." The student meant Ethiopia. Really.

Same professor got this: "Africa is a country with low grouse domestic product and low life expediency."

Years earlier, the very same professor was teaching a fifth-grade class when a student named Isabel raised her hand.


"You pushed your glasses up on your nose 14 times so far today!" she trumpeted.

I'm glad I wasn't teaching. I have worse habits.

The same kind of off-the-wall comment is sometimes hatched in institutions of higher learning � KU classrooms, for example.

I'm sitting in the sauna one day when a sociology professor tells this story. Seems he was lecturing to a class when a student's hand went up.

"Dr. Staples," the student asks, "what's your sign?"

Staples pauses, weighs.

Then: "Sagittarius."

"I thought so," the student says. "That's my sign, too."

A few months later I'm sitting at a table with KU journalism professors when I mention the experience of the Sagittarian sociologist and ask the profs about their experiences. Magazine professor Carol Holstead mentions a kid who comes in a week late with the final assignment of the course. The student says, "Professor Holstead, I think you should find a way to FORCE us to turn things in on time."

Guess they need secret police and cattle prods over there.

And so it goes, generation after generation: students not quite finding the right word to fit the meaning; students asking professors to ride herd on them; students wondering whether the professor is a Pisces.

Sometimes, though, students surprise their professors with lessons that just took awhile to sink in. There was this journalism student who'd graduated some years before. Today, she's publisher of a Kansas newspaper.

"You know," she told her old professor when they met one summer afternoon at a social gathering, "the only reason you didn't give me an A was that I wouldn't do cartwheels for you."

The professor conceded that yeah, attitude was probably the reason she got a B-plus.

With that she smiled, handed him her glass, and, no longer young or svelte, looped a perfect cartwheel across the professor's lawn.

Next working day, he had her grade changed to an A.

Makes you think that sometimes words just get in the way.

� Roger Martin is a research writer and editor for the Kansas University Center for Research and editor of Explore, KU's research magazine Web site, which can be found at Martin's e-mail address is


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