Leave me alone with my old-fashioned language

17th July 2009 at 01:00
English teacher Fran Hill talks about those `senior moments'

There are various ways to teach about language change and the way words collect new meanings. But announcing: "When I was a little mouse ." to the class isn't one I would recommend.

What I had meant to say was: "When I was a little girl, the word `mouse' meant a furry grey rodent." But it didn't happen like that.

It was a senior moment, one of many these days as I now live in a permanent state of senior momentness. (They are occasionally punctuated by flashes of junior momentness - and I take advantage of those - but this wasn't one of them.)

We had had a good discussion in the first half of this Year 7 lesson about new techno-language. I had asked them which words they thought I wouldn't have known as a child.

Some were a bit off with their guesses: "television?" . "electricity?" . "ark?" But others were more accurate with "MSN", "Facebook", "mobile phone". So, pleased with what seemed a good lesson, I moved on to changes in meaning.

But as soon as I announced that I was once a rodent, the room went wild. It was one of those teacher dilemmas when you know you have made a complete plonker of yourself and have two choices: threaten detentions, or swallow hard and take your punishment.

As it was, they were laughing so much, there was nothing I could do except smile. At least I still have my own teeth - and it's just as well as I was gritting them pretty hard.

It got worse, though.

When the class had calmed down and I got round to the teaching point, it turned out they all thought of a mouse as a furry grey rodent, too, because they hardly ever used a computer mouse. They have got used to laptops and other non-mouse alternatives. So, to them, "mouse" was already an archaism.

I found this hard to believe. "Come on," I urged. "If I said to you that I had been out at the weekend and bought myself a new mouse, put your hand up if you would think I had purchased computer equipment." One hand at the back. Thank you!

"See?" I said, smugly. But she was only stretching, apparently.

It's all going too fast. Just as I had got used to "mouse" as computer language, it's a rodent again.

Just as I had got used to LOL meaning "lots of love", I'm told it means "laugh out loud" - and it's even something you can say to each other as a complete word, as in: "Ha ha ha, that's a funny joke, LOL!"

Pupils even look at me askance if I say: "When you send someone an email", as though I'd said: "When you write a note using parchment and quill ."

I'm going to retire early, sit in my rocking chair and knit. At least if I start claiming to have been a rodent in a former life, everyone will just nod sympathetically.

All is not lost, though. I can still manage soup on my own. And I can get to the toilet in time, as long as I carry off the "I always stride like a power-walker towards bathrooms" act convincingly enough.

And give me a tablet - which will hopefully have gone back to meaning a pill, rather than a computer, by then.

Fran Hill, English teacher at an independent girls' school in Warwickshire.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today