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Those Juniors, Part 28: The Wreckage of Distorted Ideas

by Eric B. Hare

Last week: It is very easy to be misunderstood by our young people. These misunderstandings can be eliminated, however, by clear enunciation and accompanying gestures—things that will familiarize the child with what he is hearing. The teacher must be fit mentally, physically, and spiritually to accomplish his task.

Connotation is simply the meaning of a word in describing its qualities, while denotation tells the kind and gives it a name. It sounds simple enough, but there are two connotations, the universal and the particular, and that is where our difficulty comes in. The universal meaning of a word gives the qualities that are common to all of its kind; the particular connotation gives the qualities of the local species, the thing the child is acquainted with. And because the child’s world is small and limited, the teacher often fails to put the idea across.

Let us take, for example, the word “priest.”

Universal connotation is a minister of religion.

Particular connotation in Jerusalem in olden times would be a man with a linen robe and a breastplate. In Burma it would be a man with a yellow robe and a shaved head. In Catholic countries it would be a man in a black robe.

Denotation would be Hebrew priest, Buddhist priest, Catholic priest.

But if I spoke only of a priest I could not blame Johnnie if he gave it his particular connotation.

Take another example—"prophet."

Universal connotation is a mouthpiece of God; one who foretells.

Particular connotation would be a man with a long beard and a bald head or a man with leather clothes or a man that eats locusts and wild honey and lives in the desert, according to which prophet the child was most familiar with.

Denotation would be Elisha, Elijah, John the Baptist.

Let us take the word “church.”

Universal connotation is a place of worship.

Particular connotation would be a little brown church in the vale, stucco mission style church, ivy-covered brick church, etc.

Denotation would be Methodist church, Baptist church, Glendale city church, Glendale Sanitarium church.

You see at once where the trouble was with Lennie’s “thief.” (See previous article.) His particular chicken thief was the only thief he knew anything about, while the text uses the figure of speech because the universal connotation of thief also includes the idea of coming with stealth, unexpectedly.

Now that we know what the trouble is, the rectifying of it is simple. Teachers simply look through their lesson and by introspection pick out the words that that age group might have difficulty with, and then at the beginning of the lesson by picture or by word see that the new words and ideas are understood and then go right ahead.

One of the most pleasing examples of familiarizing boys and girls with new words I found in a little book, by Mildred Honors:

“What Would You Do?
“1. If you had an EPHOD—would you put it in a cage, take it to church, or plant it in your garden?

“2. If you had a FIRKIN—would you fill it with water, sleep on it, or feed it to the dog?

“3. If you had a TALENT—would you put it in the bank, eat it, or play a tune on it?

“4. If you had a COVENANT—would you sell it, kill it, or try to keep it carefully?

“5. If you had a SHEKEL—would you give it to the zoo, chop it down, or buy some fruit with it?

“6. If you had a DULCIMER—would you use it for a cane, put the baby in it, or play a hymn on it?

“7. If you had a MANTLE—would you cook it for dinner, read it, or give it to a beggar who was cold?

“8. If you had a EWE—would you wear it around your neck, put it in the missionary offering, or give it to a shepherd?

“9. If you had a SCROLL—would you milk it, put it in a library, or use it for a blanket?

“10. If you had some KINE—would you put them in a pasture, buy a cage for them, or hang them on your Christmas tree?”1

When you make a game of learning the connotation of new words in this way, children will always remember, and your words will always convey the correct meaning.

John Adams tells of a certain Sunday school teacher who did not take this precaution, and as he reviewed the story of Joseph, here is the difficulty into which he got:

“ ‘When Joseph’s brethren saw him approaching—that is, coming, you know—they consulted among themselves—that is, took council among themselves, or discussed the matter among themselves, tried to make up their minds what to do. So they resolved—determined, you know, made up their minds—to kill him. But Reuben wanted to save him, so he suggested—hinted, said, you know, oh, yes, advised them—to put him into a pit, and he would get him out privately—secretly, quietly, without letting the others know, and bring him safe to his father. So they did this, and soon a caravan—that is a troop with horses and camels and asses and merchandise—that is goods, you know, like oil and spices—what your mother puts into cakes and puddings, you know—this caravan of Ishmaelites—just what we call Arabs now, they were descended, that is, sprung from—I mean Ishmael was their grandfather, or at any rate their forefather—Abraham’s son, you remember, that was sent into the wilderness.’”2

But don’t say “poor man!” It is “poor children!”

In reality it is worse to be “misunderstood” than to be “not understood.” Often the context of the story, your facial expression, or bodily movements will fill in the gap of a word that is not understood, but when you are misunderstood the distorted idea wrecks the story.

For instance, you can imagine what kind of story the boy took home, after being told of a missionary who came home on a furlough, and did this and that while on his furlough, when the lad thought a “furlough” was some kind of mule or burro.

And the lad who got the idea that an “average” was some kind of table must have had quite a startling picture in his mind when he read an article about hens laying on an average and ducks laying on an average.

So I am sure we realize that speaking correct words and speaking words correctly, and making the meaning clear are the teacher’s indispensables.

(Next week: “The Echoes of Teaching.”)

1. Mildred Honors, Bible Cities, p. 23. Used by permission.
2. John Adams, Primer on Teaching, pp. 58, 59.

Copyright © 1973 by Eric B. Hare. Used by permission.

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