“A phallic symbol represents the male gentiles.”

It’s almost impossible to comment on this statement without stumbling into a double entendre. I’ll just say that the error is certainly not unique to this student or this instructor, and let you try to fill in the following blank with the verb or verb phrase that most entertains you: “gentiles in this usage ______________ everywhere.”

The example occurs too early in my Book to have been the work of a fiendish Spellcheck converting a sounded-out misspelling, perhaps “genitles,” into a sound-alike-ish error; I have to believe the mistake is the student’s from the beginning. Does he think “gentiles” means “genitals”—in which case he must have a very odd notion of the goings-on in the Bible—or does he not recognize that in the course of his various readings he has actually seen two words, not one?

Or, a scarier or funnier possibility, does he know both words, and just have their meanings switched? Does he think “genitals” are people not of the faith (in common usage, non-Jews)? Did Paul break with past practice by preaching to the genitals?

What is so tricky about the word “genitals”? Has our Puritan heritage made us too squeamish to spell it? “Gentiles” is my favorite misspelling of it, but not the only misspelling I’ve seen. Another student wrote that “children have to learn to cover their gentles,” a comment that actually bodes well for that student’s attitude toward sex in general: I hope she hasn’t been disillusioned.

Have fun with this, anyway. Make up a few circumcision jokes!

It’s just a case of “wrong word,” but it certainly illustrates the difference between the right word and the almost-right word.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

4 responses to ““A phallic symbol represents the male gentiles.”

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