“Explicit context in school newspapers is defiantly unsuitable.”

Four vocabulary quibbles in an eight-word sentence. Not bad.

“Unsuitable” is one of those words we’ve fallen in love with as a culture. It is so broadly applied as to be meaningless, almost as bad as “inappropriate,” its near-synonym: throwing your food on the floor is unsuitable; hitting your brother in the eye is inappropriate; bouncing checks is inappropriate; shaking your finger in someone’s face is unsuitable; using the wrong fork is inappropriate; calling your professor “Babe” is unsuitable; wearing hiking boots with a formal gown is inappropriate (unless you’re a fashionista); swimming naked in a public pool is unsuitable (ending a list with a pun is irresistible).

“Explicit” is one of those shortenings, a versatile word that now has acquired a specific meaning it didn’t use to have. A stand-alone adjective, this word used to require an adverb to customize it beyond its basic wonderful meaning (free of vagueness, unambiguous, fully stated), unless it itself was serving as an adverb to modify a verb or another descriptor, because some things should be explicit. “He was warned explicitly not to stick his fingers in the blender” would be a case in point. Otherwise, the description of a location might be topographically explicit, stage directions in a script might be directorially explicit, and books or films categorized as pornographic would be sexually explicit. But eventually, evidently, the preponderance of uses of “explicit” coupled it (oh, pardon me again!) with “sexually,” thus justifying dropping the “sexually” and just limiting the usage to mean “sexually explicit.” At least I’d hope that’s what my writer meant to say, because I would certainly hope articles and editorials in newspapers, even school newspapers, would be factually explicit, rather than dealing in vague assertion and innuendo.

I don’t think my student meant sexually explicit context, though. That would describe a school newspaper that was all explicit sex, with any news articles written in that context (and, presumably, “facts lingering throughout,” as I discussed in a post last week). Woo-hoo! That might create a whole new generation of avid newspaper readers! I don’t think “The Salem High Blue News” would get a second issue out, though. She must have meant “content,” not “context.”

And then we come to “defiantly.” Many of my colleagues blithely explain all student uses of “defiantly” as originating in the student’s typing “defi-” and AutoCorrect  as immediately finishing the word “antly” instead of waiting for the “nitely”—or as being AutoCorrect’s correction for various misspellings of “definitely.” I’d be more willing to accept this explanation if no student had written “defiantly” for “definitely” before the invention of AutoCorrect, SpellCheck, or the word processor…but I know for a fact that plenty of students did. And I’ve heard enough students say that something was “deffly” going to happen that I wouldn’t bet on their ability to be sure which of the two words they meant.

In the (explicit) context of this particular sentence, I’ve also had experiences with student newspapers (as reader and as advisor) that would suggest the writer may have actually meant “defiantly.” I know the editors who announced a “Pubic Affairs Symposium” were laughing even before the paper hit the news stands, and the reporter who wrote that the new science building would have a lab for studying “living orgasms” held his breath until his “typo” actually got past the proofreader and into the article. Perhaps those writers should be considered playful or mischievous rather than defiant; but what looks like mischief now was pretty bold defiance Back In The Day, when dress codes were enforced in high school and censorship of student newspapers was not unexpected.

I believe my student did mean “definitely,” but she gave me an opportunity to imagine a wonderful defiant editorial board putting together a school newspaper that dripped sex throughout and throwing it in the face of the Assistant Principal with a “So Much For Your Censorship! Freedom of the Press Lives!” Of course the fact that the Assistant Principal would find it unsuitable was the whole point.

Sometimes my Inner Subversive and I would give a lot to go back.

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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

3 responses to ““Explicit context in school newspapers is defiantly unsuitable.”

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