Why, oh why do our fifth grade English textbooks insist on teaching kids that this is called a “rubber”?
Now “rubber” is not wrong, but “eraser” is the far more common term for the object in question. Nor is “eraser” overly difficult, at least not compared to the other words fifth graders are forced to memorize. Really, they can handle three syllables.
Besides, teaching kids that an eraser is called “rubber” leads to potentially embarrassing misunderstandings down the line. Because while “rubber” of course refers to the raw material the eraser is made from, it also commonly refers to this.
So now imagine that fifth grader a few years later on a school exchange, innocently asking the kid at the next desk for a rubber… Oops, big embarrassment. And when you’re a teenager, that sort of embarrassment is even worse.
And yes, the above actually happened more than twenty years ago to a friend of mine. A friend of mine who tended to attract misfortune and after whom I named the inofficial prize awarded to students who repeatedly manage to topple their chairs. Because that friend of mine was a notorious chair toppler. I’m not naming him here, because last I heard he was studying law and if someone googles him, they don’t need to find that he used to be a notorious chair toppler. Indeed, I sometimes imagine him in court, wearing a lawyer’s robe but otherwise still looking like the long-haired metal head he was at fifteen. And then, into the silence of the courtroom comes the crash of a toppling chair, followed by “Sorry, sorry, sorry…”
More than twenty years ago, when I was a student, it was still all right to call an eraser a “rubber”, because the other meaning of the term was not all that common back then, though it would become far more common by sad necessity. But in the year 2011, what is the excuse of textbook compilers to expose students to the possible humiliation of using a word that has a slightly risqué doublemeaning?
My solution to the dilemma is to teach the fifth graders the word “eraser” along with the “rubber” the textbook insists upon. And if they’re older, I tell them why “eraser” is the more unambiguous word, which usually results in a lot of giggling.