Accidental mispronunciations and very rude words in the schoolyard

It’s still awfully and unseasonably hot here in North Germany, though it’s supposed to cool off tomorrow.

Honestly, if they are going to have more and more schools that operate well into the afternoon, they should really revise the “hitzefrei” rules, because measuring the temperature at eleven AM to determine whether to give the kids the rest of the day off was useful when school only lasted until one PM. But when school lasts until half past three, the temperature should be measured again at one or two PM. Because the classroom where I was supposed to teach this afternoon was so hot it was completely unbearable. After ten minutes or so, I finally took the students outside to continue the lesson in the schoolyard. We were reading a W. Somerset Maugham short story, so I didn’t really need the blackboard, though I occasionally needed to chase off some younger kids who were filling the schoolyard with loud chatter.

By the way, I got my favourite unintentionally rude mispronunciation of an English word yet. Titles are particularly prone to being mispronounced, as evidenced by the many ways Germans manage to mispronounce “Duke”. But today, a girl did even those mispronunciations one better. For a character in the W. Somerset Maugham story is called “Count Borselli”. However, the student in question managed to pronounce “Count” like the very similar word that is missing an “o”.

I had to bite my tongue and said, “Actually, it’s pronounced ‘Count’. What you just read out is a very rude word. A word that’s so rude that they don’t even say it on those TV shows that are full of swearing otherwise.”

The students give me an expectant look. I consider for a few seconds and then say, “Oh well, you’re mature enough that I might as well tell you.” The class in question was a 10th grade class and I have heard the German equivalent of that word from 5th graders (who promptly got a lecture why that is not a nice word to say to other students and why saying it to a male student is just plain silly). So I said, “It’s the English equivalent of [very rude German word for the female sex organ], only that the British use it to refer to men, too.”

Later while we were discussing the story and I asked the students about the tone of the text, one boy said, “Well, it’s definitely informal.”

“What makes you think that?”, I ask, because the text in question is a W. Somerset Maugham short story and he’s about as formal as they come.

“Well, he wrote [very rude word for female sex organ].”

“Actually, he wrote ‘Count’. S. just pronounced it like the other word.”

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