When I enrolled as a freshman at Pikeville College in 1967 two of the required courses were English composition 101 and 102. It didn’t matter who you were nor whom you knew, you still had to complete both courses and achieve passing grades in them if you planned to advance much farther in your academic pursuits.
One of my professors was notorious for her “common sense vocabulary” pop quizzes. Meaning that at least once a week she would write a list of 10 or so individual words on the chalkboard and tell the class to write out the definitions and turn our papers in within 10 minutes.
These quizzes, during the first half of the semester, were not graded for credit because they were not based on anything she had said in class or on anything we had studied, they were simply words that Dr. Garnett believed every college student needed to have in his or her vocabulary. During the second half of the semester the same words would be posted again and that’s when it behooved us to know what they meant if we did not want to take the class again
While she was grading our papers, we students were asked to spend the next 15 minutes writing an essay on the weather, our desks, a current news issue or some such, using as many of the words as we could from the list she had posted on the blackboard.
During the 15-minute essay composition drill, the only sounds in the room were those of pencils and/or ink pens scratching paper and the shuffling of the quiz papers Dr. Garnett was grading. Even with 30 or more students in the class she frequently finished grading before our allotted 15 minutes had elapsed.
On those occasions when someone in the class had accurately defined all 10 words to her satisfaction, she would single out that person or persons and tell them they were excused for the rest of the class period while the rest of us had to sit there and learn all the words on Dr. Garnett’s list.
Because I’d had at least three high school teachers who had hammered vocabulary development, I frequently managed to define all the words she had posted but I almost always told her that I would stick around when she dismissed those of us who had nailed the quiz. All my classmates accused me of brown nosing, but Dr. Ruth Garnett was one of the very few professors that I genuinely loved to listen to.
She rarely laughed at or did anything that might humiliate her students. If, for example, someone was flunking her class, she would mail that person a letter and tell them she needed to speak with him or her privately. She never called anyone onto the carpet in front the rest of the class. She usually kept a straight face anytime someone gave a ridiculous answer to an oral question.
I do, however, vividly recall an incident when she most uncharacteristically burst out in laughter while she was grading papers and the class was writing. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and she was obviously embarrassed and blushing before she apologized to us for losing her composure. Then she explained what had set her off.
One of the words on the quiz, that day, was “oxymoron.” Dr. Garnett would not say who had written the definition and nobody ever fessed — up but someone had answered “Oxymoron is a very clean idiot who has just been washed with laundry detergent.” Even those of us who had no idea what the word meant found that answer to be hilarious.
Actually an oxymoron is a short phrase where one word seems to contradict another such as “guest host,” “same difference,” “sounds of silence,” “dark light,” “electric candle,” “living dead,” “civil war,” “iron wood,” etc.
I am among the group that believes “rap music” is an oxymoron and after watching the game, last Saturday, I would argue that “UK football” also fits the bill.
Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.