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A historical lesson in vocabulary

Published November 26, 2006


They sat on the grass in front of the one-room schoolhouse, 23 third-graders and a handful of chaperones. The girls wore sunbonnets and aprons. The boys were dressed in straw hats and knickers.

They looked so innocent, like children of yore.

"Now, we're supposed to be back 100 years ago," their teacher told them. "So remember your manners. Kids said, 'Yes, Ma'am,' and, 'No, Sir,' back then. They didn't speak unless they were spoken to. They raised their hands."

She had brought her class to Heritage Village in Largo so they could learn about life a century ago. In the county park that houses historic homes and buildings, the students were going to spend the day living like children in their great- great-grandparents' generation.

"We're going to have fun, but you'll also be working," the teacher said. The children groaned. "You're going to learn how to shoot marbles, roll hoops and play pick-up sticks." The children cheered. "You're also going to beat rugs and iron shirts and churn butter.

"Then you'll head over to the field behind the log cabin," the teacher told them. "Dylan's dad is going to show you how to hoe."

A hush fell over the 8-year-olds. The children looked at each other. Some started to snicker.

A blond boy raised his hand. "Excuse me," he asked. "Isn't 'ho' a bad word?"

It took a minute for the teacher to understand. She turned to the chaperones with a look that said, Can you believe that?

Some parents seemed shocked. Others swallowed laughs.

This boy had proved, again, that children today know too much. They've been exposed to things their great-great-grandparents never knew about when they were in third grade.

Clearly, the kids had no idea what a hoe was. Given the suburban neighborhoods where most of them lived, that wasn't surprising. But most of them, it seemed, had heard the slang word that sounds just like it. They might not have known what it meant. But they knew enough to know they shouldn't say that word.

So why was their teacher talking about a ho?

And why was Dylan's dad going to show them how to do it?

"Oh no," the teacher said. "I'm talking about a hoe. H-O-E." The children looked confused. "It's an old-fashioned tool people used to plow their land."

The boy nodded, trying to process that explanation. Then his hand shot up again. "So," he wanted to know, "what's the 'ho' thing that's a bad word?"

The teacher shook her head and said the only thing she could: "You better ask your mom."

Lane DeGregory can be reached at 727 893-8825 or

[Last modified November 24, 2006, 12:11:10]

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