I remember learning vocabulary words in English class when I was a freshman in high school. I can still recite many of them: hackneyed-commonplace, ostentatious-showy, etymology-word study. Peggy sat across the aisle from me in that class, nervous about our vocabulary quizzes every week. Mari sat in front of me, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to go. We all wore uniforms: navy blue blazers with white blouses, blue plaid skirts and the ever-so-attractive navy blue saddle shoes that we referred to as combat boots. I’ll never forget the morning when I asked Mari if I could borrow a pencil before the quiz. She reached into the blazer pocket on her right hip to get one for me and let out a blood-curdling scream that distracted the entire class. Unknown to Mari I had taken my retainer out of my mouth and slipped it into her pocket, just before asking for the pencil. She got into trouble with Mrs. McPhee for that one, instead of me. Sorry, Mari!
Vocabulary quizzes are still in vogue at my kids’ high school today, and my son, Colin, who is now a college junior, readily admits that they actually helped him on his SAT tests. My daughter, Somer, a high-school sophomore, has taken to posting “Words of the Day” on a small dry-erase board on our refrigerator. I love it! I get out my bifocals to read her small print and spice up our dinner conversation with as many words from her list as I can. I am sure once her friends hear about this they will be clamoring to join us for an evening meal. Not!
This week Somer has taken a different tack. There is only one word on the dry erase board: "Finals". She says that it is a noun meaning, “a particularly harsh form of torture, particularly used on children.” She says the root is the Latin word “final” (fee NAL) meaning “death.” So dramatic! Where does she get it?
Needless to say it is Finals’ Week. It is time for students everywhere to strut their stuff, to show what they know in one, last, comprehensive examination in each class. Frankly, I kind of miss those days. As an adult, there aren’t so many concrete ways to measure our progress. Final exams didn’t kill me and they may have done me some good. After all, I still remember some of the vocabulary words on Mrs. McPhee’s test.