Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Diller, a Dollar, a Donald Duck scholar

On a November day in 1957 I found myself standing in front of Miss Grosier’s first grade class in Hillcrest Elementary School in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, trying to think of a really good word. She had us play this game in which each kid had to offer up a word to the class, and for every classmate who couldn’t spell your word, you got a point--provided, of course, that you could spell the word. Whoever got the most points received the coveted gold star.
“Bouillabaisse,” said I, finally.
“You don’t even know what that is,” Miss Grosier scolded.
“It’s fish soup.”
“You can’t spell that!”
“Can too.”
“Come here. Write it.” She demanded.
I wrote it. She looked it up and admitted that I was, indeed, correct.

Easiest gold star I ever won. And I would like to thank, albeit somewhat belatedly, whoever wrote the Donald Duck comic book in which I found the word bouillabaisse. Also, I’d like to thank my mother who read me that comic book and so many others when I was four and five. She read slowly, pointing at the words. She explained what “new” words meant (she, too, had to look up bouillabaisse). She patiently answered my questions about the stories.

And so I learned to read from those sessions long before I started school. While most of my classmates were struggling with See Spot Run, I was reading Superman. I knew what indestructible meant, could spell it, and would have cold-bloodedly used it to win another gold star if I hadn’t been banned from competition after bouillabaisse. Oh, the agony–denied the glorious victories I might have won with teletype, vacuum and prestidigitation–darn that old Miss Grosier, anyway.

17 comments:

Patrick Daniel O'Neill said...

Great to see you blogging, Jim. I can recall similar instances in my own school career...some of which nearly got me beat up on the playground. Didn't pay to be TOO smart sometimes in the late 1950s, did it?

jim dandy said...

Great story Jim!
Bouillabaisse is in fact typical from the south of France. To make a good one, here's a tip:
You put whole fishes to boil, and then put them in a dish towel. Press that towel and you get a perfect fish juice. Add a few filets and it's done:)

Jim Dandy

Pastrami said...

I was doing my weekly internet search on the word bouillabaisse when I stumbled upon your blog...

Just kidding. Great story Jim!

I learned the words "feral" and "verdant" thanks to comics. They really are educational!

Defiant1 said...

The word 'albeit' in a Spider-man comic sent me running for a dictionary.

Michael said...

When I was a kid, I learned what a geosynchronous satellite was and how high its orbit was from reading JLA.

I never figured that I wouldn't learn the actual physics behind that until I got to college, and that after college I'd go work for NASA. Not sure how much influence the JLA satellite had on my career choice, but it didn't hurt.

Joseph Tages said...

I won a spelling bee once after nobody else could get the word "corps" right. I only knew about the silent "s" thanks to Larry Hama's G.I. Joe series.

J.C. Vaughn said...

I remember getting "Bravado" from a Spidey story and thank my mom for making me look it up rather than just telling me what it meant.

GOGOLimp said...

Thanks Mr Shooter 4 givin me some greats pleasure of ComicBooks reading (The Legion)! U are a fabulous example for me! Yeah, with many works, a dream can come true... Thanks 4 that!

A French reader.

Donovan Yaciuk said...

I was sent to the principal's office in elementary school for calling a classmate an "Insolent Cow" after she stole my pencil case.

Hey - if DOCTOR DOOM can say it...!

I think the principal was torn between punishing me and applauding my vocabulary!

Pastrami said...

Joseph's response made me chuckle a bit. Spelling isn't the ONLY problem with that word. The guy at my shop always pronounces it "corpse".

Vinnie Bartilucci said...

I was a reader, which meant I read words long before I heard them. So for a fair bit of time, I thought "albeit" was pronounced "all-bite". Even a simple one like "misled" sounded like "my-zled", as in "surmise".

niederklopfer said...

Great story!

muchdrama said...

I always tell anyone who'll listen that it was my mom's purchase of comics that taught me to read and write so well.

Sonofspam said...

learned lots of words from comics but they never got me a gold star (as far as i recall)

Dallan said...

Fantastic recollection, Jim. Thank you.

So many great words I learned from (especially Marvel) comics. "Copious" always comes to mind. And I recall precisely the exact moment I discovered that "adamant" was the secret root word behind "adamantium".

But the first word that always pops into my head when I think about how much comics enhanced my vocabulary is "exemplary". Spoken, of course, by the Sentinel of Liberty himself, Captain America.

Slentz said...

I learned to read from comics too. Superman for me...

Kid said...

"Paroxysm" was a word I learned from Marvel Comics when I was a kid. I got "invulnerable" from DC Comics. Happy days.