Language Arts

This is an absolutely true story: I was in the class.

It was the early 1970s, and I was in 7th grade in Ken Mullen’s “Language Arts” class at La Entrada Jr. High (now Middle) School in Menlo Park, Calif. (The same school in my post Shift Happens.)

The assignment that day was to read aloud from a book; unfortunately, I have no recollection of what book it was, but one student was reading aloud and came across a particular word.

Beautifully lit school building at dusk.
La Entrada didn’t look this good when I was there! But it was a fine school then, and now. (Photo from the school’s web site; awards added.)

The word was “bitch.” It was used properly, but with the snickers Mr. Mullen stopped to create a Teaching Moment.

“Does anyone know what ‘bitch’ really means?” he asked the class.

One student raised a hand and gave the definition: “A female dog.”

“Correct,” Mr. Mullen said. “That is the proper word that refers to a female dog. Now,” he said, trying to make the lesson stick and to encourage curiosity. “Does anyone know of a word for a male dog?”

Several people were pondering that, but it was Jane Glass, a perky blonde classmate who raised her hand.

“Yes?” Mr. Mullen said, calling on Jane.


It took several minutes before Mr. Mullen could regain control of the class.

[Originally published 24 November 2004 in the True Story section of my now defunct Jumbo Joke site.]

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8 Comments on “Language Arts

  1. I had a very sheltered and highly religious upbringing (e.g. When I was a teen my parents left the Southern Baptist Church because it wasn’t conservative enough.) The only definition (and use) of the word “bitch” that I had ever heard was in relation to dogs. I heard the word “bastard” at school one time (an argument between two football players) and asked my brother what it meant. He told me it was the male equivalent of a bitch.

    I didn’t learn differently until after I’d graduated college. (I attended a very small, but highly respected, Southern Baptist college.) When I went to work in a public health clinic (VD and birth control, mostly) I spent months reeling in shock from all the things I was seeing and hearing.

    When I was a young medic, I met a young Army nurse who worked in a similar clinic. She told me once about giving an army wife BC pills, and then saw the woman again way too soon, asking for more. “How could you need more already?!” the nurse asked. “Well, I insert one every time before sex….” That’s when the nurse realized she had to be much more careful in giving instructions. -rc

  2. I Enjoyed the short piece above: hopefully the teacher made sure the class knew the correct answer to his question. If I remember right, the male equivalent of a bitch, in the canine world, is called a dog. Please correct me if I remembered that wrong.

    No, because that doesn’t connote gender. Mr. Mullen’s answer was that there is no specific term for a male dog. I guess females have their own word because they’re more important. Kinda like “man” means human, not necessarily male human, but woman is always female. -rc

    • I found this on

      “What is a male dog called?

      A male dog is called a dog – but there is a disagreement over whether it’s a gendered term or not. While “dog” would do for both males and females in most situations, breeding calls for specific terms. In the breeder’s world, a male dog that hasn’t fathered an offspring is called a stud, while a fathering dog is called a sire.”

      Breeding is a whole other world. And silly me, I simply consulted a dictionary. -rc

  3. I remember (from a Scholastic Book about the prize labrador, Thumper of Walden) (wow, that must have been 50+ years ago):

    “our teacher asked us about pets. I said we had four dogs and seven bitches. The teacher sent me to the principal, the principal called my mother, my mother came to the school and reamed out the principal, and our teacher didn’t ask about pets anymore.”

    So, they were breeders, but in general called the males “dogs”.

    • I remember that book, I think I got it from one of my older cousins. I had a similar problem after I did a book report on it.

  4. Sometimes a broad term applies to all and a narrower term applies to only one gender. Cow and Goose are female but are often used for the whole group; Bull and Gander are specifically male.


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