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Thoreau’s Approach to Quelling the use of Profanity in the Classroom

Henry David Thoreau
Long before Walden, Henry David Thoreau was a school teacher with a disdain for the corporal punishment commonly thought necessary to gain a student’s attention and teach a lesson.

Instead Thoreau turned toward creativity to get the point across.

Consider this anecdote from The Adventures of Henry Thoreau, which details an equally effective approach.

Henry’s quirks contributed to the unpredictability of school hours. He disliked profanity, for example, and devised memorable ways to quell its use among the older students. “Boys,” he would say in his half-serious, half-satirical tone, “if you went to talk business with a man, and he persisted in thrusting words having no connection with the subject into all parts of every sentence—” he considered an example and interrupted himself to exclaim, “Bootjack, for instance!” and then resumed, “—wouldn’t you think he was taking a liberty with you, and trifling with your time, and wasting his own?” Over the next few minutes, to the delight of the students, he emphasized his point by speaking on some innocent topic but suddenly interjecting a random “Boot-jack!” into his sentences.