The meaning of oral

What’s with the oral fixation?

Any parent with a child in Grade 4 and up is currently facing the dreaded oral presentation unit of the class curriculum. For the Grade 4s it is destined to be three to five minutes of their best knee-knocking, voice-quivering speech in front of the class, with no props or visual aids.

My concern is not the presentation itself, but how the name has evolved from taking the adjective “oral,” and dropping the noun it describes, thus leaving open a world of hurt for parents on the Internet.

My nine year old daughter tells me that she has to work on her oral. Will she go do mouth stretching exercises in front of the mirror, will she go brush her teeth, eat something, lick something, bite something, or say something?

Your guess is as good as mine. In this case, she heads towards the computer.

NOOOOOOOOOOO! I hear myself saying in a echo-y voice as I race across the room in a moment that has rapidly turned to slow motion.

I see each of her fingers type the keystrokes, slowly, deliberately, loudly. She has typed in the letters O-R-A-L into Google to get a search result. It will be less that 0.28 seconds before the beginning of the end pops up on the computer screen.

I can’t help but wonder what teacher or school board thought up calling them “orals” and how cutting out the word presentation was a good idea to them. If I could Google that person’s name, I would then ask her to come over to my house to explain the three first search results returned by good ol’ Google.

I’m sure I don’t have to bash you over the head with what was displayed for the search results, suffice it to say that the top ones were exactly what you think they were, which has nothing to do with grade four oral presentations.

Scrolling down to the seventh search result out of 581,000,000, is Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary definition of oral. The word oral is an adjective meaning ” uttered by the mouth or in words.”

(At this point I am uttering more than an few words, hopefully quietly enough that my daughter won’t ask about them next.)

“Honey,” I say, “Let’s try a different search term.”

She types in “Best oral.”

I cringe and move her away from the computer as she hits the enter key.

“Let’s get a snack,” the mommy avoidance begins.

While she is looking for a juice box, Google returns a bunch of sex tips that I may or may not bookmark for later, but I can guarantee I am not ready for her to see.

I quickly type in “best oral presentations” before she returns from the pantry and so she sees more of the type of results she was expecting. It is actually quite a popular search and these returns have a much lower chance of leaving mommy completely tongue-tied (we’ll leave that for if mommy returns to those other sites later).

I digress.

My daughter is confused as to why this small distinction sees so important to me. “So what do you want me to call it?” Audrey enquires.

“Hon, you’re not doing an oral. An oral is not a thing. It only describes a thing. You are working on your oral presentation, speech, address, public discourse, talk, lecture, stand-up comedy routine, sermon, proclamation or oration. What you choose to call it is up to you, but you can’t call it an oral.”

While I’m sure every parent is not is as squeamish as I am, and may be well prepared to enter into conversations about oral sex on any given Sunday, I am not. I’ve even asked for a heads up from the school before they start teaching sexual education in the classroom so that I can prepare myself for the inevitable questions.

I hope you can join me in reinforcing to our children and their teachers that these talks in front of the class are not called orals (which isn’t a word). Let’s teach them not only how to present in front of their peers, but let’s teach them how to use an adjective properly.

And by all means, if you agree, feel free to forward this column onto your school principal and teachers… perhaps we can get a noun like “presentation” reattached to the sassy little adjective that is trying to grow up too quickly.

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