Right now, the most popular news story on Technorati is a February 18 New York Times article entitled, “With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar.” The “uproar” is about the use of the word, “scrotum” in a children’s book called, “The Higher Power of Lucky,” by Susan Patron. The book is this year’s winner of the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature.
Some school librarians are shocked that the word “scrotum” was used in award-winning children’s literature and they aim to ban the book from elementary schools. The book has already been banished from school libraries in a few states in the South, West, and Northeast.
“This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope, but they didn’t have the children in mind,” Dana Nilsson, a teacher and librarian at Sunnyside Elementary School in Durango, Colorado, wrote on LM_Net, a mailing list that reaches more than 16,000 school librarians. “How very sad.”
“I don’t want to start an issue about censorship,” Ms. Nilsson told the New York Times, “but you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature — at least not for children.”
The “scrotum” controversy has reignited the tiresome debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books, the role school librarians should or should not play in selecting/censoring books, and whether unexpurgated knowledge of human anatomy is harmful or helpful to kids.
According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, “scrotum” is defined as “the external sac of skin enclosing the testes in most mammals.” As far as I know, “scrotum” is the proper, scientific terminology for the body part in question and is not generally considered a vulgar term, unlike the numerous well-known colloquialisms that mean the very same thing.
Is it just the word “scrotum” or is it the concept of “the external sac of skin enclosing the testes” that is so offensive? Is it a matter of the context in which the word “scrotum” was used or is it just that silly old genitalia fixation rearing its ugly glans once again?