There are many reasons for me to continue taking formal Spanish classes beyond my abysmal verbs and my teacher’s thoughtful writing prompts.

The reason I am focused on this afternoon is how the prompts stimulate memories.

When I was in tenth grade, in high school chemistry class, I was awarded extra credit points despite the fact that I was a mediocre chemistry student. These points arrived as I, singeing my thumb and index finger on a crucible, threw the graphite container into the sink and exclaimed: “Eenie!” My instructor was impressed by my creativity under duress.

I owed the points to my mother who insisted that my sister and I avoid profanity. She educated us in specific anatomical terms should we need to refer to ourselves or others. And, knowing we might have instances to yelp out in pain or delight, we were encouraged to make up nonsense words.

I flash to this as my Spanish teacher offers me a list of six words–that are completely foreign to me but are clearly pejorative terms. I know this because of words I see within them, such as mal.

She has me guess what the terms mean, using them, before investigating their formal definition. And, for the most part, my sentences, about the pedophile priest, the misogynist, and the thief (I make her a woman to spread the contempt around) are practically accurate.

Then, she offers me a series of syllables and has me combine them to make words that are praising and positive, antonyms to the previous list.

Of course, my mother’s and my Spanish teacher’s approaches to invention inspire me to think of “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll:

  • Invent words; use roots, context, and repetition to help readers make sense of them, to help us crack the code.

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