Recently on Mother’s Day (5/12/13) the Star Tribune social/political cartoon on the Opinion Page pictured a student graduate with sheepskin (diploma) clutched in hand and a vicious wolf (woolfskin) with threatening incisors clutching the graduate’s back side with student debt as a tattoo inscribed on its mangy fur.
Sheepskin immediately caught my attention reminding me of a rhetorical faux pas uttered from my pulpit some fifty-five years ago. My first charge after ordination was to develop a town-gown congregation and church at Washington State College (university today) in Pullman, Washington. Property had been purchased and a church built adjoining the WSU athletic facilities and football stadium. Students were to graduate that afternoon. In a rhetorical high note I observed: “When you get your pigskins this afternoon”. Imagine the delight of students imagining literally hundreds of pigskins (footballs) being tossed about at the forthcoming commencement exercises. Rhetorical faux pas, indeed, but harmless.
On another occasion on a Mother’s Day observance in the prayers ending worship I read from a pamphlet of prayers prepared for the various Sundays of the church year. Trusting previous use of those prayers I failed to read the prayer or add my input prior to reading that prayer. Imagine my consternation when the line appeared and there was not chance to carefully edit my words. The clerical rhetorician could only forge forward stating: “Pray God to preserve us from CARD PLAYING, BEER DRINKING MOTHERS.” Too late and mortified the rhetorical faux pas was counter to my feminist persuasion in that pre-feminist time. What can be more fun then playing cards and drinking beer with mothers! I did that with my six children’s mother and her women friends, all mothers, for sixty years. A colossal rhetorical faux pas and actually a law oriented counter grace theological take.
Which goes to prove: a speaker’s pulpit or classroom podium makes one vulnerable to the rhetorical faux pas! The preacher or professorial lecturer must be mindful of embarrassment or misunderstanding that awaits when uttering a too glib or poorly constructed statement. Merriment or misunderstanding lie in wait.