Monday, November 19, 2001

Higher learning must have gotten a whole lot higher in the past two decades. Among other things, college students have determined that:
Rasputin was a pheasant by birth.
Old Testament profits include Moses, Amy, and Confucius.
Hitler shot himself in the bonker.
This is all according to one Anders Henriksson Professor Henriksson, that is, chairman of the history department at West Virginia’s Shepherd College. He has assembled 20 years’ worth of genuine student bloopers, gleaned from little blue exam books and anguished term papers at two dozen colleges.
The result is “Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students.” It is already on the top-20 list over at, and climbing.
Here we discover the Iran Hostess Crisis, the Wholey Roman Empire, Martin Luther King’s famous “If I Had a Hammer Speech,” Premier Dim El Sum of Korea, the Automaton Empire and Joan of Ark, who was Noah’s wife, of course.
Few could forget the ancient religion of Judyism or the fact that Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Yikes of March, either.
“Zorroastrologism was founded by Zorro. This was a duelist religion,” wrote one student, fleshing out ancient theology. “These beliefs later resurfaced among the Manatees.”
“World War II became the Cold War, because Benjamin Franklin Roosevelt did not trust Lenin and Stalin. An ironed curtain fell across the haunches of Europe,” noted another about a later era.
Mr. Henriksson diplomatically swears all of this is not the norm, just little mix-ups of spelling and proof-reading, or lack of preparation among the young and the restless. Then there are those who just don’t get it, for one reason or another.
They believe the first airplane was flown by the Marx Brothers and that Spartacus led a slave rebellion in ancient Rome and appeared in a movie about it later. It “grinds our critical, seething minds to a halt,” Mr. Henriksson says.
“Rulers were entitled Faroes. A famed one was King Toot,” wrote one student in a section of the book devoted to ancient times. “Thesis killed the Minosaur” while “King Minoose became Head Cretin” over in the portion devoted to classical Greece.
Minosaurs and Minoose notwithstanding, youthful malapropisms have been the source of much gleeful investigation. In recent years, Quincy University, the University of Alabama’s Astronomy Department and North Carolina State University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering have compiled and published student bloopers at their official Web sites.
Former educators John Muir and Vincent Shanley have written several volumes worth of “Classroom Clangers” for several publishers.
Richard Lederer, who taught English in a New Hampshire boy’s school for 27 years, has managed to write 14 books chronicling mangled language and scholarly mishaps of every persuasion.
“Solomom had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines,” one of his pupils solemnly observed. “Columbus sailed the Atlantic in the Nina, the Pinta Colada and the Santa Fe,” wrote another.
So great is the American hunger for such things that Mr. Lederer gives 150 speeches a year and maintains a Web site for “verbivores” and “wordaholics” (
“Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Mr. Henriksson’s 150-page oeuvre, published by Workman and priced at $15, continues to raise an affectionate ruckus among those who identify with the fine art of student misunderstanding. The online news discussion site has logged scores of comments from fans and foes alike. Some mourn the state of academics, others offer parental advice.

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