At one time, I was a high school English teacher, blessed with the task of expanding the minds of curious 14 year olds. My class was reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, when a student came up to me and said, “In the chapter you had us read for homework, Pip and Miss Havesham were having sex.” “What?” I answered, shocked. “Yeah, it said they had intercourse!”
If the situation wasn't so awkward, it would have been the answer to any teacher‘s prayer; a teachable moment with students waiting in rapt attention for me to expound on the richness of the English language. On the one hand, it was an opportunity to talk about multiple meanings of words or how language changes over time. On the other hand, how could I explain the multiple meanings of that particular word to a class of snickering teenagers?
Maybe if I broke the word into its Latin roots, they’d lose interest and we could get on with the lesson I’d originally planned for the day. “Inter means between and course means to run; it's from the Latin intercursus which means running between.” More snickering. “Okay, how about the word discourse? It means a speech or discussion. So, if course means to talk, intercourse means an exchange between people; a conversation.
I should have stopped there but something made me pose this pivotal question: “So, what’s a four letter word ending in k that means intercourse?” I expected the class to erupt into laughter and mayhem. But they very earnestly responded in unison, “F%#K“ as if the answer was obvious. “No,” I replied. The word is TALK.” At least that’s one definition they’d never forget!
The story makes a good segue for today’s quilt which is made from conversation prints. These novelty fabrics, popular in the 1870-1900’s, are printed with images of everyday things such as cats or dogs. The tiny motifs are meant to elicit comments and conversation about the fabric. Most of the designs in this quilt are from Judy Rothermel for Marcus Brothers. I think my favorite image is the pool playing grasshopper. How weird is that?