If you’re a fan of lousy literature, you’re in luck: Here are two
intentionally bad first lines of nonexistent novels.
As he caressed her hair, cheek, forehead, chin, collarbone, shoulder, upper arm, and
stomach, she knew that her
decision to take Octoman as
a lover was the correct one. L. C.
If Vicky Walters had known
that ordering an extra shot of espresso in her grande non-fat sugar free one pump raspberry syrup two pumps vanilla syrup soy latte that Wednesday would lead to her death and subsequent rebirth as a vampire, she probably would have at least gotten whipped cream. M. C.
From the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
My sister-in-law was teaching Sunday school class. The topic for the day: Easter Sunday and the
resurrection of Christ.
“What did Jesus do on this day?” she asked. There was no response,
so she gave her students a hint:
“It starts with the letter R.”
One boy blurted, “Recycle!”
Mari-Lynn Finley, Los Angeles, California
Just before the final exam in
my college finance class, a less-than-stellar student approached me.
“Can you tell me what grade
I would need to get on the exam
to pass the course?” he asked.
I gave him the bad news. “The exam is worth 100 points. You would need 113 points to earn a D.”
“OK,” he said. “And how many points would I need to get a C?”
Aimee Prawitz, Sycamore, Illinois
In college, my freshman-year roommate was in ROTC and came from a long line of military men. Trask (his last name) used that
heritage to lord it over me. But I had the last laugh.
One night, he returned to the dorm in his perfectly pressed
uniform, his newly acquired name tag in his hand. Reluctantly, he showed it to me. In large gold letters was printed: TRASH.
Gary Severson, Nooksack, Washington
A first-grade teacher can’t
believe her student isn’t hepped up about the Super Bowl. “It’s a huge event. Why aren’t you excited?”
“Because I’m not a football fan. My parents love basketball, so I do too,” says the student.
“Well, that’s a lousy reason,” says the teacher. “What if your parents were morons? What would you be then?”
“Then I’d be a football fan.”
For Martin Luther King Day,
I asked my fifth graders how they’d make the world a better place. One said, “I’d make potato skins a main dish rather than an appetizer.”
Manalapan, New Jersey
Try as she might, our granddaughter couldn’t grasp the concept of potty training. Then one day … Success! Jumping up and down,
she threw her arms in the air
and yelled in excitement, “I went potty all by myself, and now I can
go to Harvard!”
Jan and Jack McCloskey,
San Francisco, California
Gauging from these exam
excerpts, my college dance students had better stick with pliés.
“The costumes were vindictive
of the style of dance.”
“I commend Bill T. Jones for
his acts of true kindness and
“Dancers must have long limps.”
“At first, I had a hard time
understanding and interrupting
“Savion Glover’s purpose is to cross all racial and ethical barriers with his dance.”
Kathy Dubois, Onalaska, Wisconsin
What’s the name of a
What part of the body is
affected by glandular fever?
A: The glandular.
In The Tempest, why does
Ariel sing in Gonzalo’s ear?
She’s a mermaid and wants to be human.
In comparison with large
hydrocarbons, how would you describe small hydrocarbons?
A: They’re smaller.
Who were the Bolsheviks?
A: A Russian ballet company.
From F in Exams: Pop Quiz,
by Richard Benson (Chronicle Books)
Student: I don’t understand why my grade was so low. How did
I do on my research paper?
Teacher: Actually, you didn’t turn in a research paper. You turned in a random assemblage of sentences. In fact, the
sentences you apparently
kidnapped in the dead of night
and forced into this violent and arbitrary plan of yours clearly seemed to be placed on the pages against their will. Reading your paper was like watching unfamiliar, uncomfortable people interacting at a cocktail party that no one wanted to attend in the first place. You didn’t submit a research paper. You submitted a hostage situation.
I’m now in high school, so when I ran into my third-grade teacher, I doubted she would remember me.
“Hi, Miss Butcher,” I said.
“Hi, Eddie,” she replied.
“So you do remember me?” I asked.
“Sure. You don’t always leave a good impression, but it is a lasting one.”
Edward McMurray, Wayne, Michigan
I don’t want to brag or make anybody jealous or anything, but
I can still fit into the earrings I wore in high school.
One hard thing to explain to teens is how legitimately exciting it used to be when someone would wheel in an overhead projector.
A mother complained to my wife,
a schoolteacher, that other students were stealing her daughter’s pencils.
“It’s not the money—it’s the
principle,” she insisted. “My husband took those pencils from work.”
Roger Prengel, Lacey, Washington
“Give me a sentence about a public servant,” the teacher instructed her second-grade student.
“The fireman came down the ladder pregnant,” he answered.
“Umm … Do you know what pregnant means?”
“Yes,” said the boy. “It means
carrying a child.”
Earl B. Child, Roy, Utah
I recently ran into an old student of mine, who said, “I always liked you. You never had favorites. You were mean to everyone.”
Lois Henry, Farmington, Maine
“Hurry up or we’ll be late!” shouts a teacher to her kindergarten class.
“What’s the rush?” a tot asks coolly.
“If we’re late, we’ll miss your next class!” the teacher reminds him.
The kid shrugs. “If you’re in such a hurry, go on without us.”
—Source: Funny in Thailand Survey
Why was the math book sad?
Because it had so many problems.
"How do you spell toad?" one of my first-grade students asked.
"We just read a story about a toad," I said, then helped him spell it out: "T-O-A-D."
Satisfied, he finished writing the story he’d begun, then read it aloud: "I toad my mama I wanted a dog for my birthday."
A month after Donald MacDonald started at Harvard, his mother called from Scotland. "And how are the American students, Donald?" she asked.
"They’re so noisy," he complained. "One neighbor endlessly bangs his head against the wall, while another screams all night."
"How do you put up with it?"
"I just ignore them and play my bagpipes."
After a day of listening to my eighth graders exchange gossip, I decided to quote Mark Twain to them: "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
After considering my words, one of my students asked, "What does it mean to remove all doubt?"
During my eighth-grade sex education class, no one could answer the question "What happens to a young woman during puberty?" So I rephrased it: "What happens to young women as they mature?"
One student answered: "They start to carry a purse."
Question on second-grade math quiz: "Tony drank 1/6 of a glass of juice. Emily drank 1/4 of a glass of juice. Emily drank more. Explain."
My grandson’s answer: "She was more thirsty."
At a planning meeting at my college, I congratulated a colleague on producing some superb student-guidance notes explaining how to combat plagiarism.
"How long did it take you to write them?" I asked.
"Not long," he said. "I copied them from another university’s website."
When my summer teaching post in the Czech Republic came to an end, I told my students my next teaching destination would be in Australia, "the land down under." On my final day, they presented me with a card. The carefully worded note read "Good luck, and happy journey to the underworld."
During a lecture on the influence of media on teens, a typo in the PowerPoint presentation revealed the professor’s true opinion. The title read “Three Reasons Teens Are Vulnerable Toads.”
Found in a heap of recycled files donated to our school was this curiously labeled folder: "Excuses I Have Used."
There was a typo on a test I was taking. Instead of "(D) none of the above," it said "(D) one of the above." So I circled it.
Seen outside a professor’s door at Georgetown College: "Psychology 376: Dying, Grieving, and Coping. Take for your major or minor, or as a fun elective."
Our school had just installed a new air-conditioning system, and a representative from the company wanted to make sure it was running smoothly. Poking his head into an empty classroom, he asked the teacher, "Any little problems here?"
"No," she said, smiling. "All our little problems have gone home."
Discovered: why our nation’s education system is in trouble. When a friend delivered 20 new math books to a teacher’s classroom, the teacher exclaimed, "Oh, shoot! I was hoping it was something I could use."
My son, a high school senior, went to take a national literacy test recently. A sign on the classroom door read "Literacy Testing in Progress: Do Not Distrub!"
Teacher: What is an evangelist?
Student: Someone who plays the evangelo.
Teacher: Why can’t freshwater fish live in salt water?
Student: The salt would give them high blood pressure.
Teacher: Mira went to the library at 5:15 and left at 6:45. How long was Mira at the library?
Student: Not long.
For 98 percent of the students at the school where my wife teaches, English is a second language. But that didn’t stop them from giving her Christmas cards. Still, their enthusiasm for the occasion sometimes exceeded their grasp of English. Among the many cards that flooded her desk were: "Happy Birthday, Grandma," "Get Well Soon," and "Congratulations on Passing Your Driving Test!"
Our local newspaper lists recipients of school awards. Beneath one photo, the caption read "This year’s Perfect Attendance Awards go to Ann Stein and Bradley Jenkins. Not present for photo: Bradley Jenkins."
When our students began raising donations for Child Abuse Prevention Week, the school administration did its part by setting up a collection box outside the principal’s office and displaying a banner by the front door of the lobby. It read "Please give $1 to help stop child abuse in the front office."
An amateur pilot wannabe, I knew I’d finally made progress with my flight training the day my instructor turned to me and said, “You know, you’re not as much fun since you stopped screaming.”
English is tough to learn, as these attempts from classes in English as a second language prove:
"Do you like this food? I made it from scratching."
"I never liked mushrooms, but now they are beginning to grow in me."
"Do you like your coffee cremated?"
"I usually worm up my food before I eat it."
In lectures on human genetics, I explained to my college students that males determine the sex of the offspring by contributing either an X or a Y chromosome. So at the end of the year, I put it on the final exam: "How is the sex of the child determined?"
One student wrote, "By examining it at birth."
A middle school in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, encourages freethinking. A sign outside the school reads, “You are unique—just like everyone else.”
During my first meeting with my physically challenged students, I assured them that most people are handicapped in some way.
"Look at me," I said. "My eyes are so bad, I need to wear glasses. Because I can barely hear, I need a hearing aid. And look at my ears—they’re much bigger than they should be."
From the back, a boy added, "And your nose too."
Teacher: George Washington not only chopped down his father’s cherry tree but also admitted it. Now, Joey, do you know why his father didn’t punish him?
Joey: Because George still had the ax in his hand?
When our school librarian announced she was changing schools, my fellow teacher asked a student, "Why do you think Ms. Richardson is leaving?"
The third grader opined, "Because she’s read all our books?"
One of our projects at military leadership school called for us to speak in front of the class on a topic picked by our instructor. A classmate gave an impassioned speech on the benefits of drinking liquor. Alcohol, he insisted, warded off colds, kept you alert, and even made you steadier on your feet.
"Good job," said our instructor when he finished. "Only one thing: Your topic was the benefits of drinking liquids, not liquor."
I’d contacted a butcher to get sheep brains for a lecture in my neuroanatomy class and said I’d be by to pick them up. But when I arrived at his shop, it was closed. Taped to the door was this note: "Teacher, your brains are next door at the barbershop."
"Guess what?" yelled my high schooler as he burst through the door. "I got a 100 on the Spanish quiz that I didn’t even know we were having."
"That’s great!" I said. "But why didn’t you know about the quiz?"
"Because our teacher told us about it in Spanish."
Interviewing a college applicant, the dean of admissions asks, "If you could have a conversation with someone, living or dead, who would it be?"
The student thinks it over, then answers, "The living one."
Teacher: Millie, give me a sentence starting with i.
Millie: I is …
Teacher: No, Millie. Always say, "I am."
Millie: Okay, I am the ninth letter of the alphabet.
An e-mail from our school principal: "The Miss BHS Beauty Pageant has been moved to Friday night instead of Saturday because of the contestants involved in the hog show."
When a nosy fourth-grade student wanted the scoop on what another teacher and I were discussing in private, I decided it was time for an impromptu lesson in manners.
"Do you know what ‘minding your own business’ means?" I asked pointedly.
He didn’t, but a student clear across the room shouted, "I do!"
Flummoxed by his true-false final exam, a student decides to toss a coin up in the air. Heads means true; tails, false. Thirty minutes later, he’s done, well before the rest of the class. But then the student starts flipping the coin again. And soon he’s swearing and sweating over each question.
"What’s wrong?" asks the concerned teacher.
"I’m rechecking my answers," says says the student.
Early one morning, a mother went in to wake up her son. "Wake up, son. It’s time to go to school!"
"But why, Mom? I don’t want to go."
"Give me two reasons why you don’t want to go."
"Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me, too!"
"Oh, that’s no reason not to go to school. Come on now and get ready."
"Give me two reasons why I should go to school."
"Well, for one, you’re 52 years old. And for another, you’re the Principal!"
I was a percussion major when I was in college, and during a rehearsal of the student orchestra, my section kept making mistakes.
"When you’re too dumb to play anything," the professor conducting us sneered, "they give you a couple of sticks, put you in the back and call you a percussionist."
A friend next to me whispered, "And if you’re too dumb to hang on to both sticks, they put you in the front and call you a conductor."
I was teaching a life-skills class to my high school students one day, and we were discussing the various terms one might encounter in a restaurant. I asked, "What does the phrase ‘à la carte’ mean?" "It means," a student said, "you’re in the wrong restaurant."
After his first day back at school in the fall, I asked my son if the high-school students were wearing anything new. "Well," he replied, "a lot of the fellows are showing up in see-through mustaches."
The college football player knew his way around the locker room better than he did the library. So when my husband’s co-worker saw the gridiron star roaming the stacks looking confused, she asked how she could help. "I have to read a play by Shakespeare," he said.
"Which one?" she asked.
He scanned the shelves and answered, "William."
We live less than a quarter-mile from the high school, but my son proudly drove there in a car he bought with his own money. A typical first car, it had lots of little problems and was sometimes slow to start.
One morning I was surprised to see it still in front of the house, so after school I asked him about it. "I had to get to school early," he said, "so I just ran."
During our computer class, the teacher chastised one boy for talking to the girl sitting next to him.
"I was just asking her a question," the boy said.
"If you have a question, ask me," the teacher tersely replied.
"Okay," he answered. "Do you want to go out with me Friday night?"
Four students walked in halfway through the American history test my father was giving at the local community college. "Sorry," they said, "we had a flat tire."
An understanding man, Dad said that if they could all answer just one question correctly, he would give them each an "A" for the exam. The students agreed. So my father handed each one a piece of paper, placed them in four separate corners and said, "Write down which tire was flat."
At the beginning of my junior year at Russellville High School in Arkansas, our homeroom teacher had us fill out a form stating our future goals. Out of curiosity, I leaned over to see what my friend put down for her aspirations.
Where it read "Vocational Plans," she had written, "Florida."
One afternoon while I was visiting my library, I noticed a group of preschoolers gathered for story time. The book they were reading was "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly." After the librarian finished the first page, she asked the children, "Do you think she’ll die?"
"Nope," a little girl in the back said. "I saw this last night on ‘Fear Factor.’ "
While reviewing math symbols with my second-grade pupils, I drew a greater-than (>) and a less-than (<) sign on the chalkboard and asked, "Does anyone remember what these mean?" A few moments passed, and then a boy confidently raised his hand. "One means fast-forward," he exclaimed, "and the other means rewind!"
Parents are justifiably upset when their children don’t get into the college of their choice. As an admissions counselor for a state university, I took a call from an irate mother demanding to know why her daughter had been turned down. Avoiding any mention of the transcript full of D’s, I explained that her daughter just wasn’t as "competitive" as the admitted class. "Why doesn’t she try another school for a year and then transfer?" I suggested.
"Another school!" exclaimed Mom. "Have you seen her grades?"
Did you hear about the college professor who was involved in a terrible car wreck? He was grading papers on a curve.
As a fund-raiser, the chemistry club designed and sold T-shirts. Written across the front were our top "Stupid Chemistry Sayings":
• Have yourself a Merry Little Bismuth
• What do you do with dead people? Barium
• You stupid boron!
• We hope your year is very phosphorous.
My father began teaching business classes at the local prison through a community college. On his first night of class, he started a chapter on banking. During the course of his lecture, the subject of ATMs came up, and he mentioned that, on average, most machines contain only about $1,500 at a given time.
Just then a man in the back raised his hand. "I’m not trying to be disrespectful," he told my father, "but the machine I robbed had about $5,000 in it."
Shortly after my son started college, the president of the university had an assembly for the new students. "Welcome to Johns Hopkins," he began, "And please note that it’s Johns, not John."
Then he told how one of his predecessors, Milton Eisenhower, had been invited to talk at the University of Pittsburgh. After he was introduced as the president of "John Hopkins," Eisenhower said, "Thank you. It’s great to be in Pittburgh."
Kids have a greater need for speed than classroom computers can deliver. Impatient to turn in his term paper, one restless student kept clicking the "Print" command. The printer started to churn out copy after copy of the kid’s ten-page report.
The topic? "Save Our Trees."
My friend John came into French class one Monday with a pillow that he placed on his seat. Over the weekend he had been skiing and mildly fractured his tailbone. Our teacher promptly asked him to explain, en français, why he was sitting on a pillow.
To our amusement, John answered, "Sorbonne."
According to the Internet: Students in a Harvard English 101 class were asked to write a concise essay containing four elements: religion, royalty, sex and mystery. The only A+ in the class read: "’My God,’ said the Queen, ‘I’m pregnant! I wonder who did it.’"
In honor of Memorial Day, the teacher I worked with read the Constitution to her third-grade class.
After reading “We the people,” she paused to ask the children what they thought that meant.
One boy raised his hand and asked, “Is that like ‘We da bomb?’ ”
Most of my English literature classmates thought reading Melville’s Billy Budd would be an easy task because the novel is only 90 pages long. One boy, however, complained that the text was heavy and hard to comprehend.
"Hey," another student suggested, "maybe you should try reading Budd Light."
Danny was hard to miss at our school. A Civil War buff who forever wore his Confederate overcoat, he was a friend to all. When he was passed over during the vote for senior superlatives, many of us were disappointed; surely there must have been some category suitable for him.
The whole school was pleased, therefore, when the yearbook adviser surprised us with an additional photo. There was Danny, decked out in his gray coat, with the caption: "Most Likely to Secede."
Freshmen in the general-science class at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista, Calif., were studying astronomy. "What do we call a group of stars that makes an imaginary picture in the sky?" the teacher asked.
"A consternation," one student replied.
Driving my car one afternoon, I rolled through a stop sign. I was pulled over by a police officer, who recognized me as his former English teacher.
"Mrs. Brown," he said, "those stop signs are periods, not commas."
A police car with flashing lights pulled me over near the high school where I teach. As the officer asked for my license and registration, my students began to drive past. Some honked their horns, others hooted, and still others stopped to admonish me for speeding.
Finally the officer asked me if I was a teacher at the school, and I told him I was.
"I think you’ve paid your debt to society," he concluded with a smile, and left without giving me a ticket.
A friend was assigned a new post teaching English to inmates in prison. Feeling a little nervous on his first day, he began by asking the class a basic question:
"Now, who can tell me what a sentence is?"
At the school where my mother worked, the two first-grade teachers were named Miss Paine and Mrs. Hacking. One morning the mother of a student called in the middle of a flu epidemic to excuse her daughter from school.
"Is she in Paine or Hacking?" the school secretary asked.
"She feels fine," said the confused mom. "We have company and I’m just keeping her home."
When I became a licensed chiropractor, I moved back to my hometown and soon had a thriving practice. One morning I saw a new patient whom I recognized as my old high school principal.
"Gee," I said nervously, "I’m a little surprised to see you here."
"Why?" he replied. "You certainly spent a great deal of time in my office."
The board of education in a nearby town sold off a building that had been a one-room schoolhouse. The buyer converted it to a tavern. One day an elderly man was walking by the place with his grandson and pointed to the building.
"That’s where I went to school when I was your age."
"Really," said the boy. "Who was your bartender back then?"
A student in my math course at Ohlone State College in Fremont, Calif., developed a severe case of tendinitis. Since she couldn’t write, she brought a video camera to tape my lectures. After three or four classes, I asked her if she found the method satisfactory. She said it was working quite well, even better than note-taking.
"Actually," she confessed, "I have another reason for doing this. When I told my mother you were a widower, she wanted to see what you look like."
After registering for his high school classes, my son burst into the house, filled with excitement. "Dad," he announced in one breath, "I got all the classes I wanted. But I have to have my school supplies by tomorrow. I need a protractor and a compass for geometry, a dictionary for English, a dissecting kit for biology—and a car for driver’s ed."
Toward the end of the school year, the sixth-grade teachers decide which of their students should be accelerated in certain subjects in the seventh grade. When a child is chosen, his parents are notified. When one boy was accelerated in science and math, his mother wrote to the teacher: "I think this is quite an honor for someone who just tried to make two quarts of lemonade in a one-quart pitcher!"
Recently I was grading history tests for my fourth-graders. I’d included an extra credit question: "List up to five good facts about Abraham Lincoln."
One of my D students surprised me with this one: "After the war ended, Lincoln took his wife to a show."
Walking through the hallways at the middle school where I work, I saw a new substitute teacher standing outside his classroom with his forehead against a locker. I heard him mutter, "How did you get yourself into this?"
Knowing he was assigned to a difficult class, I tried to offer moral support. "Are you okay?" I asked. "Can I help?"
He lifted his head and replied, "I’ll be fine as soon as I get this kid out of his locker."
The 104-year-old building that had served as the priory and primary student residence of the small Catholic university where I work was about to be demolished. As the wrecker’s ball began to strike, I sensed the anxiety and sadness experienced by one of the older monks whose order had founded the college. "This must be difficult to watch, Father," I said. "The tradition associated with that building, the memories of all the students and monks who lived and worked there. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you."
"It’s worse than that," the monk replied. "I think I left my Palm Pilot in there."
Faculty members at Texas Christian university were urged to become familiar with the timesaving machines of the new computer center. Basic courses in their use were given, and research projects were accelerated.
The faculty was enthusiastic—except for one veteran professor. Not only did he flunk the primer course, but on his first project, when he asked the machine simply to separate the names of students by sex, the cards came out in three stacks.
My fellow teacher called for help—she needed someone who knew about animals. As a science teacher, I filled the bill. "Oh," she added, "bring a net." Expecting to find some kind of beast as I entered her classroom, I was greeted instead by the sight of excited kids watching a hummingbird fly around. Rather than use the net, I suggested they hang red paper by an open door. The bird would be drawn to it, I explained, and eventually fly out. Later, the teacher called back. The trick worked. "Now," she said, "we have two hummingbirds flying around the room."
The day before my graduation from Soldan High School in St. Louis, the principal called an assembly. He wanted to say farewell informally, he explained, as he reviewed our years together. There was hardly a dry eye among us as he concluded, "We will remember you, and hope you will remember us; more importantly, we want you to remember each other. I want all of you to meet in this very auditorium 25 years from today."
There was a moment of silence; then a thin voice piped up, "What time?"