RDP #63 – CHALLENGE
c. 1200, “to rebuke,” from Old French chalongier “complain, protest; haggle, quibble,” from Vulgar Latin calumniare “to accuse falsely,” from Latin calumniari “to accuse falsely, misrepresent, slander,” from calumnia “trickery” (see calumny).
From late 13c. as “to object to, take exception to;” c. 1300 as “to accuse,” especially “to accuse falsely,” also “to call to account;” late 14c. as “to call to fight.” Also used in Middle English with sense “claim, take to oneself.” Related: Challenged; challenging.
This word, as so many others in our language, can be used in many different ways. I chose to focus on it as a verb. I was a little surprised to see that there is a negative connotation in the history of the word, to accuse falsely; even to use trickery in that false accusation.
Here’s as little autobiographical story:
I was a teacher 25 years ago, working in a Christian school, teaching high school history and English. I had a student (we’ll call him Johnny) who never felt obligated to do homework. He had a string of excuses, nothing new or original. It always amuses me when kids think they’re the first ones who ever came up with a dumb excuse for not doing a simple homework assignment 🙂
So, it was halfway through the grading period, and time for parent-teacher conferences. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re awful. My day had actually gone quite well, and I had one more parent to see.
A man stood at the door to my classroom, looking dubious. I greeted him and told him my name. His jaw dropped, and he started to laugh. Inviting him in, I inquired about his hilarity.
“Well, from Johnny’s description, I expected you to have a wart on your nose, and that you’d be wearing a pointy black hat. Is your broomstick in the corner? Your black cat under the desk? I don’t see a pot of boiling bat wings and eye of newt.”
It was good that he had a sense of humor. Always helps. I showed him his son’s column in my grade book. It was full of zeros, adding up to a big, fat “F” for the half-semester grade. Dad shook his head, and agreed with me that his son had been lying to him for weeks.
So we agreed it was time for a three-way meeting: Him, me, and Johnny.
Johnny was cocky when the two of them came in to see me the next day after school. Dad had done a good job of leading him to believe that I was about to be treated to a stern rebuke.
It was hilarious to see his face turn white when Dad turned on him and told him that the lying was over as of right now; that he was going to do his homework faithfully from now on, with no more excuses. And that he was going to apologize to me, right that minute, for lying about me and describing me as a witch. And for ongoing disrespect and disobedience.
Johnny was sheet-white by this time. Apparently Dad was a man of his word. Johnny would be grounded for life , or at least for the next six months, and if things didn’t improve, there would be worse consequences.
Johnny’s ship was sunk because he had tried to challenge me, discredit me, impugn my character and integrity.
He lost big. I wish all parents were as wise and cooperative as Johnny’s dad. Too often, the teacher is the one in trouble when a kid is a goof-off.