Words are a problem for the ill-read. If children don't read, they don't develop a well-rounded vocabulary. And by reading, I mean books or newspapers, not text messages. I would have simply said texts, but some might interpret that as textbooks, which is not my purpose.
Take, for example, the student who thought I was bragging about being Valthevictorian. That's how she wrote it, all one word. She had never seen the word valedictorian. And if she had heard it before, her mind made sense of it by filing away Valthevictorian. Not Val, the Victorian. Simply Valthevictorian.
Our school has an in-school suspension program. The students assigned to ISS remain in one room all day, completing assignments sent by their teachers. Twice a day, they are walked single-file to the restrooms. They are not allowed to talk. Once their business is done, they line up along the wall to wait for all to finish.
Many years ago, we had a teacher who walked down the hall past this group, as they stood against the gym wall. The ISS teacher had stepped away to round up the stragglers from the men's room. One of the students in line dared to mouth off an insult to the teacher. Rumor had it that the teacher was a former Navy SEAL. Just a rumor, which he did nothing to dispel.
Not being one to suffer insults from students gladly, Faux SEAL retorted, "Well. If it isn't the malcontents." Not anything that could get him in trouble. Simply a statement. A generalization concerning the mindset of the ISS students.
I was teaching an at-risk class back then, and these students were my regular clientele. When one returned to class the next week, he brought up the incident.
"I better not catch him away from school. I'll beat the crap out of him. He called us Milk Tits!"
"Oh, I think you must have heard it wrong. Why would he call you that?"
"Because he's a jerk, that's why. He was calling us little babies."
"Hold off on that beating. I'll check with him at lunch and see what he meant."
I was able to smooth things over the next day, when I explained that Faux SEAL had merely called the boys malcontents, not Milk Tits. They were fine with being called chronically dissatisfied people who rebel against the establishment. Because that definition suited them. But the word malcontent was not in their vocabulary. Milk and tits were.
A well-rounded vocabulary is a terrible thing to lack.