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Schoolboy howlers

We all love those daft things that school children put on exam papers – How long is the menstrual cycle? Three feet; that sort of thing. So, here are some from a hundred years ago (when they didn’t have such things as menstrual cycles):

After twice committing suicide, Cowper lived till 1800 when he died a natural death.

Much butter is imported from Denmark, because Danish cows have greater enterprise and superior technical education to ours.

In the British Empire the sun always sets.

The courage of the Turks is explained by the fact that a man with more than one wife is more willing to face death than if he had only one.

Under what conditions will a body float in water? After it has been in the water three days.

Some of the others might turn out to be even funnier if I understood them.

12 comments to Schoolboy howlers

  • Mr Ed

    That whole page has fascinating items on it, teachers droning on about the need for higher salaries, Catholic teachers commenting on society; 10% to University; idle English youth outworked by foreign youth.

  • RAB

    The courage of the Turks is explained by the fact that a man with more than one wife is more willing to face death than if he had only one.

    Classic and so true; Pratically willing it on I’d of thought. And don’t forget about the Mother In Law’s :-)

  • RAB,

    Mothers in law.

    The plural is the mothers, not the law.

  • Joseph W.

    Mark Twain’s “English As She Is Taught” provides other examples from a little further back. Words these children managed to define included —

    ABORIGINES, a system of mountains.
    AMENABLE, anything that is mean.
    AMMONIA, the food of the gods.
    EUCHARIST, one who plays euchre.
    FRANCHISE, anything belonging to the French.
    REPUBLICAN, a sinner mentioned in the Bible.

    ….etc. etc.

  • Awesome… I asked a teacher I knew in the USA once what was the funniest ‘howler’ he had heard and he replied thusly:

    “I set an assignment for the students to write about the issues surrounding euthanasia… and one of the students said as he knew so little about the subject, could he instead write about Youth in America?”

    ;-)

  • Mrdamage

    I like that last one, when marking that exam I’d find it difficult to mark the answer incorrect. If a question has more than one possible correct answer, that’s the fault of the person posing the question, not the one answering.

  • Mr Ed

    Outside of the class, a late teenage school colleague of mine, studying Maths A-level, at our remote boarding school came up with the following.

    1. Watching American Football (then new to British TV) said in exasperation at another break in play for commercials ‘God, how many quarters are there?’.

    2. He asked his colleagues one afternoon if anyone going into town (2.5 miles away) could do him a favour, when asked what he said ‘Could you get me some passport photos?‘.

  • Antoine Clarke

    In my Baccalaureat History and Geography exam, one of the questions included filling in a map of a country (on this occasion the USSR).
    You can imagine the effect in the exam room when a pained voice at the back exclaimed “Merde! C’est la Chine!” I think she had the map upside down.

  • […] We examined some interesting homework problems earlier. It’s comforting to know that 100 years earlier, things were no better. [h/t Samizdata] […]

  • Laird

    “The imperfect tense in used in French to express a future action in past time which does not take place at all.”

    Sounds about right.

  • Eric

    To be fair, the future isn’t perfect.

  • AKM

    It’s just fine in hindsight.