"Tribonics' would help local students with their English

January 13, 1997


Herald-Mail Columnist

As you might expect, I'm the last surviving person on the planet who still supports the teaching of Ebonics, or black English, in public schools.

The idea of Ebonics (a word derived from a combination of ebony and phonics) bloomed in Oakland, Ca., for about two weeks before it was crushed beneath a landslide of negative public comment.

But the public is being short-sighted.

Ebonics is the bespeckled, bow-tied word for what we all used to know as jive. Remember the movie Airplane? The stewardess was trying to understand two black guys who were speaking jive as they ordered their airline meal. The translation was provided by way of subtitle.


So one man says "Bap babe slide the porter, drink side run the java" to the subtitle "I'll have steak."

In the sequal he's on the witness stand and when asked "do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" he responds "Ain' no thang" to the subtitle "I do."

So Oakland figured one of the reasons black test scores might be lower is because the exams are given in white English and may not be completely understandable for a person who has grown up in a black neighborhood.

The concept of black English thrills me, and I only wish they'd thought of it 20 years earlier.

Because if we can have "black English," which plays a bit fast and loose with the rules of grammar, perhaps we also could have had something called "writer's math" - a concept that allows people like myself to receive a passing grade if we get somewhere in the ballpark on our long-division problems.

For example, consider the problem "23 is x percent of 72." Well, of course, being a writer, I have no idea. But I'm thinking along the lines that 23 would be 23 percent of 100, so it's bound to be an even greater percentage of 78 - maybe thirtyish.

I don't know the real answer. I don't know how to arrive at the real answer. But because I took a stab at it, I get full credit. I could have gotten that Yale scholarship after all.

And what if the concept were applied to English in Tri-State area schools? More success stories, I predict. I can see it now. "Tribonics."

I got to thinking about this because once I heard, no kidding, a Pennsylvania guy complaining about the just-coined crime of carjacking. "Carjacking," he spat. "We never called it carjacking. We called it pulling someone out of the driver's seat and hitting him and taking his car."

Anyway, I believe we could revise our textbooks with almost no effort at all:

Correct: "I knew he was here."

Also correct: "I knowed he was here."

Correct: "I watched him go by."

Also correct: "I done seed him book."

Correct: "I have listened to your analysis and I agree with it completely."

Also correct: "I heard that."

Correct: "Look at that pig."

Also Correct: "Look at that there pig."

Correct: "The gentleman distresses me, so I shall put him in his proper place."

Also correct: "I'm gonna give him what-fer."

(Alternate: "I'm gonna knock him upside the head.")

Correct: "I meant what I said."

Also correct: "I don't chew my cabbage twice."

Correct: "Please wash the tire."

Also correct: "You! Wersh the tar."

Correct: "I'm marrying Phil because of his elevated financial status."

Also correct: "I'm marrying Phil because he gets a right good disability check."

Correct: "Yes."

Also correct: "You got that right."

Correct: "Yes indeed."

Also Correct: "I GAR-untee you."

Correct: "Egads, I have been played for quite the fool."

Also correct: "I may be dense."

Correct: "You're fired."

Also correct: "You are to be included in our enhanced separation plan."

Tell me test scores in Western Maryland wouldn't skyrocket.

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