Epizeuxis (epi-zook-sis): A literary or rhetorical device using the repetition of words in quick succession for vehemence or emphasis usually in order to appeal to or invoke the reader's or listener's emotions .
Little Billy Spooner was both the age and of an age when boys under thirteen wore short trousers and long socks. It was also an age when grammar was still taught in schools, and taught proper.
Billy and his classmates at the local school had been taught their grammar at the hands of Miss Skinner. Although it might be grammatically incorrect, it would be more appropriate to say the boys and girls had been learned by Miss Skinner . For if they did not learn something the easy way, the old dragon would beat it into them with the tongue of leather that was her trusty tawse.
One day, after the teacher had been at her most curmudgeonly and lashed at the class with both her tongues, Billy had made moan to his father.
"Pa. She's a wicked old hag and should be retired. She's ancient, smells, and has been teaching forever!"
"Billy! You should respect your elders, especially your teachers," his father had replied, trying to sound stern. His smile betrayed him. "Well, she has been teaching since before the old queen died. You know she taught me..." he had to pause to chuckle, "and your grandfather. I suppose she still has that leather tongue of hers. Speaks louder than words, doesn't it?"
Billy inferred from this exchange that neither Miss Skinner's temperament nor her teaching methods had improved over the years and, like his father and his father before him, he would just have to grin and bear it. However, his parents did understand his plight and, as a consolation, he was allowed second helpings at supper that day.
A biddable and bright child, Billy enjoyed his learning, finding the work sufficient challenge to give a sense of accomplishment on completion, but not so challenging as to leave him struggling the way some of his peers did. His application to the task meant he was usually top of the class or would have been except he was regularly marked down for indiscipline. For Billy had a little problem. His parents and those others who were concerned about it (that did not include Miss Skinner) could not decide if the problem was caused by Billy's brain running too fast for his mouth to keep pace, or if it was his mouth outpacing his brain. Either way it made Billy seem impetuous and, like his illustrious namesake, the late Warden of New College, Oxford, he frequently got his words mixed up. Metatheses, mondegreens, eggcorns, catachreses, he would do them all. Perceived in a certain quarter as indiscipline or, worse, insubordination, his problem had earned Billy frequent conversations with the leather tongue. At least Billy's peers had noticed the regularity with which he had to hold out his hand, stoically accepting his fate. As a consequence he was never picked on for being teacher's pet or the class swot.
The years rolled on and Billy was now in Miss Hepburn's class. Miss Hepburn was everything Miss Skinner was not: pleasant, soap-scented, pretty and young. She also held her class without recourse to physical techniques of instruction. Whether she could have done so without the grounding given to her pupils by Miss Skinner in their earlier years was a point for debate among the parents and school governors. Also of debate was how long she would remain a teacher. Young and attractive, the consensus was that it was only a matter of time before she would be courted, engaged, married and leaving to have a family. Billy was aware of the speculation but paid it no mind, calculating that she was unlikely to leave before he himself moved to secondary school.
The grounding in discipline that Billy and his peers had received from Miss Skinner was matched by their grounding in the three 'R's. Miss Hepburn was able to build on this solid foundation and her English lessons had progressed to include the discussion of rhetorical devices in literature. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his little problem, Billy was fascinated by words and their origins and usage, and therefore assimilated these lessons eagerly and with ease.
An observer with an analytical mind would have noticed a correlation between the temperature and the position of the socks worn by Billy and his peers. On a mild day, the wearer would allow the socks to pool around their ankles unattended. On a cold day, evidenced by the frost reaching inside to the top of the window pane, the socks would be worn at fullest extent with constant pulling-up to keep the gap across the knee to the hem of the wearer's shorts to a minimum. As the day was merely chilly, Billy's socks were vacillating between full and half mast.
Miss Hepburn had her own strategy for dealing with the chill. Knowing that the heating at the school would not be turned on, something that only happened when the inkwells threatened to freeze over, she had swapped the plain petticoat she normally wore under the full length skirt she was required to wear for a prettier one with ruches and frills that she found warmer. However her decision may have been influenced by the fact it was close at hand as she dressed, for she had worn the underskirt the night before when she was walking out with Thomas Wickham, the vicar's son. Checking her appearance in the mirror, Miss Hepburn chose a somewhat old-fashioned, high-necked blouse to complete her ensemble.
Unfortunately, Miss Hepburn's frilly petticoat and regulation school skirt were incompatible in that the skirt had a tendency to ride up, exposing the bottom of her frou-frou to public view.
Billy was in a quandary. He knew it was impolite for him to refer to his teacher's undergarments, but neither should she be left unaware of the problem. Seeing a solution, Billy's impetuous nature got the better of him.
"Miss, Miss," he said as he put his hand up. "Your epic zoo kiss is showing."
Billy had anticipated that Miss Hepburn might blush, which she did, but he couldn't understand why she had adjusted her collar and not, as he had expected, her skirt.
© Pedro August 2020
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