Emojis, Barber Poles and the History of Surgery | arts and entertainment

Several years ago, I was attending a writers conference when I was introduced to a woman who asked me what I did for a living. (Almost all writers must have a paid job.) I told him that I was a public school teacher and had been for many years. She said, “Isn’t it boring to teach the same material year after year?” In response, I asked her if she had a favorite joke that she often told. She replied that she had a few favorites that she liked to tell. I pointed out that the same is true in teaching – each new audience renews the material.

A unit that I taught several times concerned semiotics, the study of signs, some of which predate language. I usually started with an image of a barber pole, with its spirals of candy; then I asked if they knew what that meant. Of course they did ā€“ a hair salon. But, I was wondering, what was the connection? They never thought of it. So I told them that at one time barbers were also surgeons and that the red stripes represented blood flowing down a pole which the client was gripping tightly as the barber opened a vein in his wrist during a bleeding. This practice continued into the 20th century, but the connection was lost for most people. These days I could use emojis, which kids can relate to, but I really prefer my barber pole story.

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Chuck Avery is a retired teacher who grew up in the Bucktown neighborhood of Connersville.


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