Exam Howlers

EWN Smith

EWN Smith

In the past I have mentioned one of my old English teachers, although I can’t remember why for the life of me. Anyway, he was called EWN Smith, and we called him (behind his back, obviously) Compass Face, which we thought was rather witty. He was a good teacher, and had a way with words. I recall him telling one boy, about his homework, ‘It was a big improvement on your last essay, Mather. It was only awful this time.’

Anyway, to my amazement I came across a random, one-off blog posting by his son. I always knew that Compass Face had worked in Africa because he sometimes regaled us with stories of his travels, and I now learned that he was there and in other countries as a chief examiner for the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, marking essays written by sixteen-year-olds taking either O Levels or the local equivalent of them. What his son had posted was an old notebook in which Compass Face recorded “howlers” or amusing turns of phrase from scripts he marked, plus others that he saw on his travels, and he goes on to list a few of his favourites.

I thought I would share some with you:

  • (On a sign board) Vacant man wanted
  • My girl friend & I are very thrusting with each other
  • Pandemonium not only reigned, it poured
  • “The primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his own living. This is so important that it should be repeated. The primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his own living. Indeed, it cannot be said too often that the primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his own living.”  [I strongly suspect that in this case the student was struggling desperately to fill all those scary acres of blank white paper while still trying to sound intelligent and earnest – a phenomenon I remember well…]
  • When the wedding was over the bridegroom clasped his loved one tight in his

    EWN Smith’s actual notebook

    arms, while the little organ began to swell & fill the room

  • Pails & bowels were flung all over the plaice
  • Lateron the doctor gave him piles to relief him his pain
  • Swollen dead bodies were taken to the doctor for cross-examination
  • Both his legs were cut off, & both his hands, & most of his brains were hanging through the side of his head; & he was lying on his bed — crying [As you would, no doubt]
  • In table-tennising a white ball, inform of an egg, is kicked between the two players
  • Table-tennising is controlled by an Empirer. The two parsons toss the tennis ball to each other, & stroke it when they are chanced
  • She had vital stastics — I did like them
  • Pidgin English, West Africa: Aeroplanes = dem breeze lorries for up
  • A Nigerian examiner’s comment: “A good essay, full of minor gross errors.”



About ramblesofawriter

Writer, thinker, tea drinker.
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4 Responses to Exam Howlers

  1. mark stevenson says:

    He was also my English teacher – and I remember those howlers well!

  2. Thanks – nice to hear from an Old Pavior!

  3. Adk says:

    Always going on about how accurate he was at throwing a board rubber if he caught you talking.

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