In an effort to combat narrow vocabularies, Justin Heimberg has recruited an unlikely ally: yo momma! Hey, calm down, hothead, let us explain. Heimberg is using "yo momma" jokes, those evergreen playground taunts responsible for countless after-school detentions, to broaden kids' command of language.
The trick, used to hilarious effect in his newly released book "The Yo Momma Vocabulary Builder," is dropping SAT-level synonyms into the familiar "yo momma" joke template (as in, "Yo momma's so corpulent, when her beeper goes off, people think she's backing up." Oh snap!)
Heimberg, a screenwriter, wrote the book with two coauthors after his jokes caught on when he was teaching at a Los Angeles juvenile-detention center. He envisions the book's being used as a coffee-table novelty and a classroom tool.
But if teachers employ it, will vocabulary soar at the expense of civility? Heimberg says he doesn't imagine that the book will be included in anyone's standard curriculum, but it could be a fun way to get children interested in "big words." "It'll rub some people the wrong way, but it is a legitimate way of teaching," Heimberg says. "Maybe we'll do an ethics book next."