On the bulletin board, in the third grade classroom of my favorite teacher of all time, Mrs. Dorothy Marlin, were a collection of nursery rhymes; my favorite being the one about the infamous, “Ten O’clock Scholar”. The rhyme read as follows:
A diller, a dollar,
A ten o’clock scholar,
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
And now you come at noon.
Many were the afternoons, full and drowsy from lunch, that I sat at my desk, elbow resting on the desk top and my head resting on my hand. I sat there staring at the bulletin board, but more specifically, focused on that “scholarly” rhyme.
At first glance, it seemed almost entirely nonsensical. It raised more questions than it answered, for instance, the rhyme mentioned a “diller”.
What the heck was a “diller”? And what did that dollar have to do with “the price of tea in China”?
Also, if I were to assume that school started at 8 or 9 O’clock in the morning, how is 10 O’clock to be considered, “soon”? Wouldn’t the tardy scholar have been late at 10 O’clock, as well as noon? At least, that was how my third grade mind viewed the situation. Since that time, however, I’ve had an opportunity to do some of my infamous “research”!
According to Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes by Iona and Peter Opie (Oxford, OUP, 1951), ‘a diller, a dollar’ are taken from the words dilatory and dullard. Dictionary.com says that the word, “dilatory” means: “tending to delay or procrastinate; slow; tardy”. Aha! Already, we know from the nursery rhyme itself, that the “scholar” was always arriving late to school; now we have confirmation from other, reliable sources, that the “scholar” was indeed prone to tardiness.
Dictionary.com also says that a dullard is: “a stupid, insensitive person”; another, “Aha!” moment. Not only was this “scholar” prone to tardiness, but it seems that the “scholar” wasn’t even a scholar, but a “stupid person” masquerading as a scholar.
In the New Geordie Dictionary (the dialect spoken by Geordies – natives of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England) by Graham, “a ‘diller’ is an ‘unwilling scholar,’ – a lazy student who isn’t too excited about having to do the work required of him.” In the aforementioned Mother Goose nursery rhyme (circa 1760) an unwilling and ‘unpunctual’ student is being chastised for his tardiness and this nursery rhyme had, in fact, become a children’s chant used to chide a student who was late for school.
One writer states that, “In modern usage, “ten o’clock scholar” has come to mean more than just a student who is late for class. It appears to have absorbed the reluctant/lazy scholar meaning of “diller” so that it now also encompasses the ideas of a student who is not serious about their studies and who looks for shortcuts and easy ways out such as reading the Cliff Notes rather than the book.” The writer goes on to define the, ‘Ten O’clock scholar’ as; “one who might not only be late (behind schedule) in finishing his assignment, but who is willing to take ‘unscholarly’ (lazy) shortcuts to finish his work and get a good grade – the UNSCHOLARLY SCHOLAR!”
It is imperative at this time, the beginning of this school year, that students both young and old, take a lesson from the old nursery rhyme about the dullard who masqueraded as a scholar. The only sure way to achieve success in your studies is through diligence and punctuality. As a matter of fact, this “nonsensical” Mother Goose rhyme holds a lesson for us all which is that; It’s okay to be “on time”. Being late is not “fashionable”, nor is it propitious. Being on time is not just for nerds and C.P. time is not funny, nor is it cool!
Don’t be like the young man whom, after spotting the gold chain of a pocket watch dangling from my old Uncle Croff’s pocket, as he sat on the porch, resting on his haunches like a bony old hound and hacked up globs of phlegm from whatever latent pulmonary ailment was harbored within his lungs, decided to ask him the time of day.
“What time is it Unk?”, asked the young man. Uncle Croff took the half pint gin bottle from his hip pocket and took a swig, smacked his lips and said to the young man, “What difference it make to you boy, you ain’t going nowhere no how!”
“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.” ~Charles Dickens