Mark Twain wrote a piece of literary criticism in which he warned that the writer should use the correct word, not its second cousin. A lazy author will exhume a seventy-five cent word from the thesaurus only to abandon the one-cent version that better tells the story. The results of thesaurus abuse can be comical as in the case of George W. Bush's first college essay. His mother gifted him with an extra large Roget's and admonished him not to repeat the same word twice. He sought a synonym for the "tear" on his cheek and the big book told him to use "lacerate" so he did. The rest is history.

My concern is for the more subtle abuses that only gently deceive the reader but cloud the message of the essay. If the writer is unaware of the meaning of the word "rapscallion" he may incorrectly and slanderously describe someone as a "scoundrel." These two terms were particular favorites of Mark Twain and he would spin in his grave at their juxtaposition. In honor of the great man I will attempt to illustrate, by example, the distinction between the two.


My buddies and I were perpetually broke in college. We had money for beer of course and my Dad sent me twenty bucks a week for cigarettes and sunflower seeds but there was never a surplus. We lived in a dormitory with a room and board contract so we knew we wouldn't starve to death but our empty pockets were a constant frustration. What we lacked in resources we had to make up for in resourcefulness.

We were up late one night in the dormitory lounge watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Dianna on CNN. The pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding led our discussion to our own mean financial straits and we agonized over the wasteful display. "You could buy a hundred thousand cases of beer with that one tiara." We passed the bottle of Yukon Jack, hurling drunken sarcasm at the happy couple and a grand time was had by all.

Someone suggested we pool our resources and buy some canned pop to mix with the whiskey. When the five of us emptied our pockets there wasn't even enough change for a single can of soda. At that very moment the CNN reporter mentioned that the estimated cost of the wedding was in the millions.

I was arranging our pathetic pile of pennies and dimes on the table and bemoaning our poverty when I was struck by a Heavenly inspiration. If you set a dime on top of a penny you'll notice that the dime sits perfectly within the ridge along the edge of the penny. It occurred to me that if you removed the ridge from the penny you'd end up with a copper colored dime. The importance of this discovery may be lost on the comfortable reader but in our desperate condition it was nothing short of alchemy.

We dispatched one group to scour the floors around the vending machines and under the couch cushions for stray pennies and another to search for a metal file. If I told you that it worked I would be confessing to a federal crime and that would be silly. Suffice it to say that we toasted the Royal pair with properly mixed beverages before a sumptuous buffet of Doritos, Snicker bars and ice cream sandwiches.


It is shocking to me that some people throw pennies on the ground. When I was a little boy my mother told me that they fell from Heaven and I believed her. To prove her theory she showed me that each was inscribed with the phrase "IN GOD WE TRUST" in capital letters. When I found out that people were discarding them as useless I was horrified.

I grew to love and respect the man whose image is pressed onto the face of each coin. "The Great Emancipator" silently comforts the poor and gives hope to the oppressed to this day. Abraham Lincoln, in his humility, directed that if they must use his image for currency that they choose the lowest possible denomination. He reminded me of Father Abraham in the Bible and taught me that you didn't have to reach back thousands of years to find an example of human virtue.

A scoundrel is someone who would discard a penny as worthless scrap. A rapscallion will bend some rules to prove the scoundrel wrong.