The first library job I had was in the reference department at the main library in Kansas City, Missouri.
In the days before Google, librarians at the reference desk combed the card catalogue for callers seeking books. And people called the library to ask for the spelling and meaning of arcane words. The ultimate source for that was the hernia-inducing OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, which was prominently displayed on the reference desk.
In the high-ceilinged, marble-coated hall of the reference room, raised voices echoed endlessly.
One day, I answered the phone to discover an elderly, extremely hard of hearing lady at the other end of the line. She had come across a word in her reading she didn’t understand, and was seeking a definition.
“Of course,” I rather smugly replied. “What’s the word?”
“MERKIN,” she replied. I didn’t know that one, either, but was confident that the OED would know. I looked up the word, and took a deep breath as I read the definition and picked up the receiver to deliver the answer.
“It means artificial pubic hair, ” I whispered hopefully.
“Artificial pubic hair.” The words echoed across the hall and heads swiveled in my direction.
“It means Artificial Pubic Hair.” Now people were smirking.
“Pubic Hair?” She yelled.
This was it. One more try and I’ll just quit my job, citing acute humiliation (I was very young.)
“Artificial Pubic Hair,” I shouted into the phone.
There was a long pause as the words echoed across the library lobby and a group of teenaged boys studying at nearby tables fell into apoplectic fits of snorting laughter.
And then she said…..”Good lord, who needs that?” And hung up.
The echoing laughter subsided, my humiliation resolved into amusement, and once again I learned that libraries are never boring.
But I’ve always wondered what she’d been reading when she ran across merkin.