NYU students are paying more than the GDP of the South Asian country of Bhutan for a formal education. But what else do we learn in our time at NYU? We learn how to find good rosé for less than $9 and how to make a pack of cigarettes last three weeks. We learn to embrace the pain of walking through Washington Mews on icy days and the modern economic theory that a slice of pizza in Manhattan will often equal the subway fare. Our lives are soundtracked by Simon & Garfunkel as we struggle through finals in what seems like a show called“The Undergraduate: NYU.”
Above all else, we learn the proper time, place and purpose for excuses — why we couldn’t go to class, why we couldn’t finish that assignment and why we never even bought the textbook. Nothing flies off a 20-year-old’s tongue with more finesse than a polished excuse.
Writing the Essay professor Eric Ozawa said he’s received a wide array of eccentric excuses from his students.
“I’ve heard everything from a student helping his brother move to one discovering her apartment was infested with bed bugs, to the classic ‘I have an audition that I can’t miss,” Ozawa said.
Gallatin freshman Michael Manzi likes to go with the weirder, the more believable technique when it comes to outlandish excuses.
Spanish professor Maria Lebedev reports having a student who claimed once a week for multiple weeks that she had broken different parts of her body and she even went so far as to come to class in fake casts.
Nursing senior Megan Salvato doesn’t consider herself a creative person, so she sticks to the classic excuses that are hard to prove false.
“I mostly use the ‘I’m sick’ excuse or ‘I had to work,’” Salvato said. “Once I lied to a teacher that I went to class but I really didn’t and it worked.”
CAS sophomore Lourania Oliver likes put a twist on the sick excuse that teachers don’t question.
“I say I’m having really bad menstrual days when I don’t actually have my period,” Oliver said.
Last semester, Tandon graduate student Devon Powell really wanted to go to NYU’s Flurry event, but he had class.
“I told my teacher I had to work on my research and that I work best from home,” Powell said. “I almost got caught though when [WSN] interviewed me at the event.”
Some students forgo the excuses completely. Environment and Society professor David Kanter recounts being in a bar late and seeing his student come in. The next morning in class the student didn’t show up. The student, however, didn’t send an email nor did he attempt to explain his absence. The question on everyone’s mind has finally been answered: onecan be too hungover to even feign an illness or bereavement over the death of a beloved pet.
From pretending to be Jewish for an entire semester in order to miss class on the Jewish holidays to forging a death in the family to go to Coachella, professors have pretty much heard it all. Based on the attitudes of most of the professors asked — regardless of intention or goodwill, or if the tall tale was told with bravado or blasé indifference — excuses always seem to fall flat. If there’s one thing we should hope to get out of our systems before graduation, let it be our terrible excuses.
Email Kate Holland at [email protected]
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
I - I...
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SIMON: I don't know what to say. The dog ate my script.
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SIMON: You know that old excuse that makes people groan, palpably ridiculous, right? But was it always so? This week Forrest Wickman of Slate magazine traced the origin of that phrase school kids have used for decades to explain why they don't have their homework and adults have cited as what amounts to an exemplar of absurdity.
Forrest Wickman joins us from Slate in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
FORREST WICKMAN: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: So, near as you can tell, who was the first person to say something like, the dog ate my homework?
WICKMAN: It's hard to point to anyone in particular. One can make the argument that one of the first examples is this guy Saint Tyron(ph) who around the fifth century had this fox that he found and he started taking the fox around. And at some point the fox ate his psalms.
SIMON: So the fox ate my scripture?
SIMON: OK. So that's the 5th century. We've got some time to account for. Yes. And?
WICKMAN: It really starts picking up in the 20th century. One of the earliest really popular stories that's told often around 1905, 1910 - this priest who finishes his sermon and then he pulls his clerk aside and he asks his clerk: What did you think of the sermon? He's a little worried. And the clerk says: Oh, I think it was a fine sermon. And the priest says: Oh, I'm so glad because the dog just ate the last several pages of my sermon.
SIMON: What other kind of permutations were you able to find over the years?
WICKMAN: Yeah, so even through the '60s people - it's still juts one of many excuses. People might say my dog ate my homework. My dog went on my homework is one excuse that's used in a popular book from 1965 that's called "Up the Down Staircase."
SIMON: This is Bel Kaufman's novel about a New York City high school. Right. Yeah.
WICKMAN: Right. And it was turned into a movie in 1967. And then in the 1970s, it finally really becomes a think, a stock excuse that was well known as perhaps the most popular excuse.
SIMON: Is it an excuse that's running out of steam in the digital age when it might make more logical sense to say the dog drooled on my hard drive?
WICKMAN: Right. There has been some speculation about this. Google has these things called engrams, which track the appearance of a phrase over time. And pretty much any permutation of my dog ate my homework, all of those phrases, have been declining over the last decade or so.
SIMON: Anything to replace it?
WICKMAN: I don't know. In the '90s, there were all these children's books that started to really play with the phrase once it was so well known. So, "Godzilla Ate My Homework," "A Dinosaur Ate My Homework," "Aliens Ate My Homework," "My Teacher Ate My Homework." But I don't see any of those taking over anytime soon.
SIMON: I like the aliens ate my homework. I mean, perhaps that's their way of learning about our world.
WICKMAN: That could be how it works.
SIMON: Forrest Wickman of Slate magazine. Thanks so much for being with us.
WICKMAN: Thanks very much.
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SIMON: This is NPR News,
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