Jocelyn Mitchell’s original one-subject notebook from Honors Chemistry, 1996–1997

I’ve previously extolled the virtues of high school chemistry class. Chemistry’s molecular patterns are mathematical and regular: if you do X, you’ll get Y. There aren’t many things in life that are as beautifully and scientifically certain as chemical reactions! But what really made chemistry a special experience was my high school teacher, Mr. Sweetser. He had a running inner monologue that he shared, Austin Powers–style, with the class every day. 

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Mr. Sweetser sprinkled “chemical humor” into the content of his classes in the form of groan-worthy puns, playful interaction with his students, and tangential musings about Shakespeare and best ways to skin a cat. I faithfully jotted down his “Sweetser-isms” in the back of my wide ruled, one-subject notebook all year long, and if (very distant) memory serves me correctly, I think I read aloud an abbreviated version of Mr. Sweetser’s greatest hits on our last day of class, just so he knew how appreciated he really was.  

Mr. Sweetser taught me that a teacher’s enthusiasm for their subject matter, coupled with humor and empathy for their students, goes a long way in a classroom! If I could retake any high school class, it would be chemistry with Mr. Sweetser. At least I have this memory of his witticisms and gentle humor to remind me of an excellent teacher. Here they are in their full glory: 86 puns that made me love my high school chemistry class!

    1. No bail in chemical jail (repeated x2, x3, x4, x5, x6)
    2. To skin a cat all you need is a willing cat and a sharp object (x2)
    3. Sleep with a chemistry book under pillow—learn through osmosis (x2)
    4. Let’s see if we can get up and “atom”
    5. Thought you’d get a “charge” out of that one
    6. Bohr was not a bore
    7. Quarks—not a noise a duck makes—but it could quack you up
    8. The idea of the gord came out of your gourd
    9. Nuclide—not the “old” clide but the “new” clide
    10. The symbol of “u” (atomic mass unit) has nothing to do with female sheep
    11. For nickel, we want to make sure we get our 5 cents worth
    12. Now that we’ve got the atomic mass, what are we going to “u”-se it for?
    13. Let’s dig up some moles 
    14. I hope you find this lab somewhat enlightening (x2)
    15. Once he opened Pandora’s box, all the Pandoras came running out
    16. Not to be rude or mean, but they’re called dumbbells 
    17. I either have a green mouse with red ears, or a water molecule. I like to think it’s a water molecule.
    18. I’m a little electron postman, trying to send my email to the electrons
    19. That’s my spatial orientation—I always knew that chemistry teacher was out in space, but anyway…
    20. Being a positive person, I always put the positive on top
    21. Mr. Sweetser: [sneeze] Class: “Bless you!” Mr. Sweetser: “Somebody ought to.” (x2)
    22. You see the affinity hall couples, they obviously have an attraction for each other, they must be a metal and a non-metal, I just hope they’re not swapping electrons…
    23. Oh goody goody goody GOODY GOODY I’ve got an electron!
    24. Na+ and Cl- —they get a charge out of each other
    25. It’s called a magnet school because its electrons aren’t paired in its outer shell
    26. Sharing a few thoughts on covalent bonding…
    27. This Cl looks like it’s in the pink
    28. So who’s negative? Not me. I’m always positive.
    29. Polyatomic molecule… Polly wanna cracker?
    30. Boron is a classic example of an underachiever.
    31. Bronze statue… gets a little green with envy once in a while… (used again with inert gases)
    32. Something’s rotten in Denmark, and it’s not Hamlet… that’s a Hamlet joke… (x2, x3)
    33. Jocelyn, are you listening to me, or marching to your own drummer? 
    34. CI4… kissing cousins of CCl4… what, haven’t you heard that one before, Jocelyn? That’s a Mr. Sweetserism… 
    35. At the risk of being redundant, Jocelyn, CBr4 is another kissing cousin of CCl4
    36. HI is an acid, I call it a friendly acid because it’s always saying hi
    37. Remember how all the kings’ horses and men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together? Well, we can. Just as long as we don’t make an omelet out of him. [pause] I guess that joke wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
    38. Angie, Tammy, Brett… two roses and a thorn.
    39. So, the molecular formula is H2O2… or, if you still remember Christmas, it could be HO HO… that’s my molecular humor this morning…
    40. Diarsenic… and you will if you eat it…
    41. We need to identify acids, bases, and salts… we don’t have to worry about pepper… if you sprinkle a little salt on your car battery, you get a salt and battery… 
    42. Part B is a piece of cake… actually, it’s a piece of chalk… no, that’s why it’s literally a piece of cake, not a piece of chalk
    43. You’ll go to chemical jail… and it’s very boron in there…
    44. Class: “When does this quarter end?” Mr. Sweetser: “Oh, after about twenty-five cents worth…”
    45. Little Johnny was a chemist, Little Johnny was no more, what he thought was H2O, was really H2SO4. (Heather: “It’s getting late in the day.” Pat: “Not late enough…”)
    46. One silver, one silver… well, if it was good enough for the Lone Ranger, why not…
    47. Somebody want to wake up Jeremy, he’s missing a heck of a show.
    48. Equations quiz Friday, so know your symbols—not the kind you play in a band
    49. Nonane—like no name
    50. That really oughta get the lead out…
    51. Blue to red is acid, red to blue, alkaloo… (x2)
    52. One week after the ides of March… comes the ides of Chemistry
    53. You have to know something before you don’t know something; otherwise, you don’t know anything. (Derek: “What a day…”)
    54. There’s more than one way to do these problems, just like there’s more than one way to skin a cat… you can start from the front and work backwards, or you can start from the tail and work back up… all you need is for it to be willing and preferably not living…
    55. Make sure your equation is balanced, because if it’s not, you might as well just throw snow into the wind
    56. What is the role that cream of tartar plays? Hamlet…? King Lear…?
    57. If that’s not right, then I’m a monkey’s uncle, and I haven’t started swinging from trees yet—although I do eat bananas, because I like them a bunch and they’re appealing.
    58. That part seemed to be okay… nobody defined a dimer as two nickels, so…
    59. Current—hope you get a charge out of this
    60. Proton—you should get a charge out of that one, too
    61. I have a mind like a steel trap—but I forget everything.
    62. Gentlemen in the back row—using the term loosely…
    63. The priest wore vestments of lead because it was high mass. Of course, if it were vestments of lead, it could have been a heavy mass, too…
    64. Now for Part B, now that we’ve let the cat out of the bag…
    65. Derek: “Me and Dave are in the same boat.” Mr. Sweetser: “It’s sinking…”
    66. Either atm for pressure, or you can get money out of it…
    67. What does atm stand for? Automatic teller machine… 
    68. This TV is being hit by many little marbles—I hope he doesn’t lose his marbles…
    69. As they say in Rome, “Let’s do it”
    70. If you foul up the equation, you’re up the chemical creek without a paddle… you might as well just dip the canoe in sulfuric acid, so the problem will dissolve in front of your eyes… [groans from class] I’m sorry, talk to my writers…
    71. Are you asleep, Jeremy? Or just getting a different slant on this class?
    72. So if you have gas X… does anyone need any Gas X? Sorry, a little chemical humor there…
    73. Can we put Humpty Dumpty together again? Yes we can. It’s just a matter of finding all the pieces… “What’d you do in chemistry today? Well, Mr. Sweetser quoted nursery rhymes…” But anyway…
    74. Take a look at me—no, don’t look at me, I don’t care if you look at me, take a look with me…
    75. All nuclei are glued together, some with Superglue and some with Elmer’s
    76. I can disrupt equilibrium. If there were two groups of people, one in the room and one outside, if I locked the door, I have completely destroyed the possibility of the people in the corridor coming back inside. (Amy: “I’m sure they’d be sad…”) 
    77. Class: “Are we gonna get our outside readings back today?” Mr. Sweetser: “Is the Pope Catholic?” (x2)
    78. I can’t get a good squeak today… [squeaks chalk loudly] Ah, that’s better.
    79. The half-life of Pu—I hope it doesn’t smell…
    80. Back row? It isn’t even Jocelyn this time… heavens to Murgatroyd…
    81. Change in state, like going from Maine to Vermont
    82. Spring turnover… not a raspberry or a strawberry turnover, it’s a spring turnover… and you can’t buy it in the donut store, it’s a spring turnover.
    83. Mr. Sweetser: “We don’t see each other tomorrow, do we?” Class: “No!” Mr. Sweetser: “Your loss…”
    84. …or you’re up the creek without a chemical paddle…
    85. We should thank Jocelyn this morning for a little chemical humor…
    86. The final bell… it rings a familiar tune…