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Quoted from this talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/shane_koyczan_to_this_day_for_the_bullied_and_beautiful/transcript

When I was a kid, I traded in homework assignments for friendship, then gave each friend a late slip for never showing up on time, and in most cases not at all.

Does this sentence mean "I did not show up on time, and in most cases not at all", or the opposite?

I gave myself a hall pass to get through each broken promise.

And does this sentence mean "I forgave myself for breaking promises"?

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What the speaker seems to be saying is this:

When I was a kid, I would give people the homework I had completed so that they could copy it; and then I issued each of my "friends" an (imaginary) late slip for their not showing up on time to hang out with me as they said they would do, or as was usually the case, for not showing up at all.

Each time his false friends broke their promise, he would placate himself by issuing himself an imaginary hall pass (a hall pass lets a student walk the halls in the school).

The extended metaphor of fellow-student-as-teacher is somewhat strained. His Yogi-The-Bear (cartoon character) allusion works better.

  • Thank you. I understood as "He gave each of his friends an (imaginary) late slip, because they did not show up on time" and "He placate himself by wandering the halls in the school". – K.N. Jun 16 '15 at 15:40
  • I think he did not mean that we should take these late slips and hall passes literally. A late slip sends the student to punishment (detention) and a hall pass gives the student freedom to walk in the hall. He did not literally give his fellow students a late slip when they disappointed him; and he probably did not literally walk the halls to make himself feel better when they broke their promises. The theme is imaginary punishment and imaginary reward. He later goes on to speak about an actual punishment he meted out. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 16 '15 at 15:48
  • So, "hall pass" is a imaginary reward. But, according to @jay, is a late slip a paper that proves that he is late for a legitimate educational reason? – K.N. Jun 16 '15 at 16:02
  • You have not understood Jay's full meaning, and you have misunderstood me. The speaker did not give a piece of paper to those who disappointed him; nor did he give himself a piece of paper. He is speaking figuratively. Do you understand what that term means? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 16 '15 at 16:46
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    These late slips or "tardy slips" do not automatically excuse the lateness; the slips typically mark the tardiness as "excused" or "not excused". It's not perfectly clear what the author meant. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 16 '15 at 17:34
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I'm not sure if you understand the background on this. If the following is stuff you already know, sorry.

In American schools, if a student is involved in some legitimate educational activity that will result in him being late for a class, the teacher supervising that activity will give him a "late slip", that is, a piece of paper stating that he is late for a legitimate educational reason and not because he was just hanging out with his friends or something. For example, if the teacher of class A keeps a student after class to discuss an assignment, and this makes him late getting to class B, the teacher will give him a "late slip".

Normally students are not allowed to wander the halls during class time. A student is expected to be in class or in an area designated for breaks, like the lunch room. A teacher can authorize a student to be out of class, perhaps to run some errand for the teacher, by giving him a "hall pass".

So the sentences you quote are metaphors. The speaker is saying that when his friends failed to show up for things they planned to do together, he would "give them a late slip", that is, he would ignore their lack of consideration. It is likely that is intent is not just people being late for a planned activity, but any sort of failure to act as a friend.

Likewise, when he himself broke a promise, he gave himself a "hall pass", i.e. he made excuses or forgave himself.

  • Thanks, I didn't know the backgrounds. Did he also broke a promise and gave himself a "hall pass"? – K.N. Jun 16 '15 at 15:51
  • @K.N. Yes, that is implied. He broke promises, but he considered this justified or forgivable. BTW while this particular metaphor to school rules is invented by the speaker, it is very common in English to say "I gave him a pass" or "they gave me a pass", meaning, the action was excused or forgiven. – Jay Jun 16 '15 at 16:04
  • I think that the promises that were broken were made to the speaker/writer, and that his "hall passes" were some sort of emotional acceptance of being lied to. – Jason Patterson Jun 16 '15 at 17:41
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    @JasonPatterson Oh, on re-reading the original, you're probably right. On my first reading I interpreted "I gave myself a hall pass" to mean that he was the one who had broken a promise. But on second reading, it fits more in context if you understand him to mean that it was others who broke promises. I think he should have said that he gave them hall passes, not gave himself, but whatever. – Jay Jun 16 '15 at 20:14

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