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July 17, 2012

Apparently, Reading Really *Is* Fundamental...

...to honing our use of the English language. A college professor talks about how the decline of reading affects a generation's communication skills:

Is it true that college students today are unprepared and unmotivated? That generalization does injustice to the numerous bright exceptions I saw in my 25 years of teaching composition to university freshmen. But in other cases the characterization is all too accurate.

One big problem is that so few students are readers. As an unfortunate result, they have erroneous, and sometimes hilarious, notions of how the written language represents what they hear. What emerged in their papers and emails was a sort of literary subgenre that I've come to think of as stream of unconsciousness.

Some of their most creative thinking was devoted to fashioning excuses for tardiness, skipping class entirely, and failure to complete assignments. One guy admitted that he had trouble getting into "the proper frame of mime" for an 8 a.m. class.

Then there were the two young men who missed class for having gotten on the wrong side of the law. They both emailed me, one to say that he had been charged with a "mister meaner," the other with a "misdeminor."

Another student blamed "inclimate weather" for his failure to come to class, admitting that it was a "poultry excuse." A male student who habitually came late and couldn't punctuate correctly had a double-duty excuse: "I don't worry about my punctual errors."

To their credit, students are often frank when it comes to admitting their shortcomings and attitude problems. Like the guy who owned up to doing "halfhazard work." Or the one who admitted that he wasn't smart enough to go to an "Ivory League school." Another lamented not being astute enough to follow the lecture on "Taco Bell's Canon" in music-appreciation class.

For some reason, the Editorial Staff are reminded of an old joke about the ability of alcohol to make English one's second language. This would be more amusing if we weren't talking about native English speakers.

We laughed, anyway :)

Posted by Cassandra at July 17, 2012 07:27 AM

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My favorite was the "doggy-dog" world. That's going into my permanent vocabulary.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 17, 2012 09:54 AM

"It's a mute point" is one that drives me up a tree. My bride can't stand "irregardless" or "I could care less". The fact is, if I saw the errors these kids commit on a resume, that application would go directly into the circular file. But I guess that makes me mean and judgmental.

Posted by: MikeD at July 17, 2012 11:17 AM

Here are a few that annoy the bejeezus out of me:

"Let's take another tact..." (it's "tack", as in sailing).

Others I see fairly often:

site for cite
principle when you mean principal (most important)
affect when you mean effect (bring about)

Given the instant nature of blogging and the fact that I'm generally rushed or distracted, I live in constant fear of similar malapropisms :p

Posted by: Cass at July 17, 2012 01:26 PM

But I guess that makes me mean and judgmental.

I really could care less if you are mean and judgemental over stuff like that...

but it would be hard to do.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnan at July 17, 2012 01:58 PM

"Reigning in" excessive tendencies -- something apparently only monarchs can pull off.

And it's a proven fact that 99.9% of lawyers are genetically compelled to say "dim-yu-NISH-un" instead of diminution (dimmi-NOO-shun).

Posted by: Texan99 at July 17, 2012 02:08 PM

...it's a proven fact that 99.9% of lawyers are genetically compelled to say "dim-yu-NISH-un" instead of diminution (dimmi-NOO-shun).

I'm embarrassed to admit that I do that one, too :p

I also can't spell "impunity" correctly, despite having been corrected several times. It got into my head wrong and I think it's stuck!

Posted by: Cass at July 17, 2012 02:13 PM

Trouble getting into the "proper frame of mime" -- is he saying he was unable to attend class because he was trapped in a glass box?

Posted by: Matt at July 17, 2012 03:18 PM

I have many peeves about spelling and common English in today's world, but one that will always get a sad shake of my head is the use of the word *issue* to describe everything from mental diseases to the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Posted by: DL Sly at July 17, 2012 03:54 PM

On the other hand...

“Much was said, and much was ate, and all went well.” Clearly this sentence was written by a fourth grader – or at best someone not ushered into acquaintance with “proper” grammar. Like, say, Jane Austen?

Posted by: Grim at July 17, 2012 03:57 PM

Another worried that education reform might result in school being in "secession" year round.

Musta been one o' dem dere Livid Terriors dat said dat.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnan at July 17, 2012 04:02 PM

How could school be in secession? The flag they'd need for that is usually banned from campuses by the Political Correctness police.

Posted by: Matt at July 17, 2012 07:43 PM

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 17, 2012 09:48 PM

The problem with the Jane Austen quotation is that what a preternaturally skilled writer can do with forced variations (or allusions to informal dialect) has almost nothing to do with the hash that an inattentive student can make when he concludes that all that stuff isn't worth worrying about. These students ain't no Shakespeare.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 18, 2012 11:13 AM

That and I'd be a little more willing to believe the master percussionist from the Boston Symphony Orchestra was making an intentional stylistic statement by playing a washboard than I would a backwoods yokel.

But the article about linguistic fashion is well taken. The "prohibition" on ending a sentence in a preposition didn't come into being until the 17th century when some fussy grammarians wanted to make English conform to the rules of Latin (thus likely acting as a shibboleth for the educated elite). But this is the sort of English up with which most people will not put.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnan at July 18, 2012 12:30 PM

Living languages always evolve. I have a hard time believing, however, that we'll start adorning marriage ceremonies with the immortal tones of the "Taco Bell Canon" as a result of the weak understanding of freshmen who think that the university's attempt to overcome their ignorance is presumptuous and finicky.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 18, 2012 03:07 PM

What, you mean "Here Comes the Bride"? That's what that song is named, right? /sarc

Posted by: MikeD at July 19, 2012 08:28 AM

Oh, I don't know. I bet at a stuffy English professor's wedding it would be quite amusing for the wedding program to say that the music program would start with a rendition of "Taco Bell's Canon", that "The Bribe will be given by the father" and that "the happy couple will travel to the honeymoon in the Throws of Love".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 19, 2012 03:14 PM

"the happy couple will travel to the honeymoon in the Throws of Love"

But who will show them the ropes?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 19, 2012 06:21 PM

""the happy couple will travel to the honeymoon in the Throws of Love"

//Lifts head and smiles//

Aaaahhaaaaaa Ahhhnooonnnnooo nother lovely couple des... des... destinnnnneed to spend the rest of their da days in contusional bris...

//hiccups and resumes face down position in AA For Dummies manual//

Posted by: Foster Brooks at July 19, 2012 08:57 PM

Death to those who abuse Apostrophe's!

Posted by: Me at July 20, 2012 06:20 PM