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It's that time of the semester again

title or description
"Pen of iron, tongue of fire / tightening the wid'ning gyre ..."

"I teach college English part-time. Mostly Lit, not Composition. But I am so pathologically obsessed with usage that every semester the same thing happens: once I've had to read my students' first set of papers, we immediately abandon the regular Lit syllabus and have a three-week Emergency Remedial Usage and Grammar Unit, during which my demeanor is basically that of somebody teaching HIV prevention to intravenous-drug users. When it emerges (as it does, every term) that 95 percent of these intelligent upscale college students have never been taught, e.g., what a clause is or why a misplaced only can make a sentence confusing or why you don't just automatically stick in a comma after a long noun phrase, I all but pound my head on the blackboard; I get angry and self-righteous; I tell them they should sue their hometown school boards, and mean it. The kids end up scared, both of me and for me. Every August I vow silently to chill about usage this year, and then by Labor Day there's foam on my chin. I can't seem to help it. The truth is that I'm not even an especially good or dedicated teacher; I don't have this kind of fervor in class about anything else, and I know it's not a very productive fervor, nor a healthy one—it's got elements of fanaticism and rage to it, plus a snobbishness that I know I'd be mortified to display about anything else."
— David Foster Wallace, footnote 6 from "Authority and American Usage"

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
nodressrehersal
Sep. 20th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
I don't teach, but I read stuff that supposedly educated, intelligent people write and it's the same - maybe worse because they're fully cooked adults.

I want to scream every time I hear (not here) someone justify their (not there or they're) erroneous usage of apostrophe S: "I can never remember when to put an apostrophe s or just add an S..." THEN TAKE A MINUTE AND LEARN THE RULES - IT'S (as in, "it is") NOT ROCKET SCIENCE!!! OMG, yes I just used three exclamation points in a row, that's how crazy it makes me.

"Foam on my chin" made me laugh hard enough to require chewed-chunkage removal from my computer monitor.
patrick_vecchio
Sep. 20th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
"Chewed-chunkage removal from my computer monitor" is the kind of phrase I tell students to strive for. One that appeals to the senses. In this case, sight, sound and a little bit of smell too.
nodressrehersal
Sep. 20th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
So, you're saying that me spitting a hunk of spicy hot pork rind at my screen is, um, appealing to your senses?
patrick_vecchio
Sep. 21st, 2010 12:13 am (UTC)
Maybe "appeals" wasn't the right word.
inkling7
Sep. 20th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
Was this extracted directly from my mind??
patrick_vecchio
Sep. 20th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
I'm sure Wallace has name-checked you in a footnote somewhere.
tanadariel
Sep. 21st, 2010 03:33 am (UTC)
Can I get an Amen?
vivitalia
Sep. 21st, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
AMEN.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 22nd, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
WHY ENGLISH TEACHERS GO TO HEAVEN
There is no purgatory for these noble beings, most certainly they have served their time by enduring year after year, run on sentences, no transitional sentence either at the beginning or the end of a paragraph, and the ever popular receive/recieve conflict. Oops, I ran on and mixed tenses. Thank you Ms. D and Ms. H, your rest is well deserved.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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