Writing


Author’s Note: I’m sort of on hiatus at the moment for various reasons – the main being that I’m in a writing slump. In the meantime, enjoy this tidbit of logic and language.

Recently, I taught my sophomores about qualification – the practice of using certain words to qualify generalizations, such as probably, generally, perhaps, etc. Qualifiers, in my opinion, are eminently important since they are the best way to avoid error (such as suggesting that all swans are white) and still make strong evidentiary claims.

But today I ran into an example of overqualification – that is, qualification where none is needed:

Very few of you [in the audience] has [sic] a coin in your pocket with only one side.

Cases such as this where qualifying a claim would indicate that a logical contradiction is possible show how qualification can sometimes end up in absurdity. No one needs to qualify claims about one-sided coins anymore than claims about being able to draw square circles or be married bachelors. If a statement is tautologous, then there is clearly no reason to qualify it.

Understatement of the century: I am an argumentative person. This is no truer than when I am on the Internet. (This strip is me.)

I have been arguing in various Internet forums – message boards, chat rooms, and more recently, facebook statuses/comments – ever since I really got into the Internet roughly 10 years ago. And I have very consistently noticed one trend in the most heated of battles that I feel I must speak out about. I call it the “more research” gambit.

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Part of my personal philosophy on teaching and learning is that they are somewhat interchangeable: most of the time, I will teach and students learn, but the opposite should also happen frequently as well. And although I want to provide models, sometimes it’s nice to explore with them.

In my writing elective, we’re studying short fiction, and I wanted my students to write some microfiction pieces, 200 words or less. I gave some examples from a blog that is run by some friends of mine (it’s good stuff) and let the students go, joining them in writing a couple of microfiction pieces as well. The ones that the students shared were quite good: some funny, others serious, with some other variations as well.

But for a moment, I’m going to take the spotlight and share my own writing. Keep in mind that these pieces are unedited from the original writing – and I wanted to keep them that way. (more…)

That’s one of the most debated questions in terms of language, in my experience. It’s an important question because there is at least a general consensus that there is good language and bad language – acceptable and unacceptable language – and a common question because everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject, although they tend not to be exceptionally informed opinions. It’s also important because there are plenty of people – some who have knowledge of language and some who really don’t – who have decided at some point that they are the arbiters of what is good and true and what is not and dispense advice (often unsolicited) or make disparaging comments about language use, be it word usage, grammar, mechanics, or style.

I don’t consider myself an expert on language use by any means, but I think my interest in language is perhaps greater than the average layperson: I have studied writing theory, I have read grammar texts critically for personal edification, I regularly read blogs about language and try to keep up with what people are talking about regarding language, and I’m a certified English language teacher. I don’t claim that my advice on language is gospel, and I stress to my students that comments on written language especially are mostly tentative (even though I think it would be prudent for them to take my advice). Generally, I think I know what I’m talking about, but I’m open to correction from people who know more about the subject, primarily linguists.

This in mind, I’m pretty used to people making comments about language when they lack relevant training, like that old proscription against terminating prepositions. But I still confess that it puzzles me when I see people who are qualified in the area of the English language railing against things about which they really should know better.

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I am so far behind, both here and in real life, so here are some highlights of the past, uh, week or so:

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Tonight, I’ve been grading college application essays that I received from students yesterday, and I’ve noticed a pattern that I’ve encountered before during student teaching, so I have to say something about it. If you are a student in an English or writing course, I suggest you read closely.

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I’m in the midst of grading autoethnographies, and I’m taking this very short break from grading to reflect on one specific paper. (After I finish with them, I intend on returning to the assignment to gauge its efficacy and my efficacy in teaching it.)

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