Words, Glorious Words

Eleventh Stack

Over the weekend, our friends at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Oxford Dictionaries Online added some new words to its listings

More than 400 of them, give or take a few.

I always think of Ammon Shea whenever these sorts of announcements happen.

Reading the OED He’s the author ofReading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,710 Pages, an account of the year he spent reading the Oxford English Dictionary.

“If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on,” writes Ammon Shea in this wonderfully quirky book. “I have read the OED so that you don’t have to.”

Ammon Shea loves words. He also loves dictionaries, and has amassed quite the collection. “By last count, I have about a thousand volumes of dictionaries, thesauri, and assorted glossaries,” he writes, adding, somewhat unbelievably, that he doesn’t view these thousands volumes of dictionaries…

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On Language: Part II

On Grammar Girl in the Classroom

I love Grammar Girl.  While driving, I used to enjoy hearing the occasional Grammar Girl podcast on NPR; this was back when podcast was a brand new word. Now, Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, has since penned Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl.

One thing I love about Grammar Girl is the conversational tone of her pieces; the listener doesn’t feel like he’s being scolded. Also, Grammar Girl uses cultural references, song lyrics, cartoons, and humor to entertain. Remembering why a Bob Dylan or Rolling Stones line is grammatically correct or incorrect serves the same purpose as a mnemonic device and leaves a deeper imprint. (That is, if you aren’t too young to know the music.)

Incorporating Grammar Girl podcasts into the college composition classroom works. Every classroom I use has the computer-internet-projector-audio set-up. So, it is easy to pull up the website and play a podcast. I usually present the Grammar Girl version of a concept a week or so after the textbook-type lesson has come up in lecture. I don’t rigidly pre-plan specific grammar lessons, but there are topics that need to be addressed in every 1101 course.

Grammar Girl topics include such titles as “Which Versus That” and “Myself.” Not surprisingly, the most popular tips are “Affect Versus Effect,” “Lay Versus Lie,” and “Who Versus Whom.”

The best part? The opening music is 100% cheese. The music is cheesy, the jokes are cheesy, the cartoons are cheesy, but it works and it is, for once, not exclusively my cheesiness. It is nice to sit back for four minutes, with my students, and become a listener to another professional; the dialogue opens up. After listening to and discussing a Grammar Girl episode, students are likely to voice more questions about language, questions they may have before ignored because they thought the questions were stupid or that they were simply doomed to not ever get it.

Once students see that real people are phoning/emailing the Dr. Drew of language and voicing their questions and complaining about their insecurities, accessibility happens. It’s not as saucy as Loveline, but the objective is the same: demystify…

These concepts are no longer mystifying things that you have to get ‘right’ in order to get an ‘A’ on a paper in that one class. These concepts are things that exist in our language, which is part of everything, so we may as well ask questions and investigate and try to figure it all out. These concepts are not things to hate. These concepts are not things to patently not get.

On Language: Part I

Here is a fantastic NSFC (Not Safe for Classroom) illustration of Ten Words You Need to Stop Misspelling over at The Oatmeal.

I, by no means, consider myself a grammarian. Oh, wait, but I’m the composition teacher, right? Right. Which means I can’t get away with ignoring my ignorance. That worked for a while; in grad school I would not, did not, register for graduate level English Grammar. Can you imagine such a course? I mean, such a course assumes you have been studying principles of grammar for the previous sixteen or so years of your life. I felt out of the loop.

To this day, I cannot remember one grammar lesson, a real-life scene of grammar instruction, from K-12 school. I blame this on the overcrowded public schools I attended. They were “good” schools on paper, but there were so many of us they had to chop us into groups for instruction. I remember being immediately shuffled into the top ‘reading group’ in kindergarten because I could already read; kindergarten is the first time I experienced boredom outside my house. In eighth grade I was one of six students, out of a class of about three hundred and fifty, in an accelerated English course. By that point I could read and write well enough, and still didn’t know anything about mechanics or grammar–or, at least how to talk about such things. Eighth-grade English consisted of reading really good books, talking about them, and playing many games of hearts. I never once had to diagram a sentence.  

Several things have encouraged me to tackle this previously avoided subject: one, the most base human desire not to embarrass myself; two, my partner; three, to excel at writing instruction. One is self-explanatory, and it ties into two. My partner’s education varies from mine; he had a militaristic education in principles of grammar, among other things. I can’t count the number of times some curious soul at a party has asked me something along the lines of what is up with the whole split infinitive thing? and I’m like, go ask that guy, he knows. I often ask him for writing advice. I still do silly things on paper. We all have bad habits. The fact that I am a writing instructor does not exclude me from misplacing modifiers, flinging around clichés, or committing other various sins of weak writing. This is what revision is for–for fixing things that are not quite as they should be, not the clearest and most precise.

In “On Language: Part II” I will express my love for Grammar Girl, as well as outline how I use Grammar Girl in the composition classroom.

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