Is this where I mention whirled peas?

I apologize; puns are rife in my family. They are just part of my life. Maybe that’s why I actually like Shakespeare. In any case, I am convinced that I need to start today with a classic joke:

Do it!

Why this joke? Why now? One reason: the prevalence of senseless violence in my students’ writing. Really. Senseless. In a descriptive essay, a student described a store. The description included this little gem: “Some whippys if you wanted to whip your cart before entering.” Now, why would you want to whip the poor inanimate object? And before it has done anything, good or bad! Maybe…maybe it would be acceptable to whip your cart during its tenure with you, or afterward, if it has a particularly bad wheel or dumps all your groceries, but before?


Senseless, gratuitous violence. That’s all it is. I can’t see a justifiable reason for whipping a cart before using it. Why would anyone want to? I can’t even think of any popular video games where they use whips. The only popular movie with whips I can think of is Indiana Jones, and those movies are all old, to my students. Whips. Go figure.

Okay, yes. I totally get it. The student meant “wipes” to wipe the germs off the cart. That opens up a whole different rant. Why are we so germophobic? Granted, I don’t want to go back to the Shakespearean level of knowledge about germs, when old age was far too young, but good golly! People now are so paranoid about germs that they regularly use antibiotics and kill off all the good little beasties living in their guts. If they are concerned about “superviruses” it’s with good reason. If you kill off all germs before you come into contact with them, you won’t have any immunity when you finally do come into contact with something.

My opinion is this: If you are going to use a shopping cart, use it. Only if there is something visibly nasty on it do you probably need to clean it off. Work on building and maintaining your health some way besides being scared of the germs. They are a part of life. Make peas with the germs, people. Or whip them. Sometimes there’s a place for violins.

I [heart] ____________.

A great debate among the teaching community is this: Is the language of text messages, instant messaging, memes, and bumper stickers going to ruin English, or is it merely the next mutation of the language? We know the language is constantly changing. My students don’t believe me when I tell them the language Shakespeare used was easy for all the normal people to understand when he wrote it. It is true, though. Yes, Shakespeare used a great deal of iambic pentameter and other verse. No, most normal people didn’t make it a practice to speak in iambic pentameter. However, they all used the same words Shakespeare did (except the ones he made up, but they became common soon enough), and understood Shakespeare’s puns and jokes without someone explaining them.

The language, obviously, has changed since then. We still have formal English, but it doesn’t sound much like Shakespeare’s formal (or casual) English. Hence the debate. Do we allow the language to evolve as it has for centuries, or do we fight to keep it as is?

I fall somewhere on the keep it as-is side of the spectrum, but not entirely. Language will change. At the rate our technology is advancing, we will inevitably be coining and using new words. That’s not the problem. The problem I have with the current alteration of the language is that it’s too drastic and too rapid. Do we need the alternate spellings and egregious abbreviations?

“watz” “boyz” “bc” “idk” “I ♥ _____” “bt-dubs” “totes adorbs”

We already have perfectly useful words for these. Using  the newer spellings and abbreviations is both indicative of and contributing to a variety of societal issues: apathy; informality; and occasionally, sheer ignorance. This is the problem with a too-rapid alteration of language.

The classic bumper sticker abbreviation

On the other hand, sometimes it’s fun to abbreviate or alter language for effect. Like I tell my students, you have to know the rules before you can properly break them. The student who wrote the studentism below absolutely did not know the rules. This is studentism in one of its purest forms. It just accidentally falls into the category of those word mutations I discussed earlier. “I heart my knee so I didn’t get on it for about a weak.” Oh, but it is rife with lovely, inadvertent, amazing meanings. How could I not adore this poor student and this sentence? I too, ♥ my knees. It’s too bad they are weak–though that does mean I can sometimes predict the weather.

Rewriting History

Occasionally we all wish we could have do-overs. Mistakes are made, problems created and weathered. Afterward, we look back with clarity and wish we could have done it differently. We always have the choice, at these times, to either learn from the experience, or to brush it off and continue on our oblivious way. The occasions when I have continued obliviously have generally become larger learning experiences later in life.

Those times, however, both in and out of the classroom, where something happens and I immediately wish I had acted or reacted differently, have taught me that I must live with my choices.

I’m not always erudite.

It is part of the human condition, really. We make mistakes, we wish we could change history. we wish we could play a part in history. That is what causes the drive for fame, for leadership, for discovery. Some of those ends are more pure than others, but the motivation is the same: we want to make our mark on the world and be remembered. We want to make a difference. To that end, some people have tried to change history. World leaders have had a huge impact–some negative and others positive. Some who changed the world negatively perhaps looked back later and wished they had done things differently; perhaps they did not. Some have had negative impacts while trying to make the world better.

No one, however, impacts history as much as students when they try to tell us what happened. I’m sure some of you have seen the list of what are actually studentisms turned in on history essays and exams, with all sorts of interesting interpretations of history. If you haven’t, here is a version of it. I know there are others, but that should keep you going for a few minutes at least. None of those, I argue, impact our history quite as much as this: “What had happened so far in history is that Ethan died of a burst appendix.

DEATH, and his little buddy, the Death of Rats (Courtesy of Terry Pratchett and Discworld)

I suppose it’s good of my student to report history as he or she understands it, but really? All that has happened so far in history is that Ethan (whoever he is) died of a burst appendix? In all probability, this was a book report, but I don’t recall. The statement is just so all-encompassing, and obliterating. Forget about the renaissance. Don’t worry about the stone age, or the dark ages. The reformation? Pfft. More recent history? Only important thing there is we figured out what an appendix is, so that Ethan could die from one bursting. Was it his appendix, or someone else’s? With such an incomplete history presented to us, I guess that is the new mystery of the ages.

The Ennui of Endless Amusement

The first time I heard that sixflags was an adventure park I thought that it wasn’t going to be exited.” Well goodness. There are enough things wrong with that sentence I’m not sure where I should start. Capitalization of proper nouns? Content? Spelling? Pronoun-verb agreement? Some of that is boring (though necessary). The rest is what moves it from the realm of badly-written sentence to studentism.

Specifically, I am focusing on “it wasn’t going to be exited.” I know this student meant to write that it wasn’t going to be exciting. Really, now? First off, what high school freshman, writing near the beginning of the school year, is already so bored with life that their end-of-middle-school trip to Six Flags isn’t going to be exciting? What have they done in their life? Seriously? Mayhap this is why I have such trouble keeping their attention in the classroom.

Holy Ennui, Batman! It’s a bored generation!

But the real issue is this: The amusement park “wasn’t […] to be exited.” Holy Shades of Halloween Horror Specials, Batman! The amusement park that you can’t leave. Do they keep packing more and more people through the front gates like commuters onto a Japanese Bullet Train? Sorry. That was probably a misinformed generalisation, but it served its purpose. Or perhaps it is such a labyrinthine mess that once you’re in, you’ll never find your way out, despite pebbles, breadcrumbs, or golden threads. You’ll just be there, forever, until your teeth rot from amusement park food–or conversely, you starve to death because you can’t afford the outrageously expensive food any longer and there’s no way to make more money where you are.

Goodness. The scenario is getting worse by the moment. Do students know what they do to their poor teachers? All of these thoughts from an error-ridden sentence. Had I known even one teacher went places like this in their head from student writing, I would have ensured they had more to play with. Maybe that’s just me. Anyone else?

Those nice young men…

The Invasion of Reality Shows

There are instances where reality TV is fine. I have enjoyed watching (at other people’s houses, since we don’t have a television at ours) several of the competitive cooking shows, and I personally know someone who has met success resulting from a performance show. Sweet. Excellent. However, the pervasive nature of the “reality” show in general just bothers me.


I suppose I shouldn’t ask the questions, but they exist. How desperate for attention must you be to want a camera following you around all the time? How exaggerated is the “reality” presented by many of these people (merely to garner more attention)? Why have we made it so acceptable to watch other peoples’ heartbreaks, mistakes, and straight-up bad choices? How much does that encourage the continued downfall of society? Why does being a bad person on “reality” TV make you a role model? How much does this contribute to the apathy of my students, some of whom apparently think that they can be bums and get rich from their own reality show?

Oh yes. Students. That brings me back to my studentism of the day, which gives the idea for an entirely different sort of reality show. Remember folks, you read about it here first–if anyone starts something like this, I get a cut of the profit. Wait…profit and infamy are part of the problem. Anyway, here it is: “The bleachers are next to the confession stand.

Wow. Talk about a reality show. You’ve got an entire audience in the bleachers, listening to you confess. Would the stars be the priests or those confessing? Would they follow the sinners to see if they were truly penitent? Would they catch the sins to begin with, and see if they confessed them? Would the priests have heart-to-hearts with the cameras about how they wish they weren’t burdened with so many secrets?

Actually… never mind. You may have read it here first, but it’s certainly not a unique idea. Check it out:

“Your chance to confess a secret to a million people in Toronto’s Subway System. Come Inside? Confessions Underground” A portable confession box–take note of the camera on the right. (Gratuitous choice of the photo of the guy in a kilt just an added bonus.)

I’m not going to ask what’s next.