Friday, April 22, 2011


After several recent online discussions about the correct usage of the English language, people keep asking me why my vision of the language is so unbending. "Why can't you accept split infinitives, double and triple negations and words like "birthed" as linguistic experimentation and a sign of a person's own unique language style?" they ask. Well, let me tell you why.

I will be teaching two courses next semester, and both of them will be in English. The written component in these courses will be intense. I am already bracing myself for a new round of sentences like "A think that these text kinda sucks" and "Sarmiento and Rodo are Latin America writer's and there affect is huge." Given that I will grade at least 250 such essays over the course of the semester, you can imagine how much I'm looking forward to that. If somebody had taken the trouble to educate my students about the basics of the English grammar and spelling, I wouldn't have to waste so much time on correcting such silly mistakes and could finally try to engage with the content of what they are saying.

There is creativity and there is simple ignorance. The right to creativity, in my opinion, needs to be deserved. A student asked me yesterday, "Can I write my essay in sentences that are 30 lines long? This is what Goytisolo does, so why can't I?" So I explained that Goytisolo wrote several very popular novels and many essays and articles before he created his own unique personal style. First, you learn to write correctly and then, if there are still people who want to read your stuff, you can proceed to work on your distinctive style of writing. When, however, people try to sell sheer laziness as originality and creativity, that's just annoying.

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Pen said...

Thirty lines long? I may be a nit-picker, but even that's a bit much. The extent to my creativity in French was the addition of the semi-colon in my fourth year. That was big, because I finally knew enough of the target language to use it correctly.

I can only assume that the double and triple negations are to increase word count. After successfully confusing me as to the logic of the statement, they then make me shudder with revulsion. This is part of the reason I hated memorizing skits--my partner was always of the mind that these negations were acceptable, because more syllables were coming out of their mouth.

Tim said...


Oh my god, please use proper verbs in your sentences. And don't misuse the word for the place you are going to as verb, okay ? Club or beach or gym are NOT verbs.

My current favorite was this:
Me: "So, do you have plans for tonight?"
He: "Oh yeah, I club tonight."

KT said...

What of "I texted/clothed/bathed her."?

I don't think you can run away from verbing nouns. We've done it in English for generations.

Amanda said...

I think there's a huge difference between academic and casual language, and I think that a lot of things that I find perfectly acceptable in speech would and should not be acceptable in a paper. I guess if I had essays like that to deal with, I might also be a little less embracing of dialect differences in speech.

Clarissa said...

Finally, somebody who understands! :-)

Anonymous said...

As a native speaker of French and as a Spanish teacher, I always have to avoid long sentences with semi-colons in English. I love semi-colons.

I read somewhere that split infinitives were imposed during the 19th century. And so was the idea that, in proper English, we should not finish a sentence with a preposition. The rule about prepositions is from the 17th century, I believe.

I will try to find the reference for this information. I may come from my dusty Oxford History of the English Language.

The extraordinary possibility to create "verbs" out of nouns in English has always impressed me.


Anonymous said...

Check this out. Split infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition.