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Annoyed English Instructor Seeks Reformation
May 2004

Note: This Blather, like so many others, was actually written last fall, but SOME WEB DESIGNERS never posted it in time. Basta!

So I'm in the throes of paper-grading. Can you blame me for being cranky?

Yeah, I teach English at a couple fairly lame local colleges. My expectations are already pretty low. But really… 6th graders could write almost as well as some of my students! Sometimes it seems like if I have to read one more essay titled "My Essay About _____," if I have to correct yet another run-of-the-mill phrase like "… but I never thought that ____ would happen to me" or "___ means many different things to me," I might go ape-shit. And if that essay-by-number crap isn't bad enough, in every class I have at least one student who thinks s/he is being original and funny turning in an essay on, say, imagery in "Dulce Et Decorum Est" or "The Story of an Hour" that begins: "Personally, I don't think that students should have to analyze literature, because a poem or story will mean different things to different people." First of all, like I've never ever EVER heard that one before!? And second, of COURSE it means different things to different people… that's why I assigned an essay about it; I want to know what it means to you. So WRITE THE DAMNED ESSAY, already!

Grading papers can be a soul-sucking exercise in futility. I see the same mistakes, the same filler phrases, the same wishy-washy half-assed attempts at getting out of the assignments by barely managing to vomit up a couple clichés strung together with meaningless drivel and overly-fatty prose. Don't believe me? Well then, I give you…

Particularly Lame Student Phraseology and -isms that bug the crap out of me, taken from the essays of Professor Dwanollah's own students:

  • Hello, my name is ___! And I'd like to talk about ____.

Well, hello! I'm Professor Totally Exasperated! And I'd like to talk about the stupidest introductory sentence of all time!

  • This essay is about ____.

Okay, so there's more than one stupidest introductory sentence of all time. Please, please, please don't refer TO the essay IN the essay! Don't ever say "In this essay I will attempt to ____" or "As this essay will show, ____" I've even seen this in graduate-level publications, even in articles from the PMLA, and it still sounds like 6th grade twaddle. Ditto saying "I" or "you" in an essay.

  • By comparing the two poems, we can see a lot of similarities and a lot of differences.

Welcome to the Stupidest Introductory Sentence of All Time: The Compare-Contrast Essay Version. A reader's reaction to your thesis shouldn't be "Um, no shit!" Of COURSE there are a lot of similarities and differences… that's why I gave you an assignment to write a compare-contrast essay!

  • This is a really good/bad/boring/interesting poem/book/essay.

Don't just tell me it was, show me why! Cut to the chase. Quit using filler. Don't think I don't notice!

  • Well, here goes.

This hellacious fragment phrase really only works for a spoken confession. And if you're twelve years old at the time of the aforementioned spoken confession. An essay - particularly at the college level - should never "go."

  • I have always thought/wanted/believed/felt….

No, you haven't. No. You haven't. Trust me. Not ALWAYS. No. What, you want to argue with me? Okay, fine… since BIRTH, you have "always thought/wanted/believed/felt…"? Really? Can you prove it? That's right. I thought so. Come up with a stronger way of saying it. Your reader's reactions shouldn't be "Bullshit!"

  • …but I do have to say….

Well, don't TELL me you're going to say it! Just SAY it!

  • So having someone act like that.......was like a screeching fingernail across a chalkboard.........

I love ellipses. I use ellipses frequently. I BEG YOU, LEARN HOW TO USE THEM PROPERLY! Ellipses indicate either the omission of material (for example, in the quotations I'm citing here in this Blather), or a pause in thought (most commonly used in dialogue), sort of heavier than a comma. Moreover, ellipses are a sequence of three (THREE! ONLY THREE) consecutive dots/periods, with a space after them (or both before and after, but decide which you are going to use, and be consistent!). If the ellipses are used in the middle of a sentence… say, like right now… they are ONLY THREE dots/periods. But what if the ellipses are at the end of a sentence…? Still only three, followed by the appropriate concluding punctuation mark. And, I implore, only use ellipses where it makes sense within a sentence (namely, where a natural pause occurs when reading the sentence out loud) for emphasis or slight dramatic build-up. There is no reason to have a random string of ten million periods in the middle of a sentence!

  • …and noone else knows….

No. One. Two words. No one. Otherwise, as Diana from the Bad Baby Names site pointed out, you sound like you're talking about the dude from Herman's Hermits.

  • …so I put on my shoe's/listened to some CD's/went to buy grocery's at the Smith's store….

Plural. Possessive. They are two different things. Please learn. I realize that some rules with apostrophes are tricky, because they've changed over the years. For example, it used to be correct to refer to getting A's on a paper or growing up in the 80's. Now it isn't. Deal. However, there is no excuse for most of the plural v. possessive v. plural possessive stupidness that my students come up with. Like the one who wrote about "my daughters' boyfriend." Haw!

  • Orientate.

For the love of all that is holy! It's ORIENT. THERE IS NO SUCH WORD AS ORIENTATE, AND I DON'T CARE IF IT'S EVEN IN THE FREAKIN' DICTIONARY RIGHT NOW! Ditto "irregardless." Sheesh.

  • Sam and myself had….

Sam and I. Sam and I had! The sentence has two subjects (Sam and I/myself), which will both need to agree with the sentence's verb (had). Check it by using each of the subjects alone with the verb. Sam had. Yes. That works. Myself had. No. No. NO! I HAD! I!

  • …because I put Jesus first in my life.

Okay. How nice for you. But! Religious rhetoric has no place in an essay, unless it's an essay specifically about your religious beliefs… which I can assure you, in my class, it's not. I'd really like to hear something a little more original than the Christian Stock Phrases. Great, you have Jesus in your heart. How does that affect you? Make you feel? Make you act/react in relation to ___? For the love of the very God you mention, please offer me some specifics! (And, in every class, without fail, at least two students will insist on relating EVERYTHING they write in EVERY SINGLE ESSAY to their personal religious beliefs. Richard Cory? Should've had Jesus in his life. That Lorrie Moore essay? No good, because in it she talks about having premarital sex, and that is against God's law. And when told that such an approach is illogical and fallacious, then they argue, "What, are you saying Jesus ISN'T the Savior?!" No, dear, what I'm saying is that your personal religious beliefs have no place in an essay about, say, Hemingway's short piece about Sam Cardinella.) Just because you are, in your words, a good Christian doesn't mean I'm going to automatically give you a good grade.

  • What more can I say?

I'm guessing you could say quite a lot… if you HAD ANY WRITING SKILLS AT ALL. Rhetorical questions do little to make your point or conclude an essay with strength and conviction. Don't you agree?

  • In conclusion….

No shit, jackass. This is the last paragraph of your essay; of COURSE it's "in conclusion"!

  • That's about it! I can't think of any more to write!

How scholarly and professional a conclusion like that sounds! I can't think of any other grade to give you but an F! That's about it! KThanxBye!

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