Thursday, September 23, 2010

As I Look at the Stack of Papers Before Me...

...the first stack to be graded this semester, I feel sad. I miss an old friend. That friend was the "English language," which some of you may have heard of before. It passed away back in August, apparently. I've seen it around so rarely of late that I suppose I didn't realize until just now, as I limber up my red-pen hand, that it really was gone for good. Gene Weingarten, a long-time Washington Post reporter and columnist, has the story:

[English] succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself. The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame...

It was not immediately clear to what degree the English language will be mourned, or if it will be mourned at all. In the United States, English has become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government, and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles.

Many people interviewed for this obituary appeared unmoved by the news, including Anthony Incognito of Crystal City, a typical man in the street.

"Between you and I," he said, "I could care less."

Ah well. Life goes on. Time to start grading. First person to misspell Aristotle wins.


Betsy Fox said...

Thank you, enry iggins.

Matt said...

When I was an undergrad, I had a philosophy professor who, if you misspelled a word, would first write a big read frowny face on the paper and then make you write it correctly on the board 20 times before the next class. When you did, everyone would clap. It was fun, in a way, and did encourage care. He also had a plastic green leprechaun hat with a sign on the front that said "it's/its" that people who confused the two had to wear. I would suggest following this path, but maybe at your "friendly" school it would be too much. Also, you should have tenure before you try.

(I should add that this was one of my favorite professors and he was generally loved by the philosophy majors, at least.)