October 14, 2008

Discussions out of academia

Posted in student stories tagged , , , , , , , at 1:10 pm by profart

I’ve been a bad profart, engaging in discussions of academic nature outside of academia. Problems of grammar, diction, syntax, critical thought, analysis, and focus are things people think apply only in the classrooms of the Ivory Tower. They seem unaware of the significance of these discussions, the need for clarity, or the importance of thinking about a subject before turning into a screaming, gnashing, flailing idiot- or at least coming across as one. 

When one is communicating with words, it is important to understand how language works. You may think your mistakes are no big deal; but for your readers, trips in grammar can result in confusion and misunderstanding. 

Let’s take the example of “[sic]”. I have come across a person who thinks that when you coin a term, you use “[sic]”. this is confusing, because “[sic]” indicates that you are quoting someone else who used in an incorrect or unusual term; coining your own terms is indicated with quotes (or, if it is a foreign term you are using in a new context, you italicize it). What is worse, this person has sunk their teeth into the improper use of “[sic]” like a rabid bulldog, pulling up the definition from Wikipedia to defend their own position on the issue (please note that Wikipedia uses a perfectly good definition of “[sic]” and includes relevant examples to clarify its use, making the rabid bulldog look even more ridiculous). 

If you were quoting my paragraph above, you would probably want to use “[sic]” to indicate my use of the word “their.” I use the plural instead of the specific singular to protect identity (though when talking about student errors, it also is useful because I often several students make the mistake, but it gets confusing to speak in plurals- instead, I condense the problem into a singular incident, but retain the plural pronoun as a conceit). It would be appropriate to indicate that you haven’t mistyped, but that my text was “just so.” 

Another fun and confusing mistake (that increasingly gets on my nerves) is the improper use of an apostrophe in a plural. Apostrophes indicate a possessive, not a plural. If you are talking about “apple’s”, then I automatically think, “The apple’s what?” What belongs to that apple? It isn’t just a typo, either- people who tend to do this, tend to do it with some consistency, and adding apostrophes are no easy feat. Leaving them out is easier to follow than adding them in. 

It is always strange to me to have people completely unable to analyze, to think about what is being said in a rational manner and see the faults therein; to be so absolutely oblivious to their own assumptions and logical holes. I know there are plenty of folks who have never learned these skills- I see them in essay grading for ETS, essay grading for my own classes, and in conversations with others every day. I fear for these people, who may send their money to Nigeria or purchase used cars at high prices over holiday weekends. I worry about these people voting, when they cannot sort through rhetoric to find fact. It is very strange; a way of experiencing the world that is outside my own experience and understanding. I do my best to remember these folks are out there, and what their lives must be like, but it is kind of like trying to understand how people live and understand the world when living in France… or China. A whole different world to me.


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