Three Beautiful Things and a Funny

I just spent a few moments perusing G+ whilst dinner cooked. For those of you who aren’t on G+ or don’t follow me there, I figured I’d share, because there are three extraordinarily beautiful photographs and something to delight the hearts of current and former English majors.

If I remember rightly, there were people who said, when photography was born, that it could never be art. It’s too bad they’re gone. I’d like to spread the following photos out in front of them, laying them down like a royal flush.

For geology lovers, Kent Mearig’s photograph of a stream in an ice cave in Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. You’d be forgiven if you thought such things couldn’t appear on this planet – but they can, and do, and they are exquisite.

Arachnophobes beware, but our own George Wiman took this fantastic photo of a tiny spider, and I think it’s utterly adorable. Also, I love the eyes! Remarkable little critters. And capturing it in such detail takes a certain mastery of photography that can only be envied by amateurs such as myself.

The trump card*: liquid flower photos. Mind boggled. Click through to see the whole series, because they are amazing.

And, teh funneh: English doesn’t borrow from other languages. Laughed me arse off, didn’t I just? I’m sure at least one or two of you got a kick out of that.

It’s back to the gargantuan 800+ page paper on Mount St. Helens for me. Stay tuned for the best UFD ever later this morning…

 

*I don’t play poker, so I don’t know if there is a trump card in a royal flush, or even what a trump card is except in a vague “ha ha you are so pwnd” sort of way, and I didn’t feel like looking it up. Did I mention dinner? Also, 800+ page paper? Yeah. Just go with it, m’kay?

Cons Who Failed English 101

The blogger formerly known as Kagro X takes out Rep. Paul Broun’s rampant dumbfuckery quite nicely, and I’ll leave him to address the railing against imaginary mice, the tax cut tomfoolery, and the myriad other con canards that littered an otherwise eminently forgettable speech.

I’m a writer. Of course I’m going to zero in on the violence done to the common metaphor (metaporus metaphorus):

Madam Speaker, I stand here today because Americans face a fork in the road. One side leads to socialism and the other path leads to freedom. This nonstimulus bill is the road to socialism. It will give us a journey that includes bureaucratic controls, high taxes, government intervention, Cuba-style medicine and economic collapse of America. This steam roller of socialism is being shoved down our throats and it will strangle our economy. This porkulus bill has a few decent provisions in it but is mostly filled with mystery meat. Rancid meat. Like the millions for plug-in government cars and millions for mouse restoration, that will ruin the entire meal. The captivating rhetoric about openness and transparency is providing cover for the rancid meat.

(Excuse me. I seem to have fallen to the floor laughing, and I can’t get up. Uno momento, por favor.)

What is it with Republicons and their inability to put together a coherent English sentence? They seems to have a disproportionate number of utter nimrods who, when called upon to speak with clarity and passion, end up with an incomprehensible babble in which only a few debunked talking points make it out alive, and then only just. It’s pathetic.

Broun’s metaphor isn’t merely mixed. He seems to have dunked his hand in a bag of words, pulled a fistful out at random, dumped them in a blender, and set it to puree. We’re left with the image of a rather large piece of road-building equipment with hands attempting to throttle the American economy whilst being energetically shoved down our collective throats by, one can only assume, a team of sumo wrestlers on steroids. Bring me the artist who can paint that, and I may just take up a second job to pay him for it. Such a painter would earn a place right alongside Picasso and Dali.

In order to be successful, a metaphor must be evocative. It must make sense. It can surprise, but it must not flummox. Only professionals should attempt to meld two disparate metaphorical elements into one: no one, under any circumstances whatsoever (except, of course, in comedic writing, and then only to be attempted by the reincarnation of Mark Twain), should ever attempt to meld three. And yet, here is Rep. Broun, visualizing socialism as a steamroller (apparently in a handy lozenge size) which, instead of being a thing that rolls, is a thing that is capable of being shoved down multiple throats at once (could it be a quantum steamroller?), and furthermore, rather than choking those whose throats it is shoved down, is possessed of appendeges which strangle their victim (whether from within or without is never made entirely clear). And we’re supposed to be frightened by this image.

The only thing I’m afraid of is that I may need abdominal surgery to repair the damage once the last aftershock of laughter has died away. Somewhere, a geologist is measuring a 5.o on his Richter scale, and wondering what the fuck just happened.

Until we can arrange for some remedial English education, I do wish Cons would stop trying to be clever. It’s funny, yes, but also tragic, and if it keeps up, the Queen’s going to call us wanting her English back.

Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your dictionaries!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nicole Palmby. You killed grammar. Prepare to die.

Okay, not really. But I needed some sort of introduction for my first post as sub-blogger of Dana’s Wonderful World of Snark. I am Nicole Palmby. And while you may not have killed grammar, it certainly is on its deathbed, and, as grammar is my mama, I plan to avenge its impending death.

I wrote this article late last week and edited it earlier this week, but I was a little reluctant to post it following Kaden‘s beautiful piece on grade inflation. I think, though, that what I have to say needs to be said, and I look forward to what you have to say about it, as well. Enjoy.

—–

My current day gig is shaping the literary, grammatical, and writing minds of the future leaders of your local Target team.

Okay. Maybe that’s an unfair assumption. I could be shaping the minds of future political leaders. For example, I could be grading the vocabulary assignments of the next George W. Bush! Some days I feel like I am.

Regardless of the future endeavors of the attitude-wielding, SMS-ing, bleary-eyed nodes of apathy, I am entrusted to ensure each pile of flip-flops and hoodie is able to identify the theme of classic but boring novel title here> and write a competent, even if uninteresting, five-paragraph essay.

Anyone who knows me might smile and mutter some comment about the ease of my vocation–“You mean you get to talk about books and writing all day and get paid for it? Man! Your life is rough, innit?”–but let me assure you that getting paid to talk about books and writing is not what it once was.

There was a time during which schools valued the education gifted to their students (because education really is a gift) and parents cared about what their children were doing all day. It wasn’t so long ago that students went to school because they knew they had to, and the community was proud if it was the custodian of a “good district.”

It seems that while the days of the “good school districts” still exist (I teach in one), much of what makes a school “good” has morphed into something wholly unrecognizable.

It used to be that, upon graduation, students were not only capable of writing a five-paragraph essay, but an 8- to 10-page research paper in MLA style with print sources. They understood the mechanics of the English language. They were able to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively within those mechanics.

However, I have received numerous essays this year completed–grudgingly, mind you–in what is known as text-speak. Yes, that’s right: English Honors students turned in formal essays that used the number 2 instead of “to” (and in place of “two” AND “too,” for that matter), used “ur” for “you’re” and “yr” for “your.”

While I love the ease technology gives my workload, I can’t help but shake my head at the price American children are paying for the conveniences they have. My junior students–also Honors–have difficulty placing apostrophes properly. They can’t tell me the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.”

Programs that proofread, while I admit they can be helpful, have created a dependency. Students have no accountability for their own writing skills. After all, why should they remember that it should be “all right” not “alright” when Microsoft Word in its infinite wisdom makes the correction for them as soon as they strike the next key?

When I was younger and still taking math classes, my teachers usually allowed us to use calculators to check our work–after we had done the problems ourselves. Their logic was simple: you have to know the long way before you can use the shortcut. I think the same logic should follow in writing. Yes, you do need to know to correct the spelling of “there” to “their” so that when, later, the computer does it for you, you’ll know why.

Students today put no value on their education.

Although perhaps I shouldn’t put all the blame on the students. If they could they’d text and watch Flavor of Love all day. They don’t know enough to value their education.

Besides, it isn’t only students who devalue education in the United States. Some parents have a decreasing amount of involvement in their (not they’re) children’s educations. They blindly trust that the school is taking care of things.

Unfortunately, when a school budget is dangled by a thread of standardized test scores, many schools find themselves focusing the curriculum on test-taking skills rather than academic skills. I don’t agree with the practice, but when it comes down to teaching “real” curriculum or not having to eliminate instructional positions, I can’t say I’d act any differently.

I have my opinions about standardized testing, but that’s for another carnival.

Regardless, there is still a significant decline in the emphasis put on education in our nation. And yet, college enrollment (and graduation) is higher than ever. What kind of message are we sending to our children when they barely graduate high school and are admitted to colleges and universities once thought of as prestigious?

The result is a nation of employees who rely on the automatic proofreader in their word processors, and who are unable to be accountable for what they write.

The written word is a powerful weapon. Writers wield whole worlds with their pens, and, unlike surgeons, lawyers, and real estate agents, there is no examination that must be passed in order to become certified. Anyone can become a writer with just an idea, paper, and pen.

And instead of sanctifying this power, we reduce it to busywork assignments, let students take it for granted, and eventually, take it for granted ourselves. In fact, a colleague of mine suggested encouraging students to take their notes in text-speak in order to practice summarizing and resist the urge to write every single word. What an optimistic way of ensuring students are incapable of doing what every employee must do at one time or another: write intelligently, following general writing standards.

Unfortunately, this travesty has become so widespread as to be seen in every media outlet all over the world. Just today, in fact, while watching TV, the closed captioning on the television clearly read “presidentsy” instead of “presidency.” Really? I mean, really?

As what often feels like a single, tiny voice shouting into the wind, I fear there will be no end to the apathy toward the English language. Today prepositions are generally accepted at the ends of sentences. (I’m guilty of this myself when the “proper” grammatical construction reads/sounds awkward.) What happens tomorrow? “You’re” and “your” become one interchangeable word? Come on. (Oops! Preposition!)

Are Americans really so lazy that we’ve gone from omitting the “u” in various words—color, honor, etc.—to accepting English essays that use “yr” in place of “your,” which should really be “you’re”? I’m curious what Lynne
Truss
would say about American students (and adults, for that matter) English education and writing styles.

As a writer, as a teacher, as an American, I urge citizens and political leaders to work to effect (and that’s effect, not affect) a change in the state of English education in the United States. Write to your senators, representatives, school board presidents, governors…whoever will listen! We need to act fast or No Fear Shakespeare will become Shakespeare for Americans, and the Bard’s famous line, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” (Julius Caesar III.ii.74) will quickly become “Peeps, lstn ↑!!1!”

Roots

Just so we’re clear: I’m one of those pathetic Americans who speaks a few words of español, a smattering more français, and for seasoning can add a greeting or two in Japanese, German, Russian, and sundry other languages. But I’m sadly unilingual.

So why all the Spanish? Why not just celebrate my native tongue, unadulterated by others?

Well, there’s reasons. For one, English isn’t English so much as a hodge-podge of assorted borrowed, begged, pilfered, filched, and impounded words from a great many languages. I’ve never tried this experiment, but I’d be very interested to see what would happen if you reduced the dictionary to pure English-origin words. We’d have, what, about a handful left? So I’m just carrying on the grand English tradition of appropriating whatever catches my fancy at the time.

Then there’s the fact I grew up in the Southwest. Rather hard to avoid appending a word or two of Spanish down there. “¿Cómo estás?” becomes just as habitual as “how’re you?” Your horizons expand beyond “enchilada” and “taco” by default.

So it’s funny that I used to hate Spanish. Or maybe not. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. I took French in high school instead. Je parle un petit pous français, très mal, and now I wish I’d taken Spanish, because I’ve fallen in love with it. And now that I’m without it, I suffer.

I love the Northwest, I truly do, but a part of me will always miss the Desert Southwest. I miss the border culture, where Mexican and American intermingle so much that it becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. There’s a latino community up here, true, but it’s not yet so pervasive. If I try to tell the joke about why the Chevy Nova didn’t sell in Mexico, I have to explain it. I can’t just say, “Because it’s a no va!” and get a gale of laughter. No, I have to murder the punchline by adding, after the blank pause, “no va is Spanish for ‘doesn’t go'”.

I miss Cinco de Mayo and Mexican flags and restaurants where all you hear is rapid-fire Spanish.

I miss being so close to Puerto Peñasco, where Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers throw Circus Mexicus twice a year.

And these are the reasons this blog will have such a heaping helping of Spanish words and phrases. Just in case you were wondering. Look, I provided you with a link to Babelfish if it gets too much. And hey, maybe this would be a good time to think about your roots, too. What’s in your history that you celebrate?

Just a thought.