I Have a Bone to Pick With Language Teachers

Reading is my first love and writing is a second love. I have the wanna-be-a-writer disease even though I let few people read my stuff and receive no paycheck from my painstaking arrangements and rearrangements of those same 26 letters across a page.

So I’m no expert but I beg to differ with many experts that I have run across in the past. The language teachers I have met have given me both good advice along with some advice that I bristle against even to this day. Cases in point:

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Almost Always

My high school composition teacher singled me out for both my good writing and bad writing. One time I used the phrase “almost always” in a sentence. I don’t remember the context, but there it was. He wrote the phrase on the board and said that this combination of two words is an impossibility and should never be used. Over the years I heard these two words used constantly in the electronic media and in literature. Sometimes these two words make perfect sense. I almost always use it in my day-to-day life.

Brevity and Clarity

That same high school teacher used “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White as a textbook. One time he asked the class a question, “What is more important, according to Strunk and White, clarity or brevity?” He then called on me to answer this question. I  believed that both writing virtues were important, but since I was given an either/or question I answered “brevity.” He said, “Wrong.” Clarity was more important and that I should have clearly known it.

According to the Introduction of the book, the importance of brevity is mentioned first. Then later on in the Introduction it is noted that,”Strunk loved the clear, the brief, the bold.” And that, “boldness” is perhaps the textbook’s chief feature. But boldness was not in my multiple choice. In my copy of the book: Chapter II, rule 13. Omit needless words; Chapter V, rule 16. Be clear.

I quickly rest my case.

How Goes It

My high school German teacher translated a sentence into English. He said that sentence meant, “How’s it going?” But the literal translation meant, “How goes it?” He proceeded to add that no one would ever say it this way when speaking in English. Over the years since I last set foot in that class, I have heard the phrase, “How goes it?” spoken in English many times. Then I hear Herr W’s voice claiming the impossibility of this utterance and I laugh.

To Boldly Go 

William Shatner has angered a college English professor in the Midwest. Ever since he spoke those words “to boldly go” in the introduction of the television show Star Trek in the 1960’s, people refuse “to go boldly.” To boldly go splits an infinitive. The powerful voice and popularity of Shatner and Star Trek have made her teaching life hell since she tries in vain to correct this error in her student’s writing.

In class we argued that this grammatical rule applied to Latin and not to English. Or this just sounds right even though it may be wrong. She refused to listen to our protests. As for me, I will almost always be ready to boldly go.

And Another Thing

A high school English teacher friend of mine gives poor marks to her students if they start a sentence with a conjunction. Conjunctions can be great transitional words. She didn’t like her students to end sentences with a preposition either. What’s the harm if it makes sense? Like a good cook don’t overuse one spice in your recipes. Let those kids mix it up.

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I love the sound of the written word. I’m not talking about the sound of pen on paper, although I like that too. I love the way the written word sounds to the ear. I would rather break rules than offend the ear.

Or maybe I just want those teachers to leave me alone. Too much Pink Floyd coupled with my problem with authority.

So I will write boldly but won’t forget to be clear and brief. Stop me now before that word count climbs any higher.

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5 responses to “I Have a Bone to Pick With Language Teachers

  1. Really like the way you have touched on different topics related to languages. Like the overall look of your blog as well. We here love languages as well.

  2. Great post! Some of your teachers sound a bit too stuck in their way. When it comes to writing, things do sometimes need to be shaken up! So long as it’s not every sentence of course. And I use ‘almost always’. It’s fine!

  3. I tutored many high school students during my college years. I taught them that the correct way to write an essay is the way your current English teacher taught you to. It may completely contradict your previous teacher, or future teacher, but it will be a good grade.
    .
    A couple pieces of limiting advice I’ve heard and decided not to follow:
    1. Your story should only be told from one person’s perspective because otherwise it will confuse the reader.
    2. Eliminate (Insert various words such as that, it, the, and so on.) It and the are the screwdrivers of the English language.

    We limit the art of language and good story telling if we aren’t allowed to play with the tools of grammar, syntax, word choice, and style

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