A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, August 03, 2006

You Can Take the Girl Out of the English Department...

but you can't make her stop recoiling in horror at some of the verbal flotsam and jetsam that crosses her desk. Every year I have to explain to my students that spell-check, while a wonderful thing in general, will not catch homophones or other words that are real words but misused in context. It is a speech I am willing to give about 675 more times before I retire. I also gently explain that, because they are young, people will assume that they are not that smart, which is wrong, but writing incorrectly or sloppily merely gives their foes ammunition in the generational war. I hereby proclaim to the world my favorite nitpicks and bugaboos.

Although I am an ardent proponent of free speech, there are certain words I do not allow students to use in written work in my class. Some of them are:
a lot (or, far worse: alot!!!)
stuff (and its cousin, thing)
("There are really, really, really a lot of very good adjectives and adverbs and other stuff that are far more specific and descriptive," Ms. Cornelius wheedled, cajoled, exclaimed, proclaimed, decreed...)
cuz or 'cause

Commonly misspelled (also often "mispelled") words that we learn how to spell and use correctly in the first week and a half of class, and then I never want to see them again, include:
past (not passed)
too (not to)
it's (not its)
their or they're (not there)
where (not were)
are (not or or our)
cavalry (not calvary)
soldier (not soilder or solider)
whose (not who's)
countries and cities (not countrys and citys)
environment (not enviroment or envierment)
government (not govermint)
independence (not independance)
etc. (not ect.)
sergeant (not sargiant)
perseverence (not preserverance)
believe (not beleive or belive)
February (not Feberary)
Wednesday (not Wensday)
occasion (not occassion)
tomatoes and tornadoes (not tomatos and tornados)
seize and seizure (not seeze and seejure)
separate (not seperate)
prairie (not prayrie or prerie)
surprise (not suprise or-- shudder!-- sprise)
psych (not sike)
tomorrow (not tommorrow)
women (not woman for the plural)
loose (not lose)
breathe (not breath)
writing (nor writting or righting)
Australia (not Austria)
Asia (not Aisa)
English and America (not english or ammerica)
piece (not peace)
chief (not cheif)

Furthermore, I am currently waging a one-woman war against the comma splice and the sentence fragment. (We do not start papers with "Hi my name is____" nor do we end them with "And that is my paper on _____," either.) I have also abandoned diplomatic channels when it comes to the misuse of apostrophes. It's a lonely war, and many of my natural allies accuse me of overstating the threat they pose to civilization, but I have proof that they are Weapons of Sense Obstruction.... I may eventually invade a neighboring country known as Three Sentence Paragraph, but my forces are currently stretched thin....

What are your pet peeves as a teacher?


At 8/3/06, 7:01 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

I mentioned a couple of things on my blog the other day. Not being a teacher, I have to restrain myself from correcting folks. Lucky you.

But what's wrong with "said", really? Shirley Jackson liked it. She referred to reading in which she could tell that the writer was struggling to find synonyms as "the-other-replied".

At 8/3/06, 7:18 PM, Blogger Fred said...

My pet peeves?

. Using IM language in an essay .("cuz, imho, c ya...)

. "My printer doesn't work."

. Essays with no paragraphs.

I'm sure I can think of many more, but this is my opening shot.

Great list, too.

At 8/3/06, 8:00 PM, Blogger Ms. Q said...

This is a great list and it makes me wonder...have English teachers always dealt with these issues or have they changed. I know that IM language is new, but it would be interesting to compare a list of pet peeves from a long time ago.

At 8/3/06, 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so fighting this battle with you. Only I am fighting it in second (sometimes third) grade.

It is really the apostrophes that kill me. There is a sign at our mall that says "This weeks special's".

At 8/3/06, 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a high school English teacher who told the entire class early on that using the word "thing" in an essay meant an instant "F". This was an all boys Jesuit high school, so he could do it, too :-)

At 8/3/06, 8:45 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I too hate "Hello, my name is and I'm going to tell you about" I'm also not to fond of "Have you ever wondered about____? About 10 years ago the writing TAKS test actually forced teachers to teach children to use those two leads. Thank goodness things have changed. "And I hope you enjoyed my pet peeves".

At 8/3/06, 8:59 PM, Blogger Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

How about "ideal" for "idea?"

Using -ing verbs with no helper?

Refusing to use a conjugation of 'be' and just using. . . . 'be?'

Redundant pronouns?

I got an ideal that teacher, she asking too much, she be strict.

(Sentence fragments my specialty, tonight.)

Double-spaced? What dat?

At 8/3/06, 9:13 PM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

O hallelujah! There's another teacher out there who recoils in horror at the sound of the ubiquitous "like." Ugh!

At 8/3/06, 9:43 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Friend,

I have now gone beyond blogs to podcasts. Wondeering if my friend, Steve Poling, and I can interview you for our our international podcast. Borelli and Poling? Let me know,

smooches, Jan

At 8/3/06, 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're advertising "Condo's" (sic) for sale downtown. I think that says it all.

At 8/3/06, 10:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once called the elementary school office to suggest they change the reader board on one of our busiest streets.
Can't remember what the infraction was but it was a real blooper!

At 8/4/06, 7:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one I hate seeing is when people write "your" for "you're."

I just want to smack them.

At 8/4/06, 7:53 AM, Blogger Carol said...

I've seen misspelled and misused words in school newsletters, bulletin boards, and signs. They always make me cringe. Teachers SHOULD know better, and I like to believe they probably do. However, they don't take the time to proofread before putting it out for all to see.

Of course there are signs in front of stores, too ("Try Are New Pizza Wings!"). There's a sign in the ladies restroom at my school that's been there for years: "Please don't put your femine products in the toilet."

At 8/4/06, 8:07 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

OOOOH, these are all great ones!

laura: I love Shirley Jackson. "The Lottery!"

However, the problem with "said," when recounting dialogue, is that it is boring and, obviously overused. There are a hundred different words which not only mean that someone spoke, but give information about tone and/or emotion, like the ones I listed in my facetious example. I just hate seeing dozens of "saids" in a two page paper. I would like students to at least have practiced the option somewhere of expanding their vocabularies. Then they can go back to using "said" to their hearts' content outside my room.

And by the way, no one had better use "like" for "said!" GAAAH!

And Fred, especially the printer thing? I'm right there with you. But no one's ever used IM language in an essay for me-- probably because they're afraid I would explode, and that would be messy.

Ms. q-- we have (even though I no longer officially teach English classes) but I think spelling has gotten worse after the whole "invented spelling" practice, which is fine for a kindergartner, was allowed to go along waaaaayy too long with many children.

lady s: Apostrophes! Oh my gawd, don't get me started! I may have to go back and revise this post, I hate their misuse so much.

Anon: sounds like heaven....

guusje: aaaagh! That is a crime against humanity.

mamacita: I've never seen the "ideal" thing-- must be regional dialect, but that would bug me as much as "ofterntimes" does around here. And the "be" thing always makes me think of this: I be, you be, he be, she be shoobe doobe doo... Strangers in the niiiiiiight, exchanging glances.....

teacherguy: Like, whaddya mean? I'm like, just trying to teach, like, and you're harshing my mellow, man...

dr. jan, I am trying to learn how to podcast-- we gotta talk...

mellowout: yech. I actually twitch when I see signs like that. When I was an official English teacher, I once offered my students an extra credit point for each typo they found in the local paper or on a sign in the community. I had to stop because I was giving out so many points that one kid could have had a grade of 120%.

anon2: Me too. It's not that hard, people! You can remember the cheats in DOOM but you can't remember which word you wish to use??? I don't think so.

At 8/4/06, 8:50 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Carol, I'm sorry, but I would have to anonymously change that sign, or I would not be able to use that facility (yes, gives a new meaning to the term "anal retentive"-- oooh, gross!).

At 8/4/06, 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Scott. I really, really liked this post alot. It's got lots of good stuff in it, and irregardless of what anyone else said, I liked it alot! This has been my comment on righting and english in ammerica!

At 8/4/06, 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a student teacher, I worked with another teacher who gave out extra credit for finding grammar errors in our local newspaper. Few students bothered with it, but those that did earned so many points she had to limit how many times they could do it during a grading period.

To go along with someone else said, I have to add that it's depressing to see a letter written by the school principal in which higher standards are discussed with numerous spelling and grammar errors. In fact, it's embarressing. I read one sent from a private religious school that a little boy I tutored was attending. The letter went on and on about the higher standards the school held, and how they were the best choice for children in the community. It was filled with errors, including spacing in the paragraphs (some were double, then single halfway through the paragraph, for example).

At 8/4/06, 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aack! I noticed grammar errors in my own post. Anyone else paranoid when writing responses to this one? ; )

At 8/4/06, 5:04 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Scott: oooh, clever! See how annoying tht is? And the sad part is that I actually see sentences like this in papers.

mellowout: when were you my student teacher?? ;-)

At 8/4/06, 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you recall, but there was an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine added exclamation points to a book she was editing, much to the dismay of her superior.

I detest the overuse of exclamation points.

(Oh, and I second the fury over 'your' mixed up with 'you're' as well as "alot." Grrrr....)

At 8/4/06, 10:38 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

My pet peeves rotate so that I don't have too many at once. Two of them are "myself" when not used reflexively and "everyday" when not used as an adjective.

He gave them to Jean and myself.

I go swimming everyday.

I had a discussion with my child once when she kept saying "like" and I asked her to say "said" instead. She said that "like" meant that she was paraphrasing. I get that, but then you have, "She was like, 'No!' and I was like, 'Yes!'. Probably not a paraphrase.

At 8/5/06, 8:23 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Mr. Lawrence, unfortunately, I found Jerry Seinfeld annoying for the most part, although there were too episodes with which my husband was enthralled that I found moderately amusing (same with David Letterman, for the most part). But if I had been Elaine's boss, I would have shredded her! (get it?!)

Laura, I like that rotation system ideal (for you Mamacita!). Maybe I should try that, just for variety.

But then some kid would stomp on a peeve that wasn't currently in rotation, and would get confused. Hmmm.

At 8/5/06, 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two of my pet peeves are
• "In this essay I will explain..."
• using "that" instead of "who" as in "She was the one that wrecked the sandcastle..."

Most years I have a "like" jar in class, and students have to put in 5 pence every time they use "like" inappropriately. Classes compete against each other so that at the end of the year, the class with the least amount of money in the jar wins. I then take the money from all the jars and spend it on a pizza party or treats of some kind for the winning class.

This coming year I am also starting a wall of shame. I will be encouraging my students to find examples of poor grammar / punctuation out in "the real world" to share with the class. We will post photos (or clippings) of the examples with an explanation of what is wrong and how it should be corrected. Students will be able to get some sort of extra credit for each example they contribute.

I've posted one of the examples that I'll be using and have a couple more I'll be posting in a week or so. Unfortunately, the comment section won't let me embed this link, so you'll have to copy and paste it into a new window:


At 8/5/06, 9:07 PM, Blogger EHT said...

*student stories that end like the Dallas episode.....it was all a dream

*grils instead of girls

*flase instead of false

There's more, but I'll just get myself all upset if I continue....

At 8/6/06, 12:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of like, I had a teacher in middle school who would quite violently slam a notebook down on her desk every time a student would use the word improperly. Needless to say, we stopped that habit rather quickly.

On spell check, most definitely students (and non-students) should be reminded that spell check does not catch a great many things. In fact, I would love to see a warning message come up in Word that explains to the user that computerized spell checking is no substitue for human proofreading every time the facility is used.

At 8/6/06, 2:58 PM, Blogger Q's Personal Legend said...

OMG, u ppl like listed all the stuff that I fite all de X. I really, really, make my students mad alot 'cause I edit gramma.

But 'Q' you teach Social Studies not English! I tell them that they still need to communicate effectively.

At 8/6/06, 4:17 PM, Blogger David Foster said...

I'm not a teacher, but I often see the phrasing "web sight" for "web site."

At 8/6/06, 8:04 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I teach science and math and I hate when students complain "but, this isn't english class" when get their writing corrected by me.

I don't know how many times I have explained that the reason that they are learning how to read and write correctly is so that they can do so places other than just in their English class.

At 8/6/06, 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi Ken,

We started a free site called teachade for teachers and I was wondering if you'd take a look to see what you think. Basically we're looking to build a community of teachers to support each other through professional development and resource exchange. We're looking for your input and suggestions on how to improve the site. Hope to see you join us and participate.




At 8/6/06, 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My students are apparently taught to begin and end the way you described.

At 8/6/06, 11:54 PM, Blogger anonymous educator said...

Some of my students spell "definitely" as "definately," and then sometimes they type THAT too fast, and it comes out as "defiantely," which spell-check catches and changes to "defiantly."

It took me a while to figure out what the hell was going on there.

At 8/7/06, 10:40 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

b: If I had my student put in a nickel for each time they transgressed, we could have a lovely buffet of lobster and filet mignon (or, as one of my students once wrote "flaming yawn").

EHT: What? It worked for the finale of "St. Elsehwere," didn't it? And aren't grills those shiny gold teeth?

quincy: Did the teachers next door freak out, or did they get used to it?

Q: Like, I get the same thing-- until they see my English degree on the wall.

david: Then there's using "text" as a verb....

mr. r: I also make them do math in my class: "Two Mormon oxtrains leave Nauvoo, Ill heading for St. Joseph, MO. One leaves on a Wednesday travelling 2.5 miles an hour. Joseph Smith is killed on Thursday, and the other wagon train leaves the next day, travelling 4 miles an hour due to being chased by a pitchfork-wielding mob. When will the second oxtrain catch up with the first, assuming neither one stops for a rest and the speed remains constant? Provide date, time, and distance covered." They like that.

ben mcfarren: Who's Ken??????

kontan: HOW does this happen?

anon ed: I'm amazed you figured it out-- I would have been completely nonplussed.

At 8/7/06, 7:59 PM, Blogger Spangles said...

I am writing this paragraph to tell you about . . .

Drives me up the wall! Who teaches kids to write like this? I mean, really!

Confusing then and than. I have a sign in my room. Please get it right.

And, my biggest pet peeve: pencil shavings on the floor. I can live with the rest if they can learn to sharpen pencils over the trash can. I think my priorities are just fine, thanks.

At 8/10/06, 10:35 AM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

I, too, hate the misuse of "myself". My principal uses it all the time and I wish someone would take him aside and tell him not to. I also hate: "we was", "I seen", "where's that at?", the use of what instead of who (she was the one what brought the tater tots), the use of for instead of so (I'm bringing my gun for I can shoot us a critter for our supper.), the misuse of don't (she don't, he don't, don't it?), and of course, the ubiquitous apostrophe where it doesn't belong.
On a non-grammar note, I hate wads of paper sneakily stuck in bookshelves and the audible, dramatic yawn. This one always gets this response, "What? Can't I yawn? I can't help it."

At 8/10/06, 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not even a teacher yet, but:
Liberry. Um, there's no such thing.

At 8/11/06, 1:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. C -

This particular teacher was both a force of nature and by far the most effective English/History teacher in the entire district, so if anyone did mind, that fact was never made public.

Also, another tidbit that came to mind, if anyone came to this particular teacher with the excuse "my printer was broken," her standard reply was to ask why the student didn't copy it off the screen by hand.

She was a perfect curmudgeon of whom I have many fond memories, now that I'm old enough to appreciate them.

And yes, I definitely cringe when I see "definately". Ouch!

At 8/11/06, 4:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm late to the post, and also not a teacher, though I'm extremely interested in education (being pregnant with one's first will do that, I guess). Reading and writing were always and remain my great passions, and it has always bothered me to no end when I see the kinds of errors noted above.

But- I'm not old (not even 30), but I did come through before IM, and I have to say, it positively scares me to see some of the examples of "writing" that teachers on various edublogs post from their students. Apparently capitalization is now optional; so are 'y' and 'o' in the word you. I'm a lawyer and I saw some of this from our summer interns, and these are adults in law school who are attempting to get a job! At least they all knew to use this informal spelling in email, and not in their written work product. And I'm not so fuddy (well, actually I am, but anyway) that I won't cut email some slack, but still!

Sorry for the rant, but I worry about the state of written English. I guess I'm an old fart in a young body.

At 8/12/06, 12:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. R: One of my most valuable English lessons actually came from math class--I finally learned that 'alot' was not a word. Lots of disbelief from me in that incident.

Anonymous: Yeah, I guess I'd expect better from people working in law. If they can't develop habits of writing grammatically correct emails now, what are they going to do when they meet up with clients through email? I mean, they ARE supposed to seem professional.

Ahh...Microsoft needs to improve their spell check. Either that or OpenOffice should get someone to do it instead. What's so hard about figuring out the correct positioning of homophones? Of course, it still doesn't mean kids can just slack off and click 'correct' blindly at the spell checker.

One of my pet peeves: Teachers that tell me not to use 'but' to begin a sentence. I find it perfectly fine as long as you don't overuse it. (I mean, it is similar to 'however', and teachers do allow that)

Sometimes I also get annoyed at the Internet spelling patrol. Don't they ever realize there are non-native speakers of English on the Internet too? Can't you cut them some slack? (Of course, if they use chatspeak, that's another story)


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