Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.
One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’.
Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher.
“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”
“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”
“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”
“You know Shakespeare did it?”
“Verbing. He did it all the time.”
“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.”
“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”
She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too.
It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language.
It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong.
My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”.
This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red.
My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean.
The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination.
The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.
Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language.
Today my students investigated the words and phrases coined by Shakespeare.
I started by giving them a list of the words and asking them to highlight which ones they knew and used. This really engaged them, and it was great to see their motivation change as they realised that Shakespeare’s language isn’t all lofty poetry and words that finish in -eth.
I followed that up with some great videos and a website resource to extend their knowledge and reinforce their learning.
An unexpected bonus for me was the overall positive response to the exit quiz I made for the end of the lesson.
Of course, it wasn’t all enthusiastic. I’ve been teaching Year 9 English for long enough to know not all kids are going to respond positively, so I do at least try to make my quizzes fair so that they can express their feelings honestly, and kind of fun so that they actually want to do them.
They know there is no obligation to respond in a way that will make me feel good, and I know my students, so I’m confident that these responses are an accurate reflection of attitudes throughout the group.
Wait, what? Boring?
Thankfully, the next set of responses explained that. The 26% who found the videos boring are probably the ones who preferred the website based resource instead. That’s a relief!
There was a surprise waiting for me, though.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know there was an option 7. I must have accidentally hit ‘return’ while making the quiz on Google Forms. I don’t know if Option 7 was perceived to be better or worse than ‘boring’. I’m telling myself that since they could choose multiple options, Option 7 was checked by those with a good sense of humour.
This was the closest I got to asking the students to identify themselves. If they don’t have to tell me their names, they are more likely to give honest responses. I’m not-so-secretly excited that so many of them identify as dragons.
If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher.
Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love.
The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Treasure Island’. My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’.
Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.
If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you.Leave a comment and inspire me!
Even though I am, like every other teacher, exhausted and keen for that bell to ring at the end of the day, I am still trying desperately to keep the kids on task and get things finished before then.
The problem is, they’ve already checked out. They just don’t care. They’re restless. They’re talkative. They’re twitchy. Their eyes have glazed over with the promise of freedom, of late sleep-ins and no school uniforms or restrictions on their social media life for the next two weeks.
If you’ve ever watched a squirrel running around in a park or a forest, that is the precise image of the mental and emotional engagement in my classroom today. One or two are evolving into chipmunks as I watch.
Except for that one kid at the back, who is working like a champion to get everything completed. I don’t have favourites, but today I really love that kid.
I am a person who takes others at face value. I don’t immediately classify someone as pretty or ugly, gay or straight, progressive or conservative (unless, either way, they are hateful or prejudiced – then the deal is off) , black or white or some other colour, blonde or brunette, or anything else. I don’t care if they’re plain or fancy, nor do I care if they’re pretty or not. I try to take each person as they are and let their integrity speak louder than their features. I like to get to know them before I make any decisions about them.
When it comes to fonts, however, i am nowhere near as open-minded. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of fonts I like, and many others that I will view with an open mind depending on context and purpose. But there ARE two or three fonts I really hate. I refuse to use them. I have handed back an assignment or two, asking for it to be reprinted in a more acceptable typeface. It’s true: I am Fontist.
I wasn’t raised that way. We didn’t really need to think about fonts back then. When I was growing up, it seemed as thought books were printed in two, maybe three different standard fonts. From memory, there was something like Times New Roman, a basic Sans Serif, and possibly another standard typewriter-style serif font. There was never a question of what typeface to submit our work in, because computers weren’t a thing and our school work was all handwritten. When I started university, assignments and essays had to be typed and double-spaced, so I used my parents’ typewriter. Of course, it only got to the typing stage when one or two hand-written drafts had been painstakingly written, proofread, edited, and revised.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad those days are over. I appreciate the ease of writing using my laptop as much as anyone else, and I’m happy for my students to do some – but not all – of their work on their devices. My underlying Fontism rears its ugly head, though, when someone hands in an assignment or broadcasts a presentation on the screen that screams “ridiculous font” louder than anything the student is trying to communicate. The same thing happens in meetings and seminars where the important information is obscured by the poor choice of font on the screen or handout.
You might think I’m overreacting. But consider this: I might read fifty student assignments in less than a week, or sit through twenty five student presentations in two or three days. When their font suggests I shouldn’t be taking their work seriously, that’s a complication neither they nor I need.
Right at the top of my hate list is Comic Sans. It looks childish, and gets increasingly ridiculous as the size increases, to the point where it is almost impossible for me to take anything printed in that font seriously. It is a font that should never be used for school work of any description by anyone older than six, nor should it be used for slide shows and presentations. Yes, it is “nice and clear for people to read”, but so are about 3000 other fonts one could choose. If your audience is not entirely in the First Grade, choose something else.
Another font I hate is Arial. Yes, it is also nice and clear for people to read. It is also entirely bland and unimaginative. Arial is the font equivalent of still having that original iPhone Marimba ring tone from 2008 on your new iPhoneX when you have 2500 different songs on your playlists. It is the font for lazy people who don’t care how their work looks. It doesn’t take much effort to switch so something equally clear but which looks a lot more polished and professional. In a word: boring.
The other fonts I really dislike fall into two groups: anything over-decorative and wrongly sized formatting.
Over decorative fonts have their place, but trying to read a block of text printed in anything full of swirls and flourishes or trippy lines and shadows will make a teacher’s eyes bleed in less than three minutes. Decorative fonts can work really well for titles, or for a special capital letter or character to start a page or chapter, but they fail miserably for anything that needs to communicate information or arguments clearly and effectively.
In a similar vein, text printed too small or too large is equally frustrating. If it’s too small and condensed, it’s hard to read and… you guessed it, bleeding eyeballs. At the other end of the equation, students may think they can fool me into believing their 337words meets the 500 word minimum word count if their work is formatted in size 15 Helvetica, but my teacher brain knows better. My teacher brain has been doing this a lot longer than they have.
So, I guess this is me coming out of the classroom cupboard and acknowledging the ugliness of the deep-seated prejudice that lies deep within me. It is equally as rampant and undeniable as the grammar nerdism that I make no attempt to hide.
Call me fussy. Call me Fontist. I’m okay with that. But don’t call me to complain if I’ve asked your teen cherub to reprint an assignment so that I can read it without tears. Trust me – it’s better that way, and I’ve tried to be nice about it. Well, I’ve probably been nice..
Unless they are a repeat offender. In that case, there are no guarantees.
“Happy International Wormn’s Day!” one of my students announced as I walked into the classroom today.
“Ha!” said one of the boys. “How come women get a special day?
“Are you serious?” another girl challenged him.
“Yeah,” he said, “when is it men’s day?”
The girl who had welcomed me rolled her eyes. “Every day is men’s day!”
It seems like a lighthearted story. You could just laugh and keep doing whatever you were doing and not think any more about it.
Still, there are deeper issues here that I felt the need to address.
These are teenagers. Without quizzing them to find out where they stand individually, some generalized conclusions can be drawn.
The girls are aware enough to know that inequality still exists, but have been raised in a generation that knows we can demand better treatment than what those who have gone before have experienced.
The boys are less understanding of the issues that still exist.. there are probably as many reasons why as there are boys present in the room.
So, we had a discussion about recognising and addressing inequality— of various types, about mistakes of the past and not perpetuating them, and about our concepts of respect, acceptance and difference.
Obviously, we didn’t manage to solve all the problems of the world during that lesson. We did, however, leave with the girls feeling both acknowledged and respected, and everyone more aware of the importance of treating one another as equals, regardless of what types of differences exist between us.
As a Humanities teacher, that made for a happy International Women’s Day indeed.
Today I returned to work for the first time after my surgery. As I left home this morning, I told my husband that I was mostly confident and a little bit afraid.
As it turned out, there was no need for fear and my day went pretty well.
I only had to stop once each way to take a walk and stretch as a break between driving.
I cleared/responded to 93 emails from my inbox that were not messages I could just delete. I also sent a bunch of emails chasing students for work they hadn’t bothered to hand in while I was away. Some of them actually responded by submitting their work!
Very conscious of keeping my spine healthy by not sitting for too long, and still really only comfortable sitting for about fifteen minutes at a time, I completed all my email and admin tasks using my fancy standing desk, located right behind my regular desk. All I have to do is stand up and turn around.
I also stood while I taught my classes, as I often do anyway.
I know my students were happy to see me because they all asked me not to cough in class again, please. I shrugged and commented, “I have more discs” but they didn’t seem to think that was funny. It was, though, because the one kid with a sense of humour as subversive as mine laughed out loud.
With a strange sense of deja vu, I told the kid who always sniffles to blow his nose, and told the kid who chews with his mouth open to chew with his lips together. On both occasions, all I had to do was say their name. It was almost as though they knew!
I entertained Year 9 with puns. It was just like old times.
I sorted the exams, papers and assignments I have to grade into neat bundles. I plan to start on those tomorrow and hopefullly finish them by the end of the week. It was good to get things organised and leave my desk tidy again so I can make a good start in the morning.
By the time I got home, I was all worn out like a Norwegian Blue parrot after a long squawk, so I embraced my bed and had a lovely little nap for a couple of hours.
Ovetall, my first day back on the job gets a thumbs up.
The classroom is busy in a studious kind of way. Students are working on the task I have assigned them, and I am making my way around the room, checking in with each student to see if they need any help or clarification. The tone of the room is positive and the level of noise is low.
I know these kids well enough to know some of their hobbies and interests, which ones love reading, which ones are sporty, and which ones are the introverts who would rather work alone than in a group situation. Suffice to say, I know their names.
As I move toward the first girl in the next row, I quietly whisper to myself, “Don’t call her Susie. Don’t call her Susie. It’s Sharon, not Susie.” In the very next nanosecond, I open my mouth and say, “Hi Susie! How are you going with this assignment?”
Everyone in the room has heard me do it – again. A collective sigh, non-verbal but heavily laced with the essence of “Not again!” can be heard. One kid shakes his head at me in an awkward blend of amusement and newly-refreshed disappointment. It’s fair to say that this has probably happened to him before.
Sharon looks at me with an expression that shows she is torn between saying “I’m Sharon!” and rolling her eyes, pretending I didn’t say it, and answering my question.
“I’m so sorry!” I say. “I know you’re Sharon. I don’t know why that happens. It’s certainly not deliberate. It’s just… my brain. It hates me.”
Sharon nods. Unfortunately, she’s heard this enough times to know it’s true. I give her a pathetic, apologetic smile in response, and go back to talking about the assignment.
How can I remember the details of the Industrial Revolution or talk ad nauseum about the literary qualities of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, and still get some poor kid’s name wrong at least once a day?
It isn’t even always the same student. Occasionally, my brain/mouth coordination goes rogue, and I’ll call Kate ‘Lily’ or ‘Rose’, just to keep things interesting. Just once. Just to make things interesting, I’m sure.
This is one of the things that keeps me humble as a teacher. In my job, I’m required to talk to people and use their names in the classroom. And that very basic thing is something that, from time to time but far too often for comfort, I struggle to do.
The ironic thing is that I’m actually really good at remembering faces and names, where I met someone and conversations I’ve had with them. I have to remind myself that not everyone does that when I’m tempted to take it personally that someone hasn’t remembered my name, or having met me before.
I just don’t understand how the wrong name can come out of my mouth so often in every day situations.
The only thing I can put it down to is the brain fog I have carried since I contracted a delightful tropical disease called Ross River Fever in 2011, and which is also typical of fibromyalgia, which I have been left with as the legacy of the RRF. I know the fog is particularly meddlesome when I’m tired or my pain levels are high, but even at times when I am doing okay and enjoying otherwise greater clarity, some autonomous impulse to self-destruct in front of others fires off and I find myself apologising for calling Tom either ‘Dick’ or ‘Harry’.
I think I’m going to have to just start telling my classes at the beginning of each year or semester that it’s likely to happen, it’s not intentional, and I apologise in advance. It’s either that, or resort to calling everyone “Hey You” or just never using their names, neither of which is a terribly professional option, either.