Monday, May 07, 2007

Whaddayacallit

Students! Once and for all: a PLAY is something that was written to be performed, and that consists only of dialogue and stage directions. A POEM is something that probably rhymes and probably has some kind of meter; it might be just a few lines long or it might be a big old book-length thing. A NOVEL is a work of narrative prose fiction. Please do not call The Tempest a novel. And do not call The Faerie Queene a play. And absolutely do not refer to anything we have read as "a piece"--as in, "In Chaucer's piece, The Canterbury Tales. . . "

When in doubt, work or text is almost always acceptable. Book is problematic, but at least it's not always inaccurate. I use the correct terms in the classroom, and in most cases I even discuss genre to some degree. Please pay attention.

And while we're on the subject of identifying persons and things appropriately, let me thank the 99% of you who address me as Professor or Doctor Fescue--or as "Prof F" or something of that nature. Those of you who still call me Mrs.? Even after I have explained that a) I am not married, and b) even if I WERE married, I would still not be "Mrs. Fescue" since Fescue is my birth surname, and c) the appropriate title for any instructor at RU is either Doctor or Professor? You'll find your tickets to the local reeducation facility in your mailboxes.

But at least none of you seems to be in doubt about my gender, unlike certain individuals who have never met me. So let me address them here, too: please don't assume that I'm male. It's true that my first name might be male, although only rarely is that the case; nevertheless, I've been receiving a rash of letters addressed to "Mr. Fescue" and I've even just come across a reference to myself in print that refers to me by the masculine pronoun. Dudes! You have the option of addressing me by both my first and last names (or by my professional title) in correspondence; in print, you may feel free to repeat my last name to avoid using a gender-specific pronoun.

It's really better not to suck, when you have a choice. So please, everyone: exercise that choice.

18 comments:

medieval woman said...

Hee, hee - I would say that your first name is *very rarely* a male name! I mean, it's not Grover or anything...I have a friend Jamie who gets this all the time - the default setting for that little bit uncertainty seems to invariably be male - like women won't mind being referred to (in print no less!?) as Mr. but god forbid a male be called Mrs.!

Hilaire said...

Ah yes, I feel your pain on the question of the text. I teach very, very little fiction. And yet a shocking number of my students call the scholarly articles I assign "stories". Friends, I know we're all postmodern 'n' stuff, and truth is ever in question. But for crying out loud, they're not stories!!! For that matter, neither are Woolf's _A Room of One's Own_ and Anzaldua's _Borderlands_ novels!!

Dr. Crazy said...

My response to the whole "I call everything a story" problem is that on the final for my lower-level lit classes I have a section on the final where they have to name the genre and author of a list of texts from the syllabus. Basically, all this requires is that they *memorize the syllabus and review their notes where I without fail refer to poems as poems, stories as stories, novels as novels, and plays as plays.* It continues to SHOCK me how many students still do poorly on this, but adding this as testable material does seem to have improved the situation, at least slightly.

Dr. Virago said...

My solution to the "novel" problem is easy since I'm a medievalist. Whether or not you think the romance genre is a precursor to the novel, I can still say, throughout the semester, every time someone uses the word "novel": "It's not a novel. The novel hasn't been invented yet. Never use that word in this class again." Eventually they get it.

A funny corollary: at the end of the semester we read two plays after reading The Book of Margery Kempe, and in their response papers a few students seemed to be *wondering* if the texts were plays, since they were written in dialogue. A couple of them even offered this as their analysis. Um. Yeah. They're plays. (This is when I write: "Reading the text's introduction is helpful.")

Sisyphus said...

Ahhh, yes. I'm grading midterms with these confusions right now! (well, no, I'm reading blogs right now, but you know what I mean.)

Not only are students mixing up "novel" and "autobiography" and "play" and "story," but we read several excerpts of larger works and I quizzed them in section on what an "excerpt" meant. They rolled their eyes then, but I'm getting a lot of answers like "The author is so-and-so and the genre is excerpt." RRRRRRRR!

Anonymous said...

I just finished grading a batch of history papers, in which students were supposed to analyze the historical argument made in a secondary source. Every second one referred to the book as a "novel" - arrrrgh!

squadratomagico said...

my personal pet peeve is when students seem to think that there is a book called "course Reader." I hammer it home, again and again, that they must learn the actual author and name of the texts that are included in the reader, but there always are a few who don't get it.

And I hear you on the "Mrs." bit. It sounds like they're talking about my mother!

life_of_a_fool said...

Yeah, I always have students who refer to academic texts and non-academic works of clearly nonfiction as novels. It still happens, despite having an increasingly agitated response (and despite warnings ahead of time).

Hieronimo said...

That's odd... I never really thought of "Ferule" as a particularly ambiguously gendered name. It's so obviously female. ferula, ferulae, ferulae, ferulam, ferula...

Anonymous said...

Hieronimo: LOL.

Flavia: Sure, you may hate the gender confusion of the name now, but I remember what a great conversation starter that postcard in your name with the trial subscription offer to Playboy offer on it was when we first started dating.

Also, favorite story relating to student confusion about terms. My dopiest (literally and drug-relatedly) INRU student had me for a drama-related class one semester, then had a friend of mine next semester for a modern poetry class. One day, friend asked, "Do you know John Doe Stoner? Why the hell does he call everything a PLAY?" Apparently, he'd imprinted very strongly on the word that previous semester, when I'd chastised him for calling all the texts "stories."

Anonymous said...

Oops. Forgot to idenify myself on that last post.

--GWB

Flavia said...

MW & others: I know! When I was a kid, my name was quite unusual, so I can understand someone's being uncertain of my gender. But it's now so dominantly female--and the two most famous people with my name (both of whom are older than I) are also female--that I don't really understand it.

And the story to which GWB alludes is this: in about my second year of grad school, I got a tri-fold postcard mailer from Playboy. On the front there was a saucy-looking brunette in a plaid schoolgirl skirt, raising her shirt just high enough to be suggestive. . . with this legend next to her: "FLAVIA FESCUE! GIRLS OF THE BIG 10 ARE TAKING IT OFF FOR YOU!!!"

(But you know, I don't actually think they were.)

medieval woman said...

Bwahahahahahaha!

Those Big 10 girls.... :)

Ancarett said...

Anonymous the first, I know whereof you speak regarding the history students and their predilection to term nonfiction books (and articles!) as novels.

I think the best I got this year was referring to a very sober scholarly work of analysis as a "tale." I kept picturing ye olde historian, who I met more than once and who was all propriety, being the author of a "tale." Well, at least it's better than "yarn."

Texter said...

Ah, yes, "novels" -- we read a memoir last semester, and I swear four students wrote that it was a "novel" in their papers. I was kind of shocked... did they not learn what a novel was in high school? They thought anything lengthy was a "novel"...
Yesterday, I read a paper that called a scholarly article a "literary work" -- !

The Catch said...

Girl, you sound like you have been sucking on butane while you grade those papers! Time for the term to be over, you feminine thing.

TR

Inkhorn said...

Re: how students address us. My favorite remains, "Yo, Teach." That was in my first semester at State U.

Anonymous said...

I think "Yo, Teach" is more Saved By The Bell than anything.

- scr