Friday, May 15, 2009

Words known only to students (an incomplete list)

All kinds of strange words and word usages show up on individual student papers, usually the result of haste, personal idiosyncrasy, or an imperfectly developed critical vocabulary. Sometimes these malaproprisms are funny and sometimes they're not. But there are other words or expressions (or nonstandard usages) that I see all the time--which suggests to me that they're part of a wider student vocabulary that hasn't yet filtered up to the rest of us.

Here are a few that come to mind:
Portrays to mean is or is depicted as.
Ex. "The character Othello portrays a jealous man."

Incite, which has a wide and flexible range of meanings that I don't yet grasp. It seems to include motivate and inspire and sometimes entice.
Ex. "The Scottish throne incites Macbeth."

Call out to mean shame. I know that this is a colloquialism--that one may call someone out for cowardice, or hypocrisy, or whatever--but it's used by my students without that explanatory prepositional phrase.
Ex. "In this speech Lady Macbeth calls out her husband."

Moreso, which appears to mean something like additionally. I love this word because, although I see it often, I don't really understand it.
Ex. "Macbeth is motivated by the witches' prophecy, but moreso he's ambitious."
What would you add to this lexicon?


Anonymous said...

You know, I really didn't realize how often I saw these until I read this post--especially "portrays." I *think* "moreso" has a sense of "more importantly," at least as my students use it: Macbeth's ambition is more important than the witches' prophecy in determining his actions.

I'd definitely add "relatable" to mean "sympathetic," which seems to be widespread.

Anonymous said...

"portrays" and "relatable"--yes and yes! also the backward "relates to," as in "othello relates to the audience because everyone feels jealous sometimes."

Pamphilia said...

I'm not sure this qualifies as a lexical entry, but the majority of my students CONSTANTLY misuse "while," which they take to mean "whereas," and "although." For example:

"While Ovid describes Pygmalion as a misogynist, Shakespeare makes Paulina a feminist."

'Cause you know Ovid and Shakespeare were writing their texts at exactly the same moment.

Renaissance Girl said...

I'd contribute "literally," meaning "not literally." As in, "When Bianca finally comes back to the wedding reception, she has literally become a shrew."

Thoroughly Educated said...

Aaargh! This "portray" thing has been getting my goat for a decade. At my former place of employment, I took to forbidding its use entirely.

"Moreso" and related misuses of "-so" have flummoxed me because I've sofar been unable to articulate intelligently and intelligibly to students why they're wrong and how they should be used. Must give this further thought.

Pace Pamphilia, the use of "while" that she cites seems fine to me; cf. OED s.v. while, adv. (a.), conj. (prep.) 2.b.

Flavia said...

Yes. . . I'm quite sure that I've used "while" in just that way. Probably often.

"Literally" and "relates to"--absolutely! I hate "relatable," too, though I think it's meant to convey more (and hence is worse) than merely "sympathetic"; as AWB has written in the past, it seems to be the highest compliment some students have for a character or work of literature.

Historiann said...

"Impact" used as a verb really chaps my a$$, especially when it's used in the past tense ("impacted," as in "French Jesuits really impacted the Native Americans..." Hello? TEETH are impacted. Indians are not "impacted.")

My favorites are the misspelled cliched phrases (which are due to people not really reading very much these days), such as "for all intensive purposes," etc.

heu mihi said...

The whole "relatable" thing is driving me NUTS. I don't know how else I can explain to my students that "Jane Eyre is more relatable than Catherine Earnshaw" is not a respectable thesis.

One thing I've noticed--and that "portrays" illustrates (or portrays, if you will)--is a tendency to invert the subject and object of a verb, or something. Thus, while Othello's character might be a portrayal of a jealous man, he himself does not portray jealousy. I've also seen things like (but not quite as bad as) "The trophy obtains the champion" rather than the other way around. I can't think of a good example, but I see it a lot, especially, for some reason, in papers by English majors who are trying to sound smart but don't have complete control over their language.

One word that also drives me crazy, though, is "aspect." It seems to mean...well, I'm not sure what it means, but it crops up in essentially meaningless sentences. "The audience aspect of the article is well done." "The soldier's aspect is cruel." ??? I do my best to avoid using this word AT ALL in freshman comp just because it's so completely disastrous and I don't want to remind my students of its existence.

Thoroughly Educated said...

I agree about "aspect" - and it's something I see all over, not just from students.

Sometimes I think the most high-payoff grammatical concepts we can teach our students are voice and transitivity - not so they can avoid the passive voice, but so they will have the language to understand explanations of what's gone so horribly wrong with their verb constructions.

Fretful Porpentine said...

One of my pet peeves is the reckless and indiscriminate misuse of "symbolize": "Titus symbolizes a man bent on revenge." No, he IS a man bent on revenge. Ain't no symbolism about it.

The other usage error that baffles me is genre confusion. Why is every work of literature always a "story" or a "novel," except for actual short stories and novels, which are apparently poems, and The Canterbury Tales, which is, according to at least one student, a play?

Fretful Porpentine said...

Oh! And "In the fact that" or "With ... being ..." as free-floating, all-purpose modifiers: "With Satan being in Hell, he is not too happy about his situation." "Wyatt had a problem with the court in the fact that he saw Anne Boleyn being beheaded."

Dr. Virago said...

OMG, yes to everything above! (And eep, I think I've used "while" like that, too!)

I think they think "moreso" means "moreover." And shouldn't it be "more so," if it's anything at all?

"Flow" is the word I've banned from my classes, particularly in any assignments of formal analysis. They are not allowed to say that a poem or an essay or a narrative "flows." Instead, they must be specific in describing the rhythm, pace, or logical tightness, or whatever it is they're trying to get at (which is often unclear when they rely on their "flow" crutch).

Btw, on a related topic, I spent about 20 minutes on the opening sentence of Jane Eyre one day this semester -- "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day" -- only to learn that NOT ONE student in a class of 23 English and English/Ed majors could identify the main verb in that sentence. One brave soul ventured "taking." And then, when I gave up and TOLD them that it was "was," I learned that they could not say what *kind* of verb it was, not even "verb of being" (I wasn't expecting "impersonal verb," at least). No wonder they don't pay attention when I write comments about their abuse of verbs of being in their papers. (My lesson learned here: next time, just start with *explaining* that this sentence begins with an impersonal construction -- "there was" -- and ask why it might be significant that Bronte did that instead of writing a sentence beginning with "I" in this fictional autobiography. I'll skip over asking them to see that themselves.)

undine said...

"Partake" for "participate," as in "The character partakes in a riot." Nope, not unless he's really hungry.

undine said...

And "gift" as a verb, as in "He gifted her with a rose" instead of "He gave her a rose."

Okay, I'll stop now.

rosarosae said...

My god, I agree with all of these. "Flow" and "relatable" really were about to kill me. I also had some major issues with inappropriate abbreviations and spellings..."abt" for example or "iz" or "seyz" (thank god those ended in the 1st week!).
One of the weird trends I've seen is a strange use of "uptake" (as in the sentences. "She slaps him. He uptakes this to mean that she hates him." WHAAAAAAAAT? Or "I uptook (to) him that I wasn't tired." It makes no's like a weird combination of quick on the uptake, infer and inform.
Also, "impose" without the right prepositions was cropping up everywhere. "She imposes him."

Sisyphus said...

And if you want to convey a real sense of importance, there's the phrase "even moreso," which often appears without a verb.

My pet peeve is crappy pop psychologizing, probably because I do crappy in-depth psychologizing in class. For my students, it is sufficient to say that Macbeth "has issues," or that Porphyria's lover "is a nutter."

I think it's the sense of finality, the implicit, "and you should shut up now because I have judged and dismissed this character and that is all there is to say about him," that infuriates me so. Gah! Argh! Why must you bring on all these flashbacks for me on a beautiful Saturday morning! Rrrrr!

I'm off to drink now.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

God, I could go on for HOURS about this, but here are two favorites:

"bias" as an adjective [or would that be an adverb? Drat!]
Ex: "He was bias against women." It's like they just can't grasp the difference between a bias (n.) and the state of being biased.

"apart" instead of "a part (of/from)"
Ex: "She was apart of a sorority."

Both of these could be ascribed to poor spelling but they show up so often that now I think they've entered the lexicon for good.

Grrrr ....

Petitio Principii said...

I hate, HATE when students use "beg the question" to mean "raise the question," e.g. "Hamlet's soliloquy begs the question: what happens when we die?" Argh.

Flavia said...

Oh God, yes! Esp. to "bias" for "biased," "aspect," and "symbolize." I don't see too much of "impact" (that must be to history majors what "portrays" and "symbolize" are to English majors), but I do enjoy me a misspelled phrase or two. ("Misewell" came up on a recent exam. Say it aloud.)

As for "flow": whenever I talk about close reading, I tell my students that they are absolutely NOT ALLOWED to describe writing as "flowing well" (or, more to the point, that they shouldn't explain the effect/purpose of alliteration, or regular iambic pentameter, or endstopping or enjambing, or whatever, as making the lines "flow"). They always laugh and nod ruefully when I tell them that this doesn't MEAN anything, and isn't a useful or precise description. As a consequence, I rarely see that word. . . but I'm still occasionally informed that X or Y or Z device "really creates an effect."

Flavia said...

Oh, and I meant to add that "moreso" rarely seems to be a substitution for "moreover," though that would be a logical conclusion--often I see it in place of a conjunction or transition, and/or as the first word in a sentence fragment.

I'm having a hard time coming up with a good example, because the actual ones I encounter are so weird and puzzling and I so little understand where the word comes from or is gesturing at. But something like, "Macbeth is motivated by the witches' prophecy. Moreso his ambition," might approximate it.

Anonymous said...

My current pet peeve is the use of "recount" as a noun - as in, Giacomo's recount to Posthumous..." Grrr!

heu mihi said...

I can't figure out Misewell, I'm afraid.

But to return to misspelled cliches, I had a student email me a question with the phrase "on in the same" in it. I wrote back, "I think you mean, 'one and the same,' right?" Her reply: "Maybe. Is 'one and the same' better than 'on in the same'?" The funny thing is that she was using the phrase in the right sense, and I can't imagine what she thought 'on in the same' meant--the correct phrase isn't particularly idiomatic and reveals its meaning pretty well.

Flavia said...

Heu Mihi: let me use it in a sentence: "Gawain decided he misewell take the girdle from his host's wife."

These comments are all really great and really interesting. I didn't intend this post as a gripe-fest, nor am I making fun of my students (misewell, possibly, excepted)--it's just striking how widespread these usages or misusages are, which I think proves my original point that there's a common studently vocabulary when it comes to literary or historical anlysis.

We can call these things errors (and, mostly, they are--or at least imprecisions), but it's also true to say that they're part of a transitional stage as students struggle to refine their powers of analysis and adopt more scholarly language. Not everyone leaves this transitional stage, of course, or even gets very far into it. . . but it's more interesting to see it as a phase of intellectual development than as an endpoint.

Horace said...

Whenever a student tells me that a character isn't "relatable," I say that of course she is: the author has just related her tale to us...

And Historiann, while the overuse of impact is indeed egregious, the transformation of that word into "impactful" has really gotten my hackles up lately.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Oh, and "it discusses," as in "In an essay by John Doe, it discusses..." Never "An essay by John Doe discusses..." or "In an essay, John Doe discusses...," always the mysterious "it."

Successful Researcher: How to Become One said...

Can't add anything but enjoyed reading :)

dance said...

Coming late to the discussion (why no RSS, Flavia?) to add that students also refer to history books, and sometimes articles, as novels. Very mysterious.

I will have to start tracking these---much more fun than plain mistakes.

Flavia said...

Dance: mine's an Atom feed (and is routed through Feedburner), and for whatever reason Mac users who also use Google Reader seem to have trouble subscribing (Bloglines, to the best of my knowledge, works fine with both PCs and Macs, and Google Reader seems work fine with PCs).

I'm trying to resolve this issue--though my extremely limited technical knowledge is not an asset!--but see if adding this feed works with whatever aggegrator you use:

dance said...

Thanks, Flavia, that worked fine in NetNewsWire. Confusion because usually Firefox shows the RSS icon in the address bar for a site where it's available (through some mystery I don't understand).

No more comments 2 weeks late. :)

priscian said...

I know I'm chiming in late here, but I just wanted to add that I find it hilarious that "Petitio Principii"'s primary complaint is about how students misuse "beg the question."

(Is this where I do the obligatory, "My Captcha was codswallop, which seems eerily appropriate"?)