Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pimp My Essay

I'm currently finishing off my first batch of marking for the semester - I know, lucky me, right? As anyone who has marked essays in the past knows, it's always a painful process. Even when the essays are all okay, there are some persistent problems that come up, and your brain gets sore from trying to think how many times you've had to correct them in the past.

Again and again, students think that in order to sound smart you have to write complicated sentences and use words like 'aforementioned', or that instead of saying 'such-and-such argues/writes/etc...' you should really go for the more elaborate 'such-and-such ingeniously observes' or other adverb-laden fluff. They don't realise that I want to be impressed by clarity and insight, not four bajillion commas, filler words and sentences that straddle six different topics.

However, my pet peeve - actually, my pet peeve is saying 'pet peeve', which is an annoying, vomituously twee expression - is the word 'thusly'. See, it makes my skin crawl even thinking about it. Clearly, 'thusly' is a product of the logic that if you make it sound smart, it must be smart. 'Thusly' is an attempt to make the perfectly adequate (and in itself a little flowery) 'thus' seem more salon-worthy, and I wish people would stop using it. Thusly is on this long list of common errors in English, along with clarifications of affect/effect, complement/compliment and so on. Worth looking at, and I'm talking to you.

Some of the corrections I make are a little bit ironic: the students whose margins tell them to not start sentences with 'this' unless it's absolutely clear what 'this' refers to don't know that that's what was written on almost every page of my Honours dissertation. If my supervisors saw me write the bewildered 'unpack!' next to obscure, ambitious passages they'd probably have a little giggle. At least I don't underline it as often as they do...

In other news, I finished an article and sent it off to a journal over the weekend: somewhere out there, I suspect, is an editor cursing the recurring problems in grad student article submission...


  1. Do you get a lot of "whom" action? That's one of my "favourite" words used incorrectly by people trying (and failing) to look smart.
    I don't mind using the occasional aforementioned or whatnot, but that's because I quite like sounding a bit like a tosser :)

  2. Yep, I do get the occasional misplaced 'whom', and please don't get me started on the apostrophes.

    I don't have a problem with fancy words per se (ha!): I'm all for 'therefore' and 'albeit' and I've even used 'tout court'. It's when those fancy words are used incorrectly or wildly out of context that I go a bit nutso.

    In other news, I just read an interview with a supposedly well-regarded author who referred to something being "very apropos to our times"! And earlier today on radio someone said government should structure policy to help people make "less mistakes". In honesty the less/fewer thing doesn't bother me that much, but "apropos"? Really?