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Author Topic: A bumper crop of thought-provoking readings on language  (Read 3000 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: October 03, 2009, 02:22:29 AM »

We have a bumper crop of thought-provoking readings on language this week: the first on metaphors as keys to the structure of thought, the second on how to deal with inveterate correctors of your grammar and usage, the third on the alarming decline in the language abilities of Americans, the fourth on why most writers don’t seem to be as smart in person as they are in print, and the fifth on the pitfalls in the human scoring of open-ended reading comprehension tests.

Take time to read and savor these five readings!

On metaphors as keys to thought. People primarily think of metaphors as tools for talking and writing, but cognitive scientists are beginning to see them not just as turns of phrase but “as keys to the structure of thought” itself. “By taking these everyday metaphors as literally as possible,” Drake Bennett writes in The Boston Globe, “psychologists are upending traditional ideas of how we learn, reason, and make sense of the world around us.”

Read Drake Bennett’s “Thinking Literally” in The Boston Globe now!

Getting back at inveterate grammar correctors. How do you deal with people who repeatedly express annoyance at your slip-ups in grammar or word choices? Ammon Shea of The New York Times suggests using historical precedent. He used to be embarrassed whenever people corrected him for using the word “stupider” instead of “more stupid”—until he discovered that Ezra Pound also used the word “stupider” when he wrote a letter to William Carlos Williams in 1920: “If you weren’t stupider than a mud-duck you would know that every kick to bad writing is by that much a help for the good.” Now Shea routinely uses this fact to silence inveterate correctors.

Read Ammon Shea’s “Error-Proof” in The New York Times now!

The declining language abilities of Americans. In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, E. D. Hirsh Jr. observes that far too many Americans today are now in the linguistic shadows, unable to use the knowledge and language needed to participate in public discourse. “The language abilities of our 17-year-olds have remained stuck at the steeply declined levels of the 1970s,” he says, “while the language gap between white students on one side and black and Hispanic students on the other remains distressingly and immovably large.”

Read E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s “How Schools Fail Democracy” in Chronicle.com now!

Smarter in print than in person. Writers are not necessarily brilliant conversationalists. According to Arthur Krystal in an article in The New York Times, “Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person. In fact, I am smarter when I’m writing.” It may be disappointing to watch a great writer fumble with his lines or read from note cards or the TV idiot board, he argues, but it’s perfectly understandable. “It’s not their job to be smart except, of course, when they write,” he says.

Read Arthur Krystal’s “When Writers Speak” in The New York Times now!
 
Flawed human scorers of reading tests. A former scorer of standardized reading comprehension tests acknowledges that they are indeed flawed measures of student progress, but contends that the problem is not so much the tests themselves as the people scoring them. Todd Farley, in an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times, says that open-ended test items are scored by humans who are prone to errors. “The years I spent assessing open-ended questions convinced me that large-scale assessment was mostly a mad scramble to score tests, meet deadlines and rake in cash,” he admits.

Read Todd Farley’s “Reading Incomprehension” in The New York Times now!

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maxsims
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« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2009, 08:02:19 AM »

“If you weren’t stupider than a mud-duck you would know that every kick to bad writing is by that much a help for the good.” Now Shea routinely uses this fact to silence inveterate correctors.

Joe, an interesting sentence.

Taken in isolation and in modern context, it appears to say that a kick to bad writing is a kick along for good.    (In my country at least, to get "a kick along" is to receive help.)

Perhaps when and where Pound said it, it meant the opposite.
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2009, 01:36:03 PM »

That's possible, but I think Ezra Pound's rant makes a lot of sense even in its literal sense, which is that whenever we point out bad writing and make a critique of it, we are actually helping the writer write better next time around. 
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maxsims
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« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2009, 02:57:19 PM »

If that is so. why would Shea use it to silence critics of bad writing (presumably his own)?
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2009, 03:43:52 PM »

Because it proves Shea's point that "stupider," like "more stupid," is acceptable usage. If a notable poet like Ezra Pound can use it, so can he and other English speakers without apologizing for it.
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maxsims
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« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2009, 04:32:01 PM »

Ah!    Only inveterate critics of the use of the word "stupider"..!

I must be stupider than most because I don't think that....

"That's possible, but I think Ezra Pound's rant makes a lot of sense even in its literal sense, which is that whenever we point out bad writing and make a critique of it, we are actually helping the writer write better next time around."

is what you meant!
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