Tag Archives: literacy

Word Nerd

Words, words, words…once, I had the
gift…I could make love out of words as
a potter makes cups out of clay love
that overthrows empires, love that
binds two hearts together come
hellfire and brimstones…for sixpence a
line, I could cause a riot in a
nunnery…but now

-Will Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Love

One of my most favorite movies ever is Shakespeare in Love. Loved it the first time I saw it and still love it 10+ years later. The script is brilliant, of course, because the word play is stunning, and the actors bring the language to life. Even Ben Affleck is successful as Ned, and I don’t think Ben Affleck is a very believable actor in general (hate to admit I’ve been watching Armageddon on TV lately), but that is neither here nor there. During the summer that I spent at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC, our focus on Shakespeare was entirely focused around language. It’s fine for kids to know the plot ahead of time; it’s bonus if they can grasp fully the context of Shakespeare’s era. In the end, however, what sets the Bard apart is the way he used language. Period.

Of the various projects on my plate at the moment, one of them involves acting as a benchmark scorer for a set of student essays. One set I have already finished was around the fight against obesity, and the one I am currently working on focuses on whether or not classic (canonical) texts should be censored for language — both topics that I would hope sophomores in high school find very relevant. While I could gripe about the very worrisome low levels of writing I have encountered, I would rather reflect for a moment on words.

The good: Let’s talk crossword puzzles. Challenging as they can be, I enjoy the way they play around with language and connotation, understanding words and phrases literally and/or figuratively, etc, etc. Sudoku? Cool, but too much of the same thing all the time. I also love the thrill of talking to people who use language artfully and articulately — not because they are trying to “sound smart,” but simply because they are eloquent. I find it stimulating in that it pushes me to think in more precise terms, to describe in more detail.

The bad: I am discouraged by students who call everything “good” or “bad.” Ay de mi. Either kids aren’t doing enough reading or they aren’t doing enough writing. Maybe both. Or maybe they’re all just living via social media, whose text and Twitter character limits don’t allow for beautiful words. Hard to say, but this is a real concern of mine for the future. We don’t all have to be English majors, but you can’t get into or through college without being able to write more than adequately. I will leave my distress about grammar/usage for another day, but it also lives in this vein of “bad” use of language (i.e. your vs. you’re — does no teacher explain contractions any more?)

The ugly: The overly-politicized connotation of certain words. Bah. People who use words when they have zero idea what they mean. Important phrases taken out of context. Horrendous mispronunciation of words by people who should know better.

Husband jokingly tells me that I suffer from a certain amount of academic elitism. In reality, I wish that all people could be highly literate in their ability to read social codes — as well as literal text — and move easily between or among different language modes: personal vernacular, casual exchanges among friends and family, foreign language (if needed and or possible), academic settings, speeches, occasion talks… How we communicate affects the way we are perceived as individuals and the way we connect meaningfully with other people. If we don’t try to expand the words we use in our daily lives, then how can we possibly conceive and describe new ways of thinking?