Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Broadway

I love New York. I know it’s cliché, but it really does have an energy that I haven’t experienced in any other city. Last Labor Day we visited some friends there and had a blast. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about going back. That and the fact that they have a new Broadway show that sounds very intriguing. I found out about it while grading an essay from a student who just went to New York. She wrote that one of her favorite parts of the trip was seeing The Loin King.

I love Broadway shows, and with the trend of casting celebrities as leads, I am excited about who will play the role of the loin king. I vote for Clive Owen or Johnny Depp. The loin princes could be played by Gael Garcia Bernal, James Franco and Eric Bana.

I hope this will be the costume:

I had better start saving up for front row seats.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Worst of Times and Best of Times

While most are going back to school shortly, the quarter at my college is wrapping up. Part of me really hates the end of the quarter. The beginning of the quarter holds so much promise: the students are wide-eyed and eager to learn and I am excited about my role in making America a place where essays are organized and error-free. By the end of the quarter, the students look stoned and I have to accept that, once again, I have failed in making a significant impact on America’s written expression. This morning I almost asked the woman at Peet's Coffee if they were hiring.

The end of the quarter, however, is also very amusing. Many of the classes require the students to do final presentations, for which the students are required to dress up professionally. The awesome part is that many of the students interpret professionally as Julia Robert's profession in Pretty Woman. I’ve seen everything from sequins to mini-dresses to sequined mini-dresses.

Many of the instructors express disdain for the students’ lack of understanding what it means to be professional, but I think it’s kind of cute. They’re young. They’ll eventually learn that it’s not proper etiquette to attend a work meeting dressed as a Kardashian. Right? Right???

Another place they show their lack of etiquette is when referring to others in their writing. This, too, always makes me laugh. For example, I assigned my Critical Thinking class an essay in which they were to respond to an article by Salman Rushdie, and I got a lot of this:

Salman said, “….”

I don’t agree with Salman because….

Really, Guys, you are on first name basis with Salman Rushdie? The author who not only won the Booker Prize and was appointed Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II for "services to literature,” but was forced to live in exile after Satanic Verses prompted the Iranian government to call for Salman Rushdie’s execution. If my students ran into him, they would probably say, “Hey, Salman, I heard you were once married to Padma.”

When referring to other people in our writing, we should use their last names:

Rushdie was married to Lakshmi.

We can also use their full names:

Salman Rushdie was married to Padma Lakshmi.

Especially when the last name isn't enough to clearly identify whom the writer is referring to:

I can’t believe what Kardashian was wearing.

It really could be any Kardashian, right?

In situations like this, we use the full name:

In this case, my sentence would be:

I can’t believe what Kim Kardashian was wearing.

And this is why:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Wrong Stuff

I did not see Boogie Nights, so my introduction to Heather Graham was her role as CIA agent Felicity Shagwell in the second Austin Powers movie. And, I hate to say it, but I thought she was the movie’s weakest link.

Why do I hate to say it? Look at that punim. She's so pretty and seems like a lovely, nice, harmless person, doesn’t she? As I was watching the movie, I felt kind of bad for her, like she was out of her league. She didn’t quite have the edge to play a CIA agent, even in a comedy. When I saw her on screen, I didn’t think highly trained government spy; I thought la la la la la la la giggle giggle.

I was so relieved when I loved her in The Hangover. She was adorable as the sweet, naïve stripper.

My career advice to her: less action roles, more fluff.

That, however, is the exact opposite advice I would give the word stuff.

(No rhyme intended)

As an action word, stuff is brilliant. It's such a strong, descriptive verb:

Austin Power's suitcase was full, but he still managed to stuff in his Swedish penis enlarger.

Using stuff shows the reader how desperate he was to take the penis enlarger along. You can almost see the sweat dripping off his brow as he's trying to get the zipper to close around (groan) the (grunt) pump. Phew! Got it!

It was a tight fit, but Austin Powers stuffed his ....

Oh, never mind.

As a noun, however, stuff does nothing for me. It sounds so cheap. One of my students just used stuff in an essay describing her wonderful mother:

My mother has done so much stuff for me over the years.

Stuff! Really? Is that the best you can do? It makes all her mother's wisdom, kindness and support seem so ordinary and blah.

In fact, in the sentence above, simply taking out stuff would make the sentence sound better.

I know that I have warned against using absolute words, but here I go: when it comes to choosing nouns, we can always do better than stuff.

Am I being too stuffy?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Parents Say the Darndest Things

It’s too late now, of course, but what I probably should have done is married a man who already had kids. I just think I would be a better step mom than a real mom. As a step mom, don’t you get to be more of a friend than a disciplinarian? I am afraid that, because I am going to want my kids to think I am cool, I will let them do whatever they want and probably try to impress them with all the lurid details of my past and present.

Society, I apologize in advance, but I am probably going to raise sociopaths.

Although, maybe being open with your offspring is the way to go. I have a young lady in my class who seems very well-rounded and pleasant, yet she comes from a household in which her father is very open with his children about his unconventional lifestyle. Well, at least this sentence from her essay makes it seem that way:

My father told me, “I am a young lady and I need to dress like one.”

Obviously, her father doesn’t try to hide from his children that he has a proclivity to cross-dress and assume the role of a young female.

Either that or he has dissociative identity disorder like Toni Collette’s character in United States of Tara, and one of his personalities is a young woman.

Or my student incorrectly used quotation marks.

If, perchance, it was an error on my student’s part, and her father was actually saying that she was a young woman who needed to dress accordingly, let me just offer some options.

1. Since quotation marks are used when quoting someone word-for-word, perhaps this is what she meant:

My father told me, “You are a young lady and you need to dress like one.”

2. Or she could just paraphrase it and forget the quotation marks:

My father told me that I am a young lady and I need to dress like one.

But, if she did quote him correctly and he does want to dress like a young lady, might I suggest that he (Warning: bad pun about to ensue) TAILOR his look more to Swift than Momsen:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Misery Loves Company

It was fifth grade science. It was my turn to read aloud. Everything was going quite swimmingly until I messed up and read, “Single-celled orgasm.” At the time, it wasn’t actually that big of a deal. I remember having the feeling that I had mispronounced the word, but I didn’t know what an orgasm was at the time, so I wasn’t really embarrassed.

Cut to a few years later. I’m in some office waiting room and I’m flipping through a Cosmopolitan magazine. It should be called COsmOpOlitan magazine. I not only learned the definition of orgasm, I learned the sexual positions I should be doing to best achieve one and how to have multiple ones. I was mortified. I wasn’t really worried about the other kids in my fifth grade class because they probably didn’t know what one was at the time either. All I could think about was Mr. Wilcox and how, when I said “single-celled orgasm," he must have been stifling his laughter. I imagined that he went home and told Mrs. Wilcox and that I would forever be known in the Wilcox household as the single-celled orgasm girl. He would probably write about it in his memoir.

Well, I’ve realized over the years that I shouldn’t have been that worried. Apparently, saying orgasm instead of organism is a pretty common error. I’ve heard a bunch of other people admit to making the same error.

It always softens the blow a little bit when I find out that I am not the only one who has made a mistake, which might explain why I did what I did yesterday. I can’t believe I am even telling anyone, but, you know, blog content before dignity.

Yesterday, as I was writing something, I blanked out: I couldn’t remember if it was desparate with an a or desperate with an e?

So, I looked it up and realized it was desperate, with an e.

But, that wasn’t all I did. After that, I Googled “most commonly misspelled words” hoping to find that I wasn’t the only one who made this error.

Well, it was not on the list.

But I did come up with a trick so that I will never have to go through that humiliation again. I will use Desperate Housewives to remember to use an e instead of an a because Eva Longoria is in Desperate Housewives and her name starts with an E.

You can use that trick if you want to, but you probably won’t have to since I am apparently the only person in the world who can’t spell desperate.

However, if anyone out there wants to share their misspellings, I could really use the support.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Let Me At Least Have a Piece

Apostrophes by Mitch Hedberg:

"I saw a lady on T.V. She was born without arms. Literally, she was born with her hands attached to her shoulders... and that was sad, but then they said, "Lola does not know the meaning of the word 'can't.'" And that to me was kinda worse... in a way... ya know? Not only does she not have arms, but she doesn't understand simple contractions. It's very simple, Lola, you just take two words, you put them together, then you take out the middle letter, you put a comma in there and you raise it up!"

"I get the Reese's candy bar. If you read that name Reese's that's an apostrophe s. Reese-apostrophe-s, on the end of that name. That means the candy bar is his. I didn't know that! Next time you're eating a Reese's candy bar and a guy name Reese comes by and says, 'Let me have that,'you'd better hand it over.' I'm sorry, Reese, I didn't think I'd ever run into you! You're a fuckin' bully, man! Let me at least have a piece!'"

First this:

And now this:

Some girls have all the luck.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Well, Since YOU Mentioned It

We all have our things.

When he’s driving, my husband is- how do I say this- extremely sensitive to the driving habits of EVERYONE else on the road. As a result, even though the other drivers can't hear him, he gives- what should I call them- suggestions to his fellow drivers.

My sister is in the design industry, so when we go somewhere, she often notices things that I wouldn't, such as the layout, choice of flooring, and colors. (I’m usually like, “Where’s the bar?”)

I imagine that Rachel Zoe walks down the street mentally fixing people's outfits and that the Super Nanny can’t shop at a supermarket without silently criticizing the parenting skills of the mom who just gave in to her toddler’s tantrum and bought the Sponge Bob cereal.

I, of course, am very grammar sensitive. I see and hear grammar errors everywhere. In fact, I just cringed because someone said, “There’s too many pages.”

Me in my head: There ARE too many pages.

I really do try to keep this stuff in my head. There is a fine line between being helpful and coming off as a know-it-all asshole. Sometimes, an unsolicited correction will slip out of my mouth, but I do try to keep my grammarness to myself unless, of course, I’m teaching or blogging.

For example, there’s a sign that is plastered to the door of the staff lounge at my work that says, “Open door slow.” Every morning, when I walk in, I shake my head as I silently lament the lack of the ly, and get on with my day.

So, if I worked at the place where the following memo was distributed, I would have noticed the spelling error, but I would not have been the person to make the spelling correction:

I found this on jezebel.com, and the comments reflect the controversy of whether it was insensitive or respectful to make the spelling correction.

Well, as I said before, I wouldn’t have initiated it, but, you know, since someone else already did, might I just add:

I wouldn’t capitalize the word dear, co-worker or friend.

I would put a period after There is not going to be a service held.

I would capitalize thanks and put a comma after it, put an apostrophe in don’t, put a period after necessary, and a colon after point.

And, if I were the deceased, I would be pissed that there wasn't going to be a service held by my "dear" friends and haunt the office. First stop, swap the regular morning coffee for decaf.

* Luckily, however, not all people are as seemingly cold as the people who work in the aforementioned office. Theresa Milstein from the blog Substitute Teacher's Saga has dedicated herself to an important cause. Click here to see how you can help.

And, James Garcia Jr. at Dance on Fire generously awarded me the Circle of Friends Award. Thanks, James.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Must Love Grammar

Get down off that desk, John Keating. Put away those fancy AP calculus equations, Jaime Escalante. Take off that leather jacket, Michelle Pfeiffer from Dangerous Minds. There’s a new teacher in town who makes a difference in students’ lives.

Miramax and Warner Bros., pay attention. You may want to option this. Here’s a sneak peek at the pivotal scene:

I am sitting at my desk grading papers. My hair is in a bun kept in place by a pencil. I reach back and take the pencil out of the bun and my hair comes flowing down over my shoulders. In slow motion, I shake my head from left to right as my hair perfectly frames my face. As the last strand settles, a student enters my office.

Me: Hi, Beth, where have you been? I haven’t seen you on campus for ages.

Beth: I went on the Paris Study Tour.

Me: Oh, how wonderful! (Inside, however, I am seething. I want to go to Paris! Thanks to Audrey Tautou and Marion Cotillard, I am currently going through some serious French envy.)

Me (Cont.): How was it?

Beth: It was amaaazing! (And here she goes through the litany of wonderful things she got to do that I didn’t while I sat behind this stupid desk grading papers.) And, I met a guy.

Me: Oooh. A French guy?

Beth: No, he lives in France, but he’s British. We’ve been emailing. She blushes.

Dramatic Pause

Beth (Cont. with tears of emotion welling up in her eyes): Every time we email, I am so grateful to you for being so strict with me about my grammar and punctuation. He is so well-written, and I would have been so embarrassed to write to him if it weren’t for you.

End Scene

Can I get an, “Oh Captain, My Captain?”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Words Gone Wild

Ray: I couldn't help it. It just popped in there.
Peter: What? *What* "just popped in there?"
Ray: I... I... I tried to think...
Egon: LOOK!
Ray: No! It CAN'T be!
Peter: What is it?
Ray: It CAN'T be!
Peter: What did you DO, Ray?
Winston: Oh, shit!
Ray: It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Poor Ray. It’s so disappointing when something that has provided comfort and help to you for much of your life reveals its dangerous side. It actually just happened to me. This was the culprit:

This is what you get when you tell your students that the thesaurus is a wonderful resource to help them liven up the vocabulary of their essays:

Our superlatives keep our experience on a constructive note.

Whatever we do, there is always an urge that commences us to adventure with an unknown end.

Or, maybe I’m just secretly worried that he’s actually written it correctly, and it went over my head.