Grammar Ninja Vs The Multisyllabic Nightmare

I became an online tutor because it was a versatile job that would travel with me everywhere from Washington, DC to Edinburgh, Scotland.  The hours are flexible and I can listen to music and wear comfy clothes while I work.  Few people can say that about their jobs (okay, now you just want to start listing jobs that allow music and comfy clothes, don’t you?).

What I didn’t expect from this job, I admit, were the number of absolutely unbelievable essays that would be sent my way.  Don’t get me wrong – I knew that bad essays were coming and I’ve seen my fair share of atrocious writing as a graduate assistant overseeing hordes of semi-literate freshmen (they call them freshers here… which I kind of like).  However, I just don’t think anything can prepare you for a constant onslaught of essays from across the nation from students who want everything from help constructing a thesis to, and I quote, ‘HOW TO DO SENTENCES.’ No matter how prepared I thought I was, I still find myself astonished by the variety of grammatical atrocities committed by writers.

All this leads up to the current frustration that I encountered yesterday.  It is one thing for a student who may have never written an essay in his/her life to submit a paper filled with errors, stumbling sentences, almost endearing (almost, but not quite, mind you) word mix-ups, and a structure so unstable that you can feel the whole paper trembling on the verge of collapse.  I accept that challenge nobly.

What I found so offensive about this one particular essay was its inept juggling of ponderous words and phrases.  This student seemed to think that the bigger the words were that she used, the more intelligent her paper would sound.  It is also quite possible that she was trying to reach a required page count, but I can only theorize.

Now, I have no problem with big words.  I find them appealing, myself.  What makes me start to twitch is when an essay wields long words and pretentious sentence structure like a giant’s club, knocking down all possible coherency in the process.  But, you know, there were long words, so it must be intelligent.  Right.

For example:

Nonetheless, attending to the specific difficulties triggers accountability and pressure on behalf of educational administrator as they provide support to the increasing development of these responsibilities in an effort to advance the implementation of effectual instructional teacher management positions.

Now, I don’t know about you, and perhaps I’m just not smart enough, but this sentence took several reads just to figure out what she was saying.  This could be said in a much simpler way and still get the exact same point across.

The thing is, this sort of fatal flaw is not limited to budding writers.  It is actually a common feature of scholarly articles.  Now, as I said before, I am a lover of beautiful lengthy words and crafting lovely sentences that are a joy to read and perhaps recite aloud for further intellectual delight (Now who’s pretentious?  But the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?).

It becomes a bit tricky, I know.  Many scholars have an impressive vocabulary that just begs to be used.  On the upside, they know what the words mean.  The downside is that many of them still feel the need to make their papers so smart that they’re too hard to understand.  And that, in my opinion, is not the sign of a good piece of writing – not for freshers just out of school and not for the academics with their mighty, word-crafting pens.

In my opinion, what makes a paper sound intelligent, academic, and worth reading is if it is readable.  If the big word fits the sentence, go ahead and enjoy that heady sense of power as you type out all eight syllables and  twenty-five letters of it.  But if the simpler word makes as much (or more) sense and the sentence becomes easier to follow and understand, use it instead?  Make your essay one that is instantly accessible and even enjoyable.  The freshers will certainly appreciate your kindness if they are assigned to read it, and if you are making a sound, insightful argument, even the more pompous academics, if they are the honest sort, will have to concede that you are saying something worthwhile.

Enjoy the big words, but use them wisely.  The grammar ninja is watching.


About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on November 29, 2011, in Humor, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Style and Structure, Teaching, Words, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wow! Two grammar tirades in one week. Though I note that only one of them involved vats of hagfish. Which is worse? To be dipped in a vat of slimy eels or whacked by the Ninja Bunny? Fortunately, I will never have to find out (knock on wood). But I would love to be able to condemn some of my own students to either fate.

    When you get your doctorate and need a job, let me know. I have plenty of fresh victims to feed you.

  2. guess what? you’ve personally become a nominated-winner-nominee-person-thing for the great chain of Liebster Award Blogs in thanks by yours truly (what I am truly I’m not sure).
    take this moment to bask in your own glory and drool. hell, maybe take it one step further and start commanding people to honor you as a Queen and to do silly little dances for your pleasure

    i still don’t know how this blog as a whole works, but assuming this means something

  3. Ah yes, I feel your pain. Sometimes when I grade student essays, I hurt. Oh, do I hurt! But at least my students are ambitious high schoolers, and at least they learn from correction. Most of them are also quite charming (doesn’t aid their writing any, but makes me more forgiving). I can suffer the grading agony for students of that nature.

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