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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.


Pitchforks, Daggers, and Ninjas in Pigtails: What Happens When a Helpful Writers Group Starts Naming Things

It all began with a dagger that simply would not go away… The pigtails are another matter entirely.

I thought I would take the time to look into a sort of oddity about my writing career.  Actually, it’s more of an oddity about me in general.  No, let me try one more time.  It is an oddity about the people around me.  I have nothing to do with it. Really.

I have already mentioned the difficulties that I have had in the past with naming my stories.  Theories as to my difficulty with titles have been suggested, everything from deep seated commitment issues, to a chronically indecisive personality, to the tragic demise of whatever muse of mine was responsible for coming up with the pesky little detail of What Goes On The Cover of Your Book?

Whatever the case may be, my stories tend to simply rely on the main character’s name for a temporary title, and a real title never appears.  Mikaela, Danni, Stealth, Cupcake, and Prince Alphaeus can all testify to this.    I think their names make perfectly satisfactory titles.

My peers, however, disagree.  So, being a helpful bunch, they come up with titles for me.  An earlier story about a group of young royals essentially taking over the world became known as The Dagger of Bane Story.  The Dagger of Bane played a very minor role.  My main character spent the better part of his journey dropping it in the ocean, losing it, having it confiscated when he was captured, and yet the priceless heirloom of his kingdom (which looked like nothing so much as a drunk blacksmith’s apprentice’s first attempt at a butter knife) kept showing up.  I tried to name the story, but no one remembers that name now. It is The Dagger of Bane Story.

Likewise, Mikaela’s story, which I called, to what I’m sure is your complete surprise, Mikaela, started out with a charming tale of Mikaela’s escape from a horde of angry villagers armed with pitchforks.  The pitchforks were etched rather firmly in her memory and appeared in her dreams (in more ways than one) quite often.  So, you can imagine what title my enterprising listeners came up with for Mikaela.  Yes, it is called The Pitchfork Story.

It occurs to me as I recollect how helpful my friends have been in renaming my stories, that they seem to also want to rename me.  My parents gave me a perfectly acceptable name. However, due to unforeseen circumstances involving pigtails, I was renamed and rerenamed and rererenamed until they settled upon the moniker Ninja Bunny.

Why bunnies?  Why, indeed?  Bunnies can be quite terrifying, as you might know from my earlier post on Bella, the silently sadistic, angsty ball of fluff  whose psychotic, mass-murdering rampage is hindered only by a lack of opposable thumbs; or from reruns of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  You may have read the tales of Bunnicula (carrots today, the world tomorrow!) However, I doubt that any of these associations are to blame for the unfortunate nickname that I can’t seem to escape (it was even inscribed on a cake).

Suffice to say that it does not seem to matter whether or not I already have a name for my stories, or myself for that matter.  I can always rely on a helpful group of editors to supply a “better” name that will, despite my best efforts, stalk me and my stories like a homicidal bunny.