Reading, Writing and Uh-rithmetic

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Okay, I saw the same thing posted on three blogs today, so this is a hot item on the blogosphere. That being the case, I felt compelled to weigh in.

How many more metaphors can I mix there? Sales, planets and wrestling...

Weighing in on a Blogosphere Hot Item

[Aside: I crack myself up.]

I saw the article on Dawn's blog first.

'Interesting,' I thought.

Then is showed up again on JoAnn's blog and again on Judy's blog as well.

'Fine, I'll read the article.'

But all three links are now dead. It appears that the Examiner changed the url (sneaky, sneaky). Thankfully, yours truly is here to save the day. You can read the article here--unless they change the link again <smile>.

Please go give Dawn, JoAnn, and Judy a visit. My take on this will be, well, different from all of theirs (why would I say what's already been said?).

First, I'm actually surprised at the lack of really good examples. I mean, these are pretty funny, but not as good as these (my personal favorite is about Cyrus McCormick). Perhaps we study less mangle-able topics in college. But I'd be interested in a study that actually shows a decline in the quality of writing. It sounds to me that Mr. Watson has been collecting these "gems" for years, and my fear is that as his file filled he started to assume that the frequency was increasing.

Second, one of the comments I read pointed out that many of the errors are malapropisms. Which is true. There are also many atrociously misspelled words. And these problems could both be attributed to a heavy reliance on spellcheck. And while I wouldn't mind improving my spelling ability, I have become a very proficient user of spellcheck and a digital dictionary.

Third, reading could certainly help... assuming we are reading material of a slightly higher caliber than, say, "Time for Friends" (not that "Time for Friends" isn't an excellent bit of children's literature). We need books that challenge us and introduce us to vocabulary beyond our vernacular, not just the latest Twilight Potter's Shack.

Forth, for me, the most troubling part of the article is that you can ask the students what they mean, "and they can’t tell you verbally, either." And from the comments I've read, that is bothersome to others as well. Even so, I remember being completely confused as my dad "bled" over yet another of my tear-stained papers.

"It made sense when I wrote it," I would lament. And my statement had made sense. The problem was that once my dad explained how incoherent my sentence was, I was stuck. I could think of no better way of expressing myself. And, really, that's an area I'm still growing in as a writer; how do you communicate clearly this or that idea?

Yes, reading great literature will help build a vocabulary and give a foundation for excellent writing.

Yes, practice gives opportunity to improve one's writing.

Yes, it would not surprise me if the educational system's focus on the testable side of English has lead to a decline in the functional/intelligible aspect.

And, yes, apathy is not helping.

But we need so much more than "hard work" if we are to improve our writing. We need people who can help us think through our logic, our expression, as well as our typos and malapropisms.

And who has more opportunity to do that than homeschooling parents?

Here's a little anecdote as I bring this long essay to a close*:

In one of my college Mass Communication classes, I was told that the professor was really strict about papers. So I paid special attention at the beginning of the semester as he went over what he expected in our papers.

"You must," he informed us, "have proper punctuation and spelling."


That's it? When have we ever been allowed to use improper punctuation or spelling in papers?

I got an A on every paper in that class. And as much as it pains me to admit, I attribute my success to my dad's red pen and interrogations. So, if I'm ever reading the writing of one of my children and they explain some aspect of "uh-rithmetic" to me, I'll smile and bleed on their paper.

Like father, like son.

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

*I tend to say "antidote" much to the frustration of my friends. I wonder how many times that malaprop has slipped through?

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