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The Post Where I Rant About English

My oldest daughter and I were having a conversation about practicing on the piano and reading sheet music; the gist of it being that practicing will make difficult tasks seem easier, as skills increase, and “you will grow accustomed to doing things that no longer require thought.”

I saw her mental gears turning, and I patted myself on the back, assured that she was considering my point.

To the contrary however, in true 6th-grader fashion, she abruptly changed the subject:
“Why do you use big words when you talk?”

“I’m sorry… What?!”

“I can understand if you’re writing an essay and you want to score extra points.
But why not just use basic words when you talk to people?”

“Um… I don’t know. I didn’t realize I used any ‘big’ words. Which ones were they?”

“Like ‘accustomed’. Why not say ‘you get used to doing things’?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but saying ‘used to’ sounds strange to me; saying ‘accustomed’ feels more natural. I guess having said ‘accustomed’ so many times in the past, I became accustomed to saying ‘accustomed’.”

Take that, Miss Smarty-pants. Score 1 point to MRS. Smarty-pants!
There is No Doubt about from which tree in the orchard she fell. :P

Now on the topic of English essays, she began bragging about the ‘big words’ that she used to achieve her high marks, and ended with another question:

“Why do you get better grades for using big words?”

“Well…. a teacher’s job is not only to teach, but also to challenge you to better yourself. You may have a large vocabulary, but learning new words and using them regularly ensures that your writing will never become stale and redundant. Nobody wants to read the same word repeated over and over.”

“But the teachers don’t even read our essays. The computer grades us.”

And there, my friends, my idyllic world floating in the clouds came crashing down like a gravitational slap in the face!
I beg your pardon?? Your teachers don’t read your work?

“We write a lot of essays… more than you guys did at my age.” (I doubt that!) “…and the teachers don’t have enough time to read all of our papers, so we have a computer program that grades our essays and gives feedback.”

Now, granted, I do let my ex-husband handle the bulk of those parent-teacher meetings, but I was still in shock that I’d missed this information… while she went on to assure me that this computer scores her work among the highest in her class.

“I get fives and sixes all the time, and most of the kids only get threes and fours.”

“But…. BUT… how do they expect a computer to UNDERSTAND an essay?! To grasp the nuances and clever references in your writing?
Can a computer recognize humor? Can a machine be persuaded by an inspiring speech or a well-researched argument?”

She insisted that these computers were very smart and could recognize just about anything, citing a recent example of the computer scolding her for “going off topic” during a story.

“Well, yes, of course a computer can recognize KEY WORDS, and can identify paragraphs unrelated to the subject matter. But writing is subjective. It takes a human being to understand the mind of another human being.”

We aren’t writing for computers! We are writing FOR PEOPLE!


I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with artificial authority for years (and a bit of trouble with biological authority as well, hehe).

It started with that infernal Spell Check program that we were encouraged to use in high-school, as penned essays were phased out in favor of typed manuscripts. Our teachers sermonized about Spell Check as if our souls depended on accepting its guidance, but I swore that program was invented by Satan himself.

A thick dictionary had a permanent home on my desk, and I refused to run any of my essays through my word processor’s spell-checking program. If the teacher marked me off 5-10 pts. for misspelling a word, it taught me to proof-read more carefully in the future. :P

Even now, I loathe FireFox and Google Chrome for their automatic spell-checking capabilities. This very blog post is riddled with red squiggly lines! But I refuse to put a space between Fire and Fox simply to appease that damn machine. If there are any misspellings to be found, I will gladly claim responsibility for them. ;)

Shortly after I began blogging in 2009, WordPress came out with an update that checked for grammatical errors as well, and if I cared to peek (as I often did when my curiosity got the better of me), my posts would be peppered with green, blue, AND red lines. Apparently, I switch between passive and active voice quite a bit.

WordPress also agreed with my daughter that I used too many unnecessary ‘big’ words, because it suggested that I change my “predominant theme” to my “main theme”, and that things do not “appear to be” ~ they “seem to be”, and that if I “felt left behind”, in actuality, I just “felt left”.

I’m sorry, but what does FEELING LEFT actually feel like?!

“Quite the opposite” doesn’t really need the word “quite”.
“Currently” should be replaced with “now”.

Also, saying “my own apartment” is wrong, and should just be “my apartment”. Although, I expressly wanted to emphasize the ownership of one’s OWN space.
As opposed to “my house” ~ which is shared with one adult male, three children, and two cats.

Fortunately, the currently version of WordPress has relented on some of these issues, and we are no longer at war with each other.

It is obvious, I have strong feelings about the role machines play in our lives. I do NOT believe that machines should dictate in what manner or style we communicate our thoughts, rather, they should continue to be tools we use to communicate, allowing us the freedom to make spelling mistakes, go off-topic, or switch from first to second person and back again.

I can’t change the fact that schools are embracing technology with eager arms, and that teachers are being supplanted and/or second-guessed by computers. I can, however, feel confident in my decision to home-school my younger two children.
While I do encourage Mia to play reading games on ABC Mouse.com, because it enables me to work on art-related stuff, the most productive times are spent together with a book in our laps, or playing rhyming games with a pencil and pad of notepaper.

When she and her little brother begin writing essays, I will read each and every one of them. I’ll even teach them a few big words to impress me. ;)

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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