Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Funnies: Mark Twain

Is it Friday again already? I Googled "Twain on writing" and found all manner of delights, including a book I now want to own:

Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing.

I also found a whole alphabetized website that is a great little adventure for an afternoon: .

I thought to look up "British" and found a page on "Englishmen":

Wherever they can stick a name so that it shall glorify anything pertaining to England, there they stick it. You never hear of an Englishman speak of the Hawaiian Islands--no, he calls them the Sandwich Islands; Cook discovered them second-hand, by following a Spanish chart three hundred years old, which is still in the British Museum, and named them for some one-horse Earl of Sandwich, that nobody had heard of before, and hasn't since--a man that probably never achieved any work that was really gorgeous during his earthly mission, excepting his invention for confining a slice of ham between two slices of bread in such a manner as to enable even the least gifted of our race to eat bread and meat at the same time, without being bewildered by too elaborate a conjunction of ideas.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Funnies: My Own Students' Bloopers!

I have always meant to keep a collection of student funnies from their papers but have made only the tiniest beginning. Today I share the first file:

One student, in a report on knitting, referred to a “copulation of scarves” and a delightful “verity of scarf patterns.” (2007)

Another student warned, "Many corporal people try to cheat their way to the top of the corporal ladders." (Essay on Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale,” 2007)

It's kind of fun when an error makes a whole new sentence concept: "Make sure it leaves and impact." (2008)

Finally, an opinion on true expertise: "The idea of different traits in life, is that a handful of individuals are epically good at them." ( 2008)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Friday Funnies on Monday: "When Life Reeked With Joy" Final Installment

From "When Life Reeked With Joy"

World War I broke out around 1912-1914. Germany was on one side of
France and Russia was on the other. At war people get killed, and then
they aren't people any more, but friends. Peace was proclaimed at Ver-
sigh, which was attended by George Loid, Primal Minister of England.
President Wilson arrived with 14 pointers. In 1937 Lenin revolted Rus-
sia. Communism raged among the peasants, and the civil war "team
colours" were red and white.
Germany was displaced after WWI. This gave rise to Hitler. Ger-
many was morbidly overexcited and unbalanced. Berlin became the
decadent capital, where all forms of sexual deprivations were practised.
A huge anti-semantic movement arose. Attractive slogans like "death to
all Jews" were used by government groups. Hitler remilitarized the
Rineland over a squirmish between Germany and France.
The appeasers were blinded by the great red of the Soviets.
Moosealini rested his foundations on 8 million bayonets and invaded Hi
Lee Salasy. Germany invaded Poland, France invaded Belgium, and Russia
invaded everybody. War screeched to an end when a nukuleer explosion
was dropped on Heroshima. A whole generation had been wipe out in two
world wars, and their forlorne families were left to pick up the peaces.
According to Fromm, individuation began historically in medieval
times. This was a period of small childhood. There is increasing
experience as adolescence experiences its life development. The last
stage is us.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Funnies: "When Life Reeked With Joy" Part Four

From "When Life Reeked With Joy"

History, a record of things left behind by past generations,

started in 1815. Throughout the comparatively radical years 1815-1870

the western European continent was undergoing a Rampant period of

economic modification. Industrialization was precipitating in England.

Problems were so complexicated that in Paris, out of a city popula-

tion of 1 million people, 2 million able bodies were on the loose.

Great Brittian, the USA and other European countrys had demicratic

leanings. The middle class was tired and needed a rest. The old order

could see the lid holding down new ideas beginning to shake. Among the

goals of the chartists were universal suferage and anal parliment. Vot-

ing was to be done by ballad.

A new time zone of national unification roared over the horizon.

Founder of the new Italy was Cavour, an intelligent Sardine from the

north. Nationalism aided Itally because nationalism is the growth of an

army. We can see that nationalism succeeded for Itally because of

France's big army. Napoleam III-IV mounted the French thrown. One

thinks of Napoleon III as a live extension of the late but great,

Napoleon. Here too was the new Germany: loud, bold, vulgar and full of


Culture fomented from Europe's tip to its top. Richard Strauss,

who was violent but methodical like his wife made him, plunged into

vicious and perverse plays. Dramatized were adventures in seduction and

abortion. Music reeked with reality. Wagner was master of music, and

people did not forget his contribution. When he died they labeled his

seat "historical." Other countries had their own artists. France had


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cutting and Combining With Pilgrim's Progress

One student's work today offers opportunity to discuss the value of sentence combining and other means of tightening up prose. "Sentence combining" was a big deal in pedagogy among college writing lab instructors in the mid-80's, and even though it was something of a fad at the time, it addresses a problem exemplified in this passage from K.B.'s intro:

John Bunyan, born in 1628 and died in 1688, was a cobbler
who wrote a famous work entitled The Pilgrim's Progress from this
World to that which is to Come. This was also known as Pilgrim's
Progress. Pilgrim's Progress was written in 1678 as an allegory of a
Christian's journey throughout life. Pilgrim's Progress tells of how
a Christian or a pilgrim should act along the his/her journey. The
story centralizes on the protagonist, Christian, and his many
adventures/misadventures on his journey to reach the Celestial City.
(87 words)

It is immediately obvious that the title of the work should NOT appear four times in four lines, isn't it? That repetition is a great signal that it's time to combine sentences. A similar overlapping of sentences, in which a statement is made in one sentence, then in the next part of the original sentence is restated and a bit more added, is another marker for sentence combining. I often challenge students to reduce an overblown passage by a particular percentage or word count. In this case I can set a goal of reducing it by a third.

Why don't you give it a try yourself before looking at mine? Hint: copy/paste the original into another file and then work down from that.

John Bunyan, a cobbler who lived from 1628 to 1688, wrote the famous work we know by just the first part of its original title: The Pilgrim's Progress from this World to that which is to Come. This 1678 allegory tells how the protagonist, Christian, has many adventures and misadventures on his journey to reach the Celestial City.
(58 words--my first attempt was 69)

K. has another passage near the end that needs help, too:

All is not as it appears is another lesson found in the
Pilgrim's Progress. False appearances are shown well in two manners:
first with the place of Demas' silver mine and second with the
burden on Christian's back. Demas' silver mine is found right to the
side of the pilgrim's path and advertises vast wealth. The foolish
or feebleminded pilgrims who go on this path would soon find
themselves lost in the mine and would eventually fall to their
deaths. Another unseen object is the great burden on Christian's
back. The burden is quite large and nearly crushes Christian. However, to everyone else there is no burden. However, there clearly
still is a burden, as shown by his excessive weariness. Both
examples are the same because both are not what they appear.
(132 words)

When is repetition helpful? When it does what we see in italics in the first two sentences above. K. uses the slogan "All is not as it appears" (and should have it in quotation marks) and then recasts the phrase as "false appearances" to more fully explain its meaning. This is a good technique.

But look at the repetition of "Demas's silver mine" in the topic sentence identifying the mine and the burden as two "false appearances" and then in the next sentence starting in to explain the first. We really don't need that phrase repeated, though a proper reference that tells us more would be helpful: "the mine that..." or "a promising source of great wealth." The note about the path is repeated, too.

Next, we have several mentions of burden in a few short lines. This is a great opportunity to rename the thing in a way that enhances the reader's understanding, like "the great load of sins Christian carries on his back." When he says that to others "there is no burden," we need a better explanation--is it just unseen, or is it not counted a burden in their minds, or what? A simple pronoun, "it," can take the place of one of these, too!

Finally, the use of "however" is usually very helpful in guiding the reader to consider something different from what has just been said. But a SECOND use of the term turns us around again--back to the first thing or to yet another path? It is not clear. And at the very last, the original final sentence can be eliminated altogether, especially in a now-shorter paragraph.

Here's a new stab at that paragraph--how is yours?

"All is not as it appears" is another lesson found in
Pilgrim's Progress. False appearances are shown both in the place of
Demas's silver mine and with the burden on Christian's back.
The mine is just to the side of the pilgrims' path and advertises vast wealth. But the foolish or feebleminded pilgrims who turn aside will soon find
themselves lost in the mine and eventually fall to their deaths.
The great burden on Christian's back nearly crushes him and
brings great weariness, but no one else sees it.
(89 words)