Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


A student weighs in on Palin

One of my students asked me this morning if I had heard the junkyard of syntax Sarah Palin had delivered at Trump’s event in Iowa. I told him that, yes, unfortunately, I had heard it.

This student wondered how this could happen. Shouldn’t the college teach him how he could become Palin? Instead, the college found it necessary for him to learn the details of grammar and the nuances of English prose, this when a woman of Palin’s stature was allowed to vomit a rat nest of phrases and neologisms, and to do it on television, broadcast it around the world, utterly unaware of her ignorance.

Well, I said, he was also “allowed” to babble whatever came to his head in public, if he wanted. No one would stop him, just as no one had stopped Palin. Did he really want that?

That’s not the point, the student continued. The point is that Palin was less articulate than the sounds of a tin can  blowing down the sidewalk, and had fewer points than a cluster of fishhooks in some drunk’s tackle box, yet it did not interfere with her ability to have a career or cost her any money. In fact, she probably made money by going on stage and unloading her crap. She probably sold some books. She probably got more followers on Twitter.

Sure, I said. That’s what happened. That’s the world we live in.

If the student did this, he complained, he’d be punished with low grades and might not pass his classes. He’d never achieve his dream of becoming an accountant. He could see no route to Palin’s stature that did not also require him to correct his thought process and language skills.

Yes, I said. That’s true.

The student wanted to know what somebody was going to do about it.

I don’t know, I said. It seems everyone’s perfectly well entertained, at least for the moment.

“We have bigger problems than anyone’s talking about,” he said. “This isn’t a joke.”

I agreed with him, a young man of nineteen, born to recent migrants, paying his way through community college by making deliveries, working over 20 hours each week while taking on a full load of classes.


Photo from Wikipedia


Lies you’ve learned about grammar

There are two moments I must brace myself to deal with each semester: leading reading discussions and teaching sentence grammar. The former barely exist because no one reads anymore. The grammar lessons keep getting more absurd each year.

I hear it from a handful of students every semester. I’ll ask, “Now why do we have a comma here?”  The reason you have a comma there is because you have to take a little breath. Or a pause. Or a break. Or a moment to reflect.

Oh, let me fart, okay. (Did you inhale? Twice?)

There isn’t a teacher in the world who believes this is true. (Right?) And yet the average student claims it. They’ll talk this nonsense even though they notice no serious change to their breathing patterns when they come across texts loaded with commas.

Let’s accept it for a moment. Comma equals breath. Ok, (breathe) fine. What should we do when we face a full-stop? Inhale the atmosphere? Have a coronary?

What about a semi-colon? If I see a semi-colon, should I—what?—experience a twitch in my eyelid? Should I take a break from reading to go take a crap? It’s a weird symbol, I’ve heard; some people say it’s meaningless. So let’s chant OM or MU anytime we see a semi-colon.

This “breathing philosophy” begs further questions. What should I do when I see an exclamation point? Here it is! You just had an erection. (Women have imagined boners.)

If I need to take a breath when I face a comma, must I drop dead when I come to the end of a text? Is that why no one finishes books anymore?

You want to breathe? Read this: Give me that, dope.

I want something worth inhaling. Give me that dope.