Archive | June, 2012


26 Jun

The other day, Evan was trying to explain to me that he wasn’t very cool.  I, being the loving fiancée that I am, tried to convince him otherwise.  The following is the actual conversation that occurred:

Evan: I’m just … really not very cool.

Riane: Yes you are! You … well … um … you know a lot of facts about the presidents!

Yep.  The one point I could think of to counter his concern that he wasn’t cool was to remind him that at his coolest point possible, he was a guy who knew lots of facts about presidents.  And it’s true.  He does.  The man has more opinions about James K. Polk and William Henry Harrison than anyone our age should (to be clear, according to a recent poll by Seventeen Magazine, the president that is currently “in vogue” for 20-somethings is James Buchanan; they conveniently included a fold-out poster of Buchanan wearing a hilarious t-shirt that read, “I went to Mt. Rushmore and all I got was the gout, and then I died from it!”)

My point is that my support (“You know lots of facts about presidents!”) for my argument (“You’re actually pretty cool!”) was poor.

This post is dedicated to the dozens of students I tutored in the Writing Center this year who were confused about what did and did not constitute support for an argument.  This is a less focused topic than some of our more nuanced discussions (Oxford commas, subjunctives, etc.), but I want to use it as a foundation for the next post, which will focus more specifically on quotation marks.

So, patrons of the Writing Center, here is what I wish you knew:

1. If you take something word-for-word from somewhere else–be that a book, article, magazine, etc.–you must put it in quotation marks.  I learned this the hard way in one of my recent dreams when I turned in a copy of East of Eden as my thesis on Steinbeck, thinking it would suffice.  The professor in my dream chastised me, pointing out that I “should have cited this!”

As I just demonstrated, direct quotes from dreams should also be placed within quotation marks.  For example, if I ever wanted to write a letter friend-dumping my dear friend Lauren, I would probably include as support the fact that in a dream I had the other night, she told me that the if I “looked in the newspapers from the past” I would “probably find a lot of bad stuff about me, like that I used to kill bunnies and bite dog’s ears.”  And even though I was friend-dumping her (which I have no intention of doing, despite the ear-biting thing), I think she would really appreciate that I credited my sources.

I think this is the real reason people are so upset when they get left at the altar.

“He said he was calling the wedding off!” I’ve often heard a jilted bride sob.  “And even worse, he ended a sentence with a preposition!”

2.  This should go without saying, but you can’t make facts or quotations up.  I read MORE THAN ONE PAPER this year that claimed that coming to the U.S. for college was a good idea because getting a degree from a U.S. school guaranteed a job.  In one of the papers where I read this, I suggested that this seemed to be counter-intuitive to everything going on in the economy and news, but at the very least, if the writer could find some article or reference that supported this, then she could make that claim.

She came back to the Writing Center with the same sentence.  She had added no citation or source, but instead, opened the sentence with, “According to the news ….”

I’m going to use her paper as the basis for a book I’m thinking about writing.  I’m going to call it: “The Economy is Great and Nobody Blames All of Their Problems On It: Life in a World Where Nothing Gives You Cancer, John Carter Was a Totally Successful Gamble, The Big Bang Theory Doesn’t Riff on the Same ‘Nerd’ Joke Over and Over Ad Nauseum, People Use the Word ‘Literally’ Correctly and In Moderation, and Where Mitt Romney is Definitely Not a Robot, With a Forward by Osama bin Laden, a guy who is still alive and who is totally pulling off a man tank-top.”

3. Everything you say that isn’t common knowledge MUST HAVE A SOURCE.  If you got the information somewhere, you need to credit that.  It’s usually easy to remember this when you’re directly quoting something — when you’re taking a phrase or sentence or paragraph word for word.  But you also need to do this when you just pull a statistic or a fact; you also need to do it when, say, for example, it’s something you learned in class (on some Power Point somewhere).  You may remember what the professor said, and so you may be tempted to throw it in your paper like it’s your own knowledge.  But the reader needs to know where you got that information, so he can judge if you’re credible–and if your information is credible.

So either go back into that PowerPoint and find your professor’s source, or find an alternative source that lends you support.  You don’t need sources if you’re telling a personal story, or if you’re discussing things that are common knowledge–that the sky is blue, for example, or that the Miami Heat don’t cry all the time because they’re a bunch of selfish, entitled babies, but rather, because they watch the first ten minutes of Up before every game.

When we talk about quotations, we’ll get more into the specifics about HOW to do these things.

For now, there you have it.  The bare bones basics of supportive facts.  This week, practice.  Try being as supportive as an under-wire bra who thinks you’re totally too good for that guy and you should just take some time to DO YOU, and honestly, who really thinks you’re going to make it as an artist, because she has never seen someone do horses in watercolor like THAT before.


8 Jun

Stop the presses!

I’m sure the rest of you are still buzzing about the recent news from the AP, some of you because the word hopefully is now acceptable as a sentence modifier, and some of you because you are bees.

Wait, what?  That wasn’t at the top of your news feeds?  You don’t keep a scrapbook of grammar-related news (titled “Good Times, Off-Rhymes”)?  You haven’t been furiously tweeting things like, “Hopefully now acceptable? #sodumb #smh #lmao #byob #rsvp ” and “HOPEFULLY i dont punch sum1 at the apa in da face” and “Hey mercifully you’re a great sentence modifier and i’mma let you finish but hopefully had one of the best music videos of all time #thatfellapartattheend”?

Apparently I need to back up.

Hey, did you know that until recently, hopefully was not acceptable as a sentence modifier?  But now it is!

What was the big stink about “hopefully”?  The basic problem was that it was a modifier that didn’t really modify anything.  Let’s look at how this word is used in everyday speech, and then you might see why people have made such a big stink about it:

Hopefully, the show on Saturday will be great.

What is hopefully modifying (or describing) in this sentence?  Is the show itself hopeful?  Is it the sentence’s speaker who is hopeful?  Is it the patrons of the show who are hopeful?  It’s completely unclear.

Hopefully, he will leave soon.

The same issues arise here.  This sentence would (according to the old rules) only be correct if the author meant to indicate that he would be leaving in a hopeful manner.  However, the way that this construction is often used, it could also mean that the speaker hopes he will leave soon or that someone else hopes that he will leave soon.

The AP initially suggested that hopefully be replaced with “it is to be hoped.”  Oh boy, AP.  There’s no way you’re going to get anyone on your side.  That’s like saying, “Hey, teenagers.  We don’t think you should drink alcohol until you’re 21.  But how about as a fun alternative, you churn this milk into butter and then wait for it to melt back into milk, and then drink that?”  That’s like abstinence-only Sex Education saying, “Hey teenagers, the best way to not get pregnant is to abstain.  But instead, why don’t you do crossword puzzles together through can-and-string telephones?  It’s almost the same thing!”

So people kept saying hopefully, and the AP finally made the big announcement that they were succumbing to the tide of American usage like a bunch of weaklings.  Hopefully is now allowed as a vague sentence modifier.

Of course, the AP could also have made an announcement that said, “Did you know that you weren’t allowed to say hopefully?  Oh, you didn’t?  Well, as you were.”

Overall, it’s a good thing the AP made that choice, because it’s always good to let the American Public dictate what is and is not correct.  After all, we are the people who gave Tyra Banks two different television shows.  We are the people who accept that children can be named things like Moxie Crimefighter and Fifi Trixiebell (both, God help me, real names).  We let Kate Gosselin on TV with HER HAIR LIKE THAT and no one even responded to my posts on message boards about a possible lynching.

Yes, AP, you should bend to our whims.  Because if there’s anything that a Croc-wearing, soul patch-sporting, deep-fried butter eating group of people has earned, it’s influence.


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