Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: For the LOVE of the Language

Elane with FrappuccinoAs many writers know, we have to get a “real job” in order to keep those Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos ® coming because those things ain’t cheap, and my thighs aren’t going to get fatter all by themselves. Wait a minute. That’s clearly not true. The longer I sit here doing jack, the more thunderous my thighs become. But I digress.

 

A real job. That’s where I was. There are many careers for which a writer would be a good fit, but just because we would be good at something doesn’t mean we should do it. Sure. I’d be the most celebrated WalMart manager south of Canada, but then I’d have to come home and self-flagellate at night to atone for the murder of my brain cells. So most writers without a multi-volume book deal about zombies coming of age during the apocalypse do that thing we do, which is teach.

 

I’ve many, many years of teaching under my tight belt, and there have been thrills and laughter and heart-warmth and breakthroughs and achievements and success and enormous paychecks that compensated me well for the services I’ve provided. Except for that last part. That’s bullshit. Anyone who teaches knows. Teachers—even those with an M.F.A. in creative writing—get paid squat to impart our wordsmith’s knowledge to hordes of students who may or may not capitalize the personal pronoun I. Yet we continue because A) We love our language and its beauty. B) We care about the success of our students. And C) Those Frappuccinos ain’t going to buy themselves.

 

The English language—while it is the most difficult of all the languages in the world to learn because of its plethora of rules and exceptions and integration of foreign words—thrills me with its lyrical malleability. My father and I played games with grammar all my young life so that I came to appreciate the ways in which a writer may play with the poetry of English. And my own children have blossomed in the linguistic soil their grandfather tilled. My younger daughter delights in learning and sharing new words. She recently dropped this one on me: Apricity. The word sounds lovely, and its meaning slays me. It is a perfect example of how the English language proffers just the right word for any instance. In this case, “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Isn’t that just breathtaking?

 

I rushed to the window that morning—the first of which in weeks the sun had finally burned through the snow-thick clouds—to luxuriate in the apricity.

 

Yes, yes. I know it’s an obsolete word and that we’ve moved on to such accepted terms as homie and vajazzle, for God’s sake, but still. Our language is a living entity, forever evolving (or devolving, it appears). But thank goodness our language throws back some of the “new” words that end up in its net, such as the words some of my students create because they learn primarily through hearing instead of reading. The most common, of course, is should of. Because those two words sound just like should’ve, it’s an oft-made error that makes me want to poke out my eyes with dull sticks. In the last week of grading papers, I’ve come across mind bottling and world wind romance. Lord, help me, but what the hell?

 

Aberrations like these are an affront to writers-who-must-be-teachers-in-order-to-eat everywhere! We poor, struggling souls toil like cats in a sandbox in our attempts to improve the writing skills of our charges. But c’mon! There is no excuse for college students NOT to capitalize I or to think that pit bulls have a “killer instant in them” or that “taking something for granite” means anything! The least that our students can do is to read, read, read excellent models of our language so that they can experience and emulate the right way to write (not the “rite way to wright”). And bringing us a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino once in a while couldn’t hurt either.

Elane Johnson

Elane Johnson’s nonfiction has been anthologized, featured in college creative writing curricula across the United States and internationally, and published in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Hippocampus, Superstition Review, Sonora Review, The Indianapolis Star, Indystar.com, and The East County Gazette among other publications. Her award-winning fiction has been published in Current and The Gnu and is forthcoming in Penny Fiction’s flash fiction anthology. Elane holds an MFA (with distinction) in Creative Nonfiction and teaches graduate-level creative writing for Southern New Hampshire University. She is married to the writer, Stephen Ulrich. Elane is represented by Veronica Park of Corvisiero Literary Agency, corvisieroagency.com. Visit her website, Life in the eLane or follow on Twitter and on Facebook.

8 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: For the LOVE of the Language

  • July 13, 2013 at 4:26 pm
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    How I love this article!

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    • July 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm
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      Amanda-
      Thank you! It is because you ROCK in English that you love this article!

      Reply
  • July 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm
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    This is another great blog post by you, Elane. Of course, I have yet to read anything bad written by you. I must say that having an English professor and a writer as a best friend is a great perk for me. I have a built in proof-reader by my side anytime I need one. Perks are the best!

    Now, for the post – The blame for this lack of proper usage of grammar has a few culprits but most of today’s generation is all about taking shortcuts. Thus, you get the shortcuts for texting and I have proof-read a few of my fellow classmates’ college papers and just wanted to die when I saw them use texting slang in their papers. The hell with not capitalizing “I”, they used 2 for to and prbly for probably. How long would it have taken to spell it out correctly!?!? Made me sick to my stomach. They take it granite…I mean granted that the reader will understand what it is they are trying write. These people scare me…

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    • July 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm
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      Hahahahaha! Ohhhhh, you nut! You crack me up! But you are right about the shortcuts. Everything has to be rightnowrightthissecond, so it’s no wonder that texting language has become popular. What kills me is that many folks don’t understand why it isn’t okay to use texting vernacular in an academic paper. Sigh.

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  • February 21, 2014 at 2:33 am
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    The collegiality in the Division of Applied Behavioral Sciences, the commitment of the faculty to excel in teaching and the support that others offer Elane in building and expanding our counseling programs are extremely rewarding aspects of her work. Very interesting post .keep posting.

    Reply

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