All posts by Anne Curzan


Sad React

sad emoji

Over the past few years, students have kept me informed about how texting (and instagramming and facebooking and snapchatting and the like) is changing both written and spoken English. As I have written about before, I am not concerned that these kinds of electronically mediated communication (or “fingered speech,” as John McWhorter calls it) are ruining the language, either spoken or written. I am much more interested in the inventiveness of the usage in these new registers, from punctuation a…


The Lesson-Plan Challenge


“But what do you do when the material you’re teaching is just boring?” The question came about halfway through an informal workshop I was running on public speaking. We had been talking about the importance of passion in effective public speaking: If we aren’t passionate about what we’re talking about, how can we expect the audience to be engaged and perhaps even excited?

For TED talks, presenters are asked to focus on one idea worth spreading. Implicit in that catchphrase is the idea that we…


Not Everyone Calls It That?

ReynoldsWrap“Did you just use Reynolds Wrap as a generic?” my friend asked with surprise.

Like many American English speakers, I call facial tissues Kleenex, cotton swabs Q-tips, photocopying Xeroxing, adhesive tape Scotch tape, adhesive bandages Band-Aids, adhesive notes Post-Its, and searching the internet Googling. These terms are all still protected trademarks, but that hasn’t stopped American English speakers from using them generically in speech and unpublished writing.

This process of brand names com…


When Will We Talk About the Syllabus?


ith August almost halfway over, my mind has turned to the first day of class. When I first started teaching college-level classes, the first day seemed so straightforward it hardly required prep. As long as I had the syllabus finished, my lesson plan seemed to write itself: (a) introduce myself, (b) hand out and review the syllabus carefully, and (c) do some kind of icebreaker to learn students’ names. Almost 25 years and many, many first class days later, I have abandoned the low-prep, aut…


Why I Don’t Ask Students to Write the Thesis Statement First

thinkingwriting4cae69b8a905185b40745c6103a82381_400x400 In the well-intentioned effort to help college writers find strong theses, we as instructors can put the cart before the horse. Let me explain. I was reminded of this problem a couple of weeks ago when I was reviewing an assignment sequence for a first-year writing course. The instructor had built in a lot of valuable process, where students would have the opportunity to get feedback on their ideas for the essay and then read drafts of each other’s essays in small workshop groups before turning…


Susurrating in Your Ear


Susurrating pines

My niece looked up from her book. “What does susurrate mean?” she asked. The other adults on the beach looked at me, because that’s what happens if you are an English professor. “Spelled how?” I responded, buying time and thinking perhaps something about the word would become familiar. “S-u-s-u-r-r-a-t-e.” The spelling did not help at all. “I don’t know that word,” I concluded. Her mom ventured, “Whisper?”

Bingo. One of our friends had pulled out a phone and looked it up. While…


Apostrophes That Make You Go Hmmm

Apostrophe-Post-Cropped-2Among the conundrums that apostrophes pose, one of the more perplexing is what to do with proper nouns that end in -s. Is it Chris’s mistake or Chris’ mistake? Does it matter for the spelling whether you pronounce that possessive ending on Chris with an extra syllable? Do aesthetics play any role?

Style guides do not all agree. Some favor consistent use of -’s for all nouns. Some guides espouse consistency but with exceptions: For example Strunk and White’s Elements of Style makes an exception f…


The Speech Act of Hoping


Last week millions of us were glued to our televisions or computer screens as James Comey, the recently ousted FBI director, was testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee about a conversation in the Oval Office with President Trump. Sen. James E. Risch, Republican of Idaho, was asking him questions about the meaning of Trump’s reported utterance: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

“OMG,” I texted a lin…


Engaging Students Through Tests


I took a lot of “blue book” exams when I was in college — and I was good at them. In case you’re not familiar with the “blue book,” it is a thin booklet filled with lined paper, typically available for purchase at the university bookstore, which students use to complete essay exams. Sometimes I wrote very targeted answers to the essay questions, but I also knew and occasionally used the strategy of writing everything I knew that was even tangentially related to the topic and hoping …


The New ‘Ding’

dinged car

Is this car dinged? It can depend on your dictionary.

In 2013 I wrote a post here on Lingua Franca titled “Dinging for ‘Grammatical Errors,’” and while I put a lot of thought into the argument, I didn’t put a lot of thought into the use of the verb ding. For me, it was a familiar way to describe the act of docking points or reducing the overall score of something.

It never occurred to me to look up the verb ding in a standard dictionary — and if I had, I wonder if I would have kept the word in…