Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Some of you may have seen Mary Kolesnikova's recent Los Angeles Times article entitled "Language that makes you say OMG." There, Kolesnikova tells of a Pew Research Center study that polled 12- to 17-year-olds and found that almost 40% admitted to letting "chat-speak" slip into their essays and homework. And a full 25% of them used "emoticons" in thier writings. As a teacher, and in response to this trend, Kolesnikov proposes a new chat term to accompany the already wel-known and overused OMG (oh my god), LOL (laughing out loud), BRB (be right back), and TTYL (talk to you later). Here's Kolesnikov's recommendation:

KMN: "Kill me now."

I am happy to report that I have yet to see an emoticon or one of those annoying acronyms in students' papers as yet. But I most definitely have seen the influence of chat-speak and instant-messaging in students' writing. In particular, I've noticed that they are less conscientious about the difference between formal and informal writing. I find that many of my students tend to write very "conversationally"-- much like the (very informal) writing on this blog-- and often don't check themselves on the use of slang. This past academic year, though, I saw a sharp increase in the use of one specific device of "conversational" language: the rhetorical question. Of course, there is a certain kind of rheotrical flair that comes along with rhetorical questions (which is why, not unsurprisingly, they are so effective in rhetoric!), but I am increasingly concerned by the tendency of students to ask rhetorical questions in lieu of making actual claims. Is this the proper way to write papers?

My initial strategy this past year was to write (over and over and over again) in the margins of papers: "Don't ask questions. Make claims." That proved to be a rather unsuccessful counter-offensive. So, later in the year, I responded to rhetorical questions in essays like "how could Kierkegaard claim that faith is accomplished on the basis of the absurd?" with comments like "I don't know. I'll play your silly game. How could Kierkegaard claim that?" Also unsuccessful.

Before resorting to Kolesnikov's very appropriate acronym (KMN), I've got one last strategy that I want to try. Next year, I plan to write in the margins of essays: "Is this a rhetorical question?" My fear, of course, is that nobody will get the joke.


1 comment:

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I think rhetorical comment overuse precedes bloggery; this along with "since the dawn of humankind people have wondered about Plato's Theory of the Forms" are two stylistic habits I can't get my students to kick. I definitely agree about colloquialism being on the rise. If only this meant that students had also stopped consulting their thesauruses in order to come up with "smarter" diction for them to misuse when a plain word would have worked fine...