How do "today's students" write, really?

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There was a cute "Things Kids Write" piece in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago (James Courter, "Teaching Taco Bell's Canon", 7/9/2012), with the subhead "Today's students don't read. As a result, they have sometimes hilarious notions of how the written language represents what they hear."

Is it true that college students today are unprepared and unmotivated? That generalization does injustice to the numerous bright exceptions I saw in my 25 years of teaching composition to university freshmen. But in other cases the characterization is all too accurate.

One big problem is that so few students are readers. As an unfortunate result, they have erroneous, and sometimes hilarious, notions of how the written language represents what they hear. What emerged in their papers and emails was a sort of literary subgenre that I've come to think of as stream of unconsciousness.

There was the expected flurry of "o tempora o mores" comments:

Maybe e-readers will bring us a hope of saving literacy. Something needs to!

Today kids don't have a clue – and not only for spoken grammar.

Folks, life isn't fair and the dumbing-down of society hasn't helped matters. It all starts at the school house and after graduation in high school, when some of these students expect that life is free, everybody owes them and "equality" infers that success is bad.

Sadly, I found many similar examples in notes some of my children's teachers sent home with them. I finally started correcting the notes for malapropisms, spelling and grammar and sending them back to the teachers.

Since the schools have decided to discontinue the teaching of spelling, punctuation and grammar, this sad situation will probably only get worse.

As you'd expect, many of the cited examples are already in the Eggcorn Database. Among those that aren't, some seem more like attempted puns than plausible errors:

A female student, in describing an argument over her roommate's smelling up their room with cheap perfume, referred to getting in her "two scents' worth."

Some of the plausible additions were nice ones:

After several weeks at school, one coed returned to her childhood house only to find life there "homedrum."

But it's not clear how much of this stuff is specific to students in the present time, or indeed to the present time at all.

Errrors of this general kind include misspellings that suggest a sporadic lexical re-analysis, for which Geoff Pullum has coined the term "eggcorns", as well as the contextually absurd substitutions of words with similar sound and form, which are traditionally called "malapropisms". Under whatever name, such mistakes have been noted and mocked  for decades and even centuries. Thus in 1920,  "A desk-book of errors in English, including notes on colloquialisms and slang to be avoided in conversation" warns us against things like

and

and

Going back a bit further, Artemus Ward (supposedly Abraham Lincoln's favorite author) made a career our of mocking such errors in the 1860s, as in this little riff on "spear" for "sphere":

On the cars was a he-lookin female, with a green-cotton umbreller in one hand and a handful of Reform tracks in the other. She sed every woman should have a Spear. Them as didn't demand their Spears, didn't know what was good for them. "What is my Spear?" she axed, addressing the people in the cars. "Is it to stay at home & darn stockins & be the ser-LAVE of a domineerin man? Or is it my Spear to vote & speak & show myself the ekal of a man? Is there a sister in these keers that has her proper Spear?" Sayin which the eccentric female whirled her umbreller round several times, & finally jabbed me in the weskit with it.

"I hav no objecshuns to your goin into the Spear bizness," sez I, "but you'll please remember I ain't a pickeril. Don't Spear me agin, if you please." She sot down.

Or this re-analyzed mention of the biblical "mess of pottage":

Feller Sitterzens, the Union's in danger. The black devil Disunion is trooly here, starein us all squarely in the face! We must drive him back. Shall we make a 2nd Mexico of ourselves? Shall we sell our birthrite for a mess of potash? Shall one brother put the knife to the throat of anuther brother? Shall we mix our whisky with each other's blud? Shall the star spangled Banner be cut up into dishcloths? Standin here in this here Skoolhouse, upon my nativ shor so to speak, I anser—Nary!

Going back another century, there's the eponymous Mrs. Malaprop,

MRS. MALAPROP: There, Sir Anthony, there sits the deliberate Simpleton, who wants to disgrace her family, and lavish herself on a fellow not worth a shilling!
LYDIA: Madam, I thought you once–
MRS. MALAPROP: You thought, Miss! — I don't know any business you have to think at all — thought does not become a young woman; the point we would request of you is, that you will promise to forget this fellow — to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory. . . .

And a few decades earlier, there's Henry Fielding's Mrs. Slipslop:

Joseph, who did not understand a word she said, answered, "Yes, madam."—"Yes, madam!" replied Mrs. Slipslop with some warmth, "Do you intend to result my passion? Is it not enough, ungrateful as you are, to make no return to all the favours I have done you; but you must treat me with ironing? Barbarous monster! how have I deserved that my passion should be resulted and treated with ironing?" "Madam," answered Joseph, "I don't understand your hard words; but I am certain you have no occasion to call me ungrateful, for, so far from intending you any wrong, I have always loved you as well as if you had been my own mother." "How, sirrah!" says Mrs. Slipslop in a rage; "your own mother? Do you assinuate that I am old enough to be your mother?  I don't know what a stripling may think, but I believe a man would refer me to any green-sickness silly girl whatsomdever: but I ought to despise you rather than be angry with you, for referring the conversation of girls to that of a woman of sense."

Or another century back, the passage in The Merry Wives of Windsor where Shakespeare takes comedic advantage of the similarity of "direction" and "erection":

MISTRESS QUICKLY Marry, sir, I come to your worship from Mistress Ford.
FALSTAFF Mistress Ford! I have had ford enough; I was thrown into the ford; I have my belly full of ford. MISTRESS QUICKLY Alas the day! good heart, that was not her fault: she does so take on with her men; they mistook their erection.
FALSTAFF So did I mine, to build upon a foolish woman's promise.
MISTRESS QUICKLY Well, she laments, sir, for it, that it would yearn your heart to see it. Her husband goes this morning a-birding; she desires you once more to come to her between eight and nine: I must carry her word quickly: she'll make you amends, I warrant you.

And indeed such "distortions and malapropisms" were a characteristic feature of the Dottore character in the Commedia dell'Arte:

The Dottore spoke Bolognese, a dialect which Italians from elsewhere tend to find amusing in its own right. To this accent he added streams of bad Latin (for the educated), or better still (for the uneducated, or for everybody) an endless flow of distortions and malapropisms which became a comic code in its own right, and was reputed in the mouths of the best performers to make audiences literally sick with laughter. A 'Gratianesque Dictionary' compiled in manuscript for the help of aspiring performers gives a list of the distortions to which certain words should always be subject, most of them untranslatable in any literal sense. Parer ('opinion') should become sparvier ('sparrow-hawk'); Capitano become Decapidan (a non-word from decapitare, 'to behead'); ordinar ('to arrange') becomes, naturally, orinar ('to urinate'); letto ('bed') becomes letame ('manure'); and we know from earlier written texts including Ruzante that the academic discipline Medicina was regularly twisted to Merdesina (based on merda, 'shit'), and Latino to variants of latrina.

And leaving fiction behind, the documented folk etymologies of historical linguistics suggest that things of this general kind have been happening since the beginnings of spoken language.  In modern times, some such shifts do reflect a lack of reading experience; but similar things happen among illiterate people, or even in languages with no writing system at all.

It's probably true in principle that literacy tends to slow the these processes down — though as far as know, there's no concrete evidence for that plausible hypothesis. But going forward, it would be nice to have some concrete idea of what kinds of people make what sorts of substitutions how often, and whether there's any effect of teaching methods, amount of reading, and so on. That's one of the many sorts of "open assessment" that you'd be able to do, if a large-scale corpus of student writing were available.

Update — In the comments, Rod Johnson writes:

I have to call bullshit on the WSJ writer. "Taco Bell's Canon" is a common joke, and I have trouble believing that any university student, no matter how naive, would see or intend that as anything but a joke. Similarly with "Doggy-dog world" and "taken for granite." I've taught writing for many years and seen many errors, but the sheer density of eggcorns and malapropisms this guy claims to have personally seen that come straight out of chain emails make me doubt his honesty. I don't doubt that someone, somewhere, sometime, has made such errors, but I don't believe they all happened in this one person's class.

It's very common in emails of this sort to claim that "this happened to *me*" or "in my town" or to a specific person, when in fact it's a lightly edited story that has been circulating for years in other guises. I haven't seen anyone succeed in getting such a confabulation printed in the WSJ before, though, so score one for the confabulators, I guess.

This could well be right — I had some similar thoughts. Again, if we had an open collection of genuine student writing, we could be confident that the examples are not borrowed or invented or both. And more important, we could have some idea of how often different sorts of students make these or other errors. My own prediction is that eggcorns and malapropisms certainly do occur, but at a rate of a few per million words, such that there might be (say) one in tens to  hundreds of submitted papers.

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59 Comments »

  1. Adam said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 9:36 am

    Well, I think "two scents' worth" is a clever pun.

  2. Barbara Nykiel-Herbert said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 10:10 am

    I've seen "fall by the waste side" as well as "fall by the waist side" more than once in my freshman comp students' papers. Strangely, when you think about these expressions long enough, they both begin to make some sense.

  3. Svafa said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 10:51 am

    One of our student workers this past semester had some trouble with spelling and eggcorns; it made for some enjoyable emails and internal notes. I don't know if a lack of reading had to do with it, but as the student was the child of one of our philosophy professors, it was a little… unsettling. Granted, the prof's other children don't seem to have the same issue, and this particular one improved noticeably over the semester.

    My favourite eggcorn from the student worker may have been "excisable" for "accessible". I don't think the requester wanted to remove the databases, but perhaps she had become so frustrated with attempting to connect to them that she had given up hope and just wanted some means to vent.

  4. Svafa said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:01 am

    I should correct, that's actually a malapropism and not an eggcorn. >.<
    So much for proof-reading.

    [(myl) But if you were thinking of "accessible" in the sense of being able to search online and retrieve a designated piece of a larger resource, you might consider that to be a kind of "excising" operation; and if you were denied permission to do this, you might say that the resource was not "excisable" for you. And in some varieties of English, "accessible" and "excisable" might sound almost identical.]

  5. Victoria Simmons said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:39 am

    I've had a number of these from students, and they can be pretty funny. Sometimes the spellchecker is responsible, or rather the student not verifying what the spellchecker has suggested before okaying it.

    It's also the case, though, that lists of comical student errors make the rounds by e-mail and the internet, and—as hilarious as student errors can be—many of them include, or consist entirely of, invented examples. I also have my doubts that all of the examples listed in the WSJ article are authentic, including 'Taco Bell' for 'Pachelbel.'

  6. Rod Johnson said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:39 am

    I have to call bullshit on the WSJ writer. "Taco Bell's Canon" is a common joke, and I have trouble believing that any university student, no matter how naive, would see or intend that as anything but a joke. Similarly with "Doggy-dog world" and "taken for granite." I've taught writing for many years and seen many errors, but the sheer density of eggcorns and malapropisms this guy claims to have personally seen that come straight out of chain emails make me doubt his honesty. I don't doubt that someone, somewhere, sometime, has made such errors, but I don't believe they all happened in this one person's class.

    It's very common in emails of this sort to claim that "this happened to *me*" or "in my town" or to a specific person, when in fact it's a lightly edited story that has been circulating for years in other guises. I haven't seen anyone succeed in getting such a confabulation printed in the WSJ before, though, so score one for the confabulators, I guess.

  7. Jonathon said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:39 am

    Anyone who thinks that today's kids don't know how to write needs to spend a little more time reading personal diaries or letters from 100+ years ago.

    And I wouldn't be surprised if kids are actually reading more today than they were 30 years ago. But I would guess that reading forum posts, status updates, and text messages don't really count for the "kids these days" complainers.

  8. Rod Johnson said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:41 am

    I find the WSJ article dubious at best. I've taught writing for many years and seen many errors, but the sheer density of eggcorns and malapropisms this guy claims to have personally seen that come straight out of chain emails make me doubt his honesty. "Taco Bell's Canon" is a common joke, and I have trouble believing that any university student, no matter how naive, would see or intend that as anything but a joke. Similarly with "Doggy-dog world" and "taken for granite." I don't doubt that someone, somewhere, sometime, has made such errors, but I don't believe they all happened in this one person's class.

    It's very common in chain emails of this sort to claim that "this happened to *me*" or "in my town" or to a specific person, when in fact it's a lightly edited story that has been circulating for years in other guises. I haven't seen anyone succeed in getting such a confabulation printed in the WSJ before, though, so score one for the confabulators, I guess.

  9. Jonathon said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:41 am

    Whoops. Make that "doesn't" in the last sentence. I'm going to blame that one on McKean's Law or some corollary thereof.

  10. Victoria Simmons said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    @Rod Johnson– Yes, absolutely. You sound like a folklorist.

  11. QET said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 11:45 am

    In response to the original article commenter who claimed that "it all starts at the schoolhouse," I would counter that it all starts in the home, as those who say the deficient writing is a result of too little reading are absolutely write.

  12. Victoria Simmons said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

    What is it called when a writer is misled by alternate definitions of the same word, and heads down a metaphorically inappropriate path? A crawl on CNN tells right now says that "Feds scour databases in wake of shootings." I didn't find the story on CNN itself, but it has been shared by a number of affiliates:

    http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/31294607/detail.html

    Okay, fine, even though my immediate reaction was "Why would the feds want to erase databases while investigating this case?", I know that 'scour' also means to search over carefully. Unfortunately, the writer of the story seems to have followed the other definition, because later in the story she refers to the feds scrubbing their databases.

    In a case where conspiracy-mongers are already suggesting government involvement, this is an unfortunate mistake for a journalist to make. Or is there some search-over-carefully meaning of 'scrub' that I'm not aware of?

  13. Svafa said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    Trust myl to come up with a means to make an eggcorn where I had failed. :P
    I even spent a few minutes trying to figure a way that it might be construed as one after realizing my mistake.

    As for sounding alike, I do think he was construing "excisable" and "accessible" as homophones, rather than it being a spell-checking mistake. My main point of evidence for this is that the same email includes the spelling "tickit" for "ticket" and I'd imagine any decent spellchecker would catch that error, while "excisable" is flagged by my browser's built-in spellchecker as incorrect.

  14. GeorgeW said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    Some of the WSJ comments to the article are interesting. An example:
    "English is not a phonetic language. No wonder such pearls often grace the desks of its teachers."

  15. YM said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    Archie Bunker was born in the 1920s. He was one of the kids the "desk-book of errors in English" was intended to reform.

  16. Fiona Hanington said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    @Victoria Simmons — The reference to database "scrubbing" in the article you mention must indeed be a mistake. Database scrubbing is a real thing, but it has to do with correcting data, not looking for data. You make a very interesting suggestion that this error may be related to the (perfectly fine) use of the term "scour" in the headline.

  17. Ray Girvan said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    @Rod Johnson: I have to call bullshit … the sheer density of eggcorns and malapropisms this guy claims to have personally

    Agreed. A while back there was a similar scare in the UK press about eggcorn-type errors in medical reports transcribed by overseas agencies (e.g. ""flea bite his left leg" for "phlebitis left leg"). A quick Google found that the ones cited had generally been floating around on the medical humour circuit for years.

  18. Cy said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    I'd love to have a lazy linguist's "literacy bomb" – just set it off, and nobody can read anymore. Then I'd come back in a generation, and ask students how they might analyze the grammar of their parents' "would of" and "could of." It would certainly be noteworthy, as far as metacognitive processes go.

    And then imagine that for most of human existence, subsequent generations did exactly that, and you realize all our languages are built on detritus, in-fill, and crazy notions. It tells us a lot about the regularity of sound-meaning change that we can reconstruct languages at all.

  19. Steve said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

    I wonder how many of these kinds of errors are the result of the writer having dyslexia.

    Of course, now I'm wondering how linguistics deals with dyslexia, if it bothers thinking about it at all.

  20. Victoria Simmons said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    @Cy– One of the things that came up often in both my Classical Greek classes as an undergrad and in Celtic languages classes in grad school was that writers in these traditions routinely got tangled up in ambiguous grammar rules, homophones, and other sources of confusion. It shows up particularly in interpolated corrections of actual or imagined mistakes. There is nothing new under the sun.

    Especially when attempting to write what is known only through the spoken word. Last week I dictated some definitions to a middle-school writing workshop, and the other day in their vocabulary test it turned out three of them had written down 'awe-inspiring' as 'all-inspiring.' These were three who are related to each other, so they may have settled by consensus on the wrong thing. If you don't know the phrase 'awe-inspiring,' though, 'all-inspiring' may make perfect sense, even in context.

    I often have students write the phrase 'tow the line,' because 'toe the line' means nothing to them. I wouldn't think 'tow the line' would either, but 'tow' as a verb must make more sense to them than 'toe.' Folk reanalysis is a fascinating thing.

  21. Jean-Pierre Metereau said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

    I got a student essay once in which he mentioned coming from a "tight-unit" family. I almost wrote "sounds painful" but eventually realized he meant "tightly knit." At least, I hope he did.

  22. Audrey W. said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

    My absolute favorite eggcorn was posted by a young teenager on an internet message board. The teen denounced a popular singer as a 'pop pre-Madonna.'

  23. M. Drach said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

    Is there a catchy name yet for the process of regular misspellings getting "corrected" into the wrong word by a spellchecker, causing the person to adopt the spelling of one word for another one?

    I'm thinking especially of "defiantly" being substituted for "definitely", presumably via *definat(e)ly. I see that particular substitution nearly every day on english-language forums.

    [(myl) This is called a "cupertino".]

  24. TR said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    It sounds too good to be true, but a student of mine once proposed to write a term paper about "the South African judicial and penile system".

  25. Jean-Pierre Metereau said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    I got a student's essay once in which he mentioned coming from a "tight-unit" family. I almost wrote "sounds painful" but eventually realized he meant "tightly knit." At least, I hope he did.

  26. Dave said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    A semi-cupertino?

  27. Jean-Pierre Metereau said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

    Dave–this happened when people still used typewriters.

  28. alex said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

    I see the quoted comment contains yet another example of the rule that peevers complaining about someone's usage are bound to commit some usage faux pas in the process– using "infer" for "imply" was high on my high school teacher's list of no-nos. (For extra recursiveness, find usage errors in this comment. Metalanguage is like the ouroboros.)

  29. KathrynM said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

    alex, you don't know the half of it–in the first, 59-word, paragraph by that commenter, there were 5 errors: "be" for "bet," the possessive for grandparent with no apostrophe, the splendid phrase "Johnnie and Janie gets an equally education," and a misplaced comma in the last sentence. The remaining six paragraphs are peppered with errors (I especially liked his reference to the bibliography section of the library, in which he found a book about Thomas Jefferson, which he preferred to anything by "Dr. Suess"), even as he boasts of his early reading prowess. I'm usually pretty tolerant about language errors in online discussions because we've every one of us had that dreadful moment when we see the glaring mistake just after it becomes too late to fix it. All the same–very bad form not to make the effort to proofread and revise when you are finding fault with others' language skills.

  30. William Steed said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    This makes me wonder what possibilities SafeAssign could hold as a corpus of student writing.

  31. Rod Johnson said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

    I see I posted the same comment twice, lightly edited for niceness. How embarrassing!

  32. Steve Morrison said,

    July 23, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

    and endless flow of distortions and malapropisms

    Muphry's Law strikes again!

  33. C Thornett said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 2:19 am

    Some of the examples given, such as defiantly for definitely and excisable for accessible, are similar to errors I have seen in NNES students, sometimes compounded by spellcheckers. A typing error or an intelligent but mistaken guess at a word's spelling can lead to a very different word being produced. NNES in particular may not have enough knowledge of elements like affixes to cue these errors when confronted by a spellchecker's list, but limited time, tiredness and failure to proofread carefully enough can have the same effect, as I also know all too well.
    More formal or academic writing in English has plenty of opportunities for error for anyone who is new to it, native speaker or not, starting with all those unaccented syllables which could, from hearing, be spelled a number of ways.

  34. C Thornett said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 2:19 am

    Some of the examples given, such as defiantly for definitely and excisable for accessible, are similar to errors I have seen in NNES students, sometimes compounded by spellcheckers. A typing error or an intelligent but mistaken guess at a word's spelling can lead to a very different word being produced. NNES in particular may not have enough knowledge of elements like affixes to cue these errors when confronted by a spellchecker's list, but limited time, tiredness and failure to proofread carefully enough can have the same effect, as I also know all too well.
    More formal or academic writing in English has plenty of opportunities for error for anyone who is new to it, native speaker or not, starting with all those unaccented syllables which could, from hearing, be spelled a number of ways.

  35. C Thornett said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 2:26 am

    Apologies for the double posting. As I was saying….

  36. C Thornett said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 3:28 am

    Apologies for the double posting.

  37. Adam said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 4:02 am

    Ray Girvan: A while back there was a similar scare in the UK press about eggcorn-type errors in medical reports transcribed by overseas agencies (e.g. ""flea bite his left leg" for "phlebitis left leg"). A quick Google found that the ones cited had generally been floating around on the medical humour circuit for years.

    Not quite the same kind of error, but I have seen in a real medical document "Patient is allergic to shrimp, crab and mobster."

  38. Doreen said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 5:13 am

    I seem to recall reading an article somewhere that claimed that throughout history, language peevers have consistently harked back to a mythical golden age around 50 years in the past — so the grumpy old men of the 1950s would have wished to turn the clocks back to the early years of the twentieth century, before the rot set in, while the Edwardians would have yearned for the linguistic purity of the 1850s, and so on.

    Does this ring a bell with anyone?

    [(myl) See "Kids today" 3/11/2010; also "The curious specificity of speechwriters", 2/27/2011, and "Kids today yesterday", 11/6/2011.]

  39. Andrew C said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 6:12 am

    Doreen, I believe every language peever is in a most fortunate circumstance where the practice and performance of their language achieved its apotheosis just when they were learning formal writing – no matter when that might have been.

  40. Dougal Stanton said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    Not quite the same kind of error, but I have seen in a real medical document "Patient is allergic to shrimp, crab and mobster."

    Allergies brought on by sleeping with the fishes?

  41. Doreen said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    @Andrew C — I share your perception.

    Interesting to think that each generation feels that the language they were taught at school is the purest, the truest and the best, while forgetting that at the same stage of life they would have heard their parents and grandparents expressing their despair at the declining standards among the young people of the day.

  42. Adam said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 8:45 am

    @Dougal Stanton: brilliant, I wish I'd thought of that when we were discussing it.

  43. Theophylact said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 9:47 am

    Speaking of Dr. Seuss: He illustrated at least four books of schoolboy boners. Here's a collection. Sample: "Achilles was the boy whose mother dipped him in the River Stinx until he was intollerable."

    [(myl) Nice. I actually own a copy of one of those, and had completely forgotten about it.]

  44. Brian said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    When I graduated from college, an organization I belonged to got a cake that read "Good buy, graduates". Since this was in late 2008, I think all it really needed was a question mark at the end.

  45. Circe said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

    @Theophylact: There seem to be several collections of these on the internet (like this, with a lot of intersection among them. Some more samples:

    "Homer also wrote the "Oddity", in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name."

    "The inhabitants of Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation."

  46. Rubrick said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    It's remarkable, given that kids have been getting stupider and lazier for so many decades, that they somehow find the intelligence and drive to invent the technology to make the next generation even stupider and lazier.

  47. Andy Averill said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

    Just got back from the market, where I saw a sign that said

    Honey
    Dewmelon

    [2 lines], This is how languages change.

  48. Ian Loveless said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

    I don't agree with the Couter's suggestion ("One big problem is that so few students are readers") that merely reading gives you any insight whatsoever about how to pronounce any word. You would need to read aloud to someone who is qualified to pronounce all the words you are reading and have them correct you where appropriate.

  49. Ian Loveless said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

    *Courter

  50. KathrynM said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

    Rubrick: High Five!

  51. Victoria Simmons said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

    Speaking of cakes, and just in case folks here aren't familiar with it, the website Cake Wrecks is a treasury of eggcorns, mondegreens, and other linguistic oddities, as well as plain old creative spelling, all piped onto cakes by supposedly competent professionals. (And also much pictorial humor, as in today's example.)

    cakewrecks.com

  52. Lillian said,

    July 24, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

    Speaking of which, I've been hoping someone would address this all-too-familiar lament by Rob Jenkins at the Chronicle of Higher Eduction. It's all about how texting has destroyed the apostrophe. http://chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/dear-apostrophe-c-ya/32479
    Goodness.

  53. Victoria Simmons said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 3:03 am

    Latest eggcorn from one of my World Literature students, found in an annotated bibliography:

    "This book discusses the deep-seeded meaning behind the story of Snow White."

    This one seems to be common:
    http://grammarist.com/usage/deep-seeded-deep-seated/

    [(myl) Indeed.]

  54. [links] Link salad awakens from a Carolina BBQ coma | jlake.com said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 5:34 am

    [...] How do "today's students" write, really? [...]

  55. Carl Muir said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 9:33 am

    Interesting and enlightening blog. I was arguing with a friend the other day whether or not it was "as God as my witness" or "as God is my witness", though it looked like it could be both. I don't know how often it's the student's fault for writing down a phrase incorrectly and turning it into an eggcorn or malapropism. Even if the student is a frequent reader, that doesn't mean he/she will come across every phrase that he/she has heard spoken. Not all books contain such sayings, and plenty of books avoid containing sayings and cliches…like the plague. I do think that most young people, students or otherwise, would do well to learn more, learning by reading, and especially learning by writing. When it comes to understanding how to teach writing to kids, it isn't simply that they need to have every nitpicky understanding of phrases and grammar. I'm sure you've heard of Fred Lybrand's writing course (http://www.advanced-writing-resources.com), like most people I've found it to bring clarity to the classroom by teaching children to write effectively and without fear. It's not a generational grief, how "the kids of today" are doing poorly compared to those who came before them because they're lazy and whatnot, it's that they aren't being taught very well.

    Interesting stuff.

  56. Killer said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    "Two Scent's Worth" [sic] is the title of a Pepe Le Pew cartoon.
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3dbvn_pepe-le-pew-two-scents-worth_news

  57. Matthew Stephen Stuckwisch said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

    With my students, I don't see any horrid generalizable generational decline in grammar or spelling skills. My few cents:

    I notice that dramatic errors in spelling and grammar that aren't attributable to mere typos are isolated to only a handful, if that, of students each semester. Students who have good skills (the majority) are quite consistent in that. If students struggle in anything, it's register. My impression, however, is that as students progress in their college careers and they become more familiar and experienced with formal and academic styles, it becomes less and less of a problem.

    All this said, I teach Spanish so I'm rarely grading anything in English and hence these comments should be taken with half a grain of salt as I'm basing it purely on e-mail correspondence with students. For which, I might add, it is really nice when students' phones add "Sent on my [insert phone model]" — my mind seems to be mentally pretty forgiving when it sees that.

  58. parataxis said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

    I had a student compare her grueling schedule to a "baton death march". That's one of my favorites. If you don't have the historical/geographical framework, it's easy to see why baton works, especially when it is also out there as a deliberate pun.

  59. Shalanna Collins said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    I don't know whether people are exaggerating or making stuff up or not. But the funniest/most amusing malapropism I've ever encountered is one that I see just about every summer term at UT/Dallas. Posted on the glass doors to the library is a sign showing their hours, which are different (reduced) between sessions. But the sign always says, "Intercession hours 10-4." I always go to look, because if there's anything a grad student can use, it's intercession! Alas, they mean "inter-session" hours. I pointed this out a couple of times, so perhaps by now they have corrected the signs. Or maybe they ARE doing intercession and I simply could not locate the proper intercessors. I sure need them, I tell you what.

    [(myl) A quick web search tells me that this is pretty common -- and not just at UT Dallas:

    [John Marshall Law School] Library hours during the intercession:
    [Southern University] Holiday, Summer, and intercession hours will be posted in the library at the appropriate time.
    [University of North Carolina] Sat. 7/28: Begin Summer/Fall Intercession Hours
    [Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley] Intercession Hours
    [From the Desk of the Dean] Area Supervisors should be working with staff to post signage regarding the following special, holiday, and intercession hours for the Division of Academic Success. 

    Maybe this is what they teach folks in Library School. Alternatively, could it be a cupertino?]

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