I am sick with some kind of plague, so you will have to endure the reek of my crankypants.
*shakes crankypants at you, bathing you in rage-stink*
I read an article. (God, it always starts that way, doesn’t it?)
Many of my kind have shared this article.
You can read this article here. It is dumb.
The tl;dr of that article is kids being encouraged to cut out simple words in favor of more complex ones. “Expressive” words. Showy words strutting their butts around like pretty pretty peacocks. Sometimes they’re not just encouraged, but rather, punished for failing to do so.
I CALL HORSESHIT AND SHENANIGANS. HORSCHTNANIGANS.
Listen, I get it. I love language.
Language is a circus of delight. It’s like a buffet of food. You don’t always want to eat meat and potatoes. You want to try new things, and encouraging kids — or adults! — to find new ways to express themselves is a win. The breadth and depth of our language is a rich garden with loamy soil. All manner of things can grow up and out of that bed of linguistic nutrients.
Here, though, let me quote a few passages from the article:
English teachers were once satisfied if they could prevent their pupils from splitting infinitives. Now some also want to stop them from using words like “good,” “bad,” “fun” and “said.”
“We call them dead words,” said (or declared) Leilen Shelton, a middle school teacher in Costa Mesa, Calif. She and many others strive to purge pupils’ compositions of words deemed vague or dull.
“There are so many more sophisticated, rich words to use,” said (or affirmed) Ms. Shelton, whose manual “Banish Boring Words” has sold nearly 80,000 copies since 2009.
Her pupils know better than to use a boring word like “said.” As Ms. Shelton put it, “ ‘Said’ doesn’t have any emotion. You might use barked. Maybe howled. Demanded. Cackled. I have a list.”
Now he automatically hunts for more picturesque language. “Rather than saying, ‘This soup was good,’ you can say something like, ‘The soup was delectable,’ which really enhances it,” Josh instructed. “It gives it sort of this extra push.”
One recent afternoon after school, Josie and Josh agreed to take a stab at editing famous authors, starting with the closing words of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: “….yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Head down, her pigtails brushing the paper, Josie examined the phrase and then suggested a small amendment: “…yes I hollered yes I will Definitely.”
and finally, oh god
Robert C. March, a writing teacher at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., stands by his list. He has banned “I,” “you,” “we,” “why” and “it,” among others. Mr. March makes clear on his Web page that he means business: “Any banned word, or contraction, that appears in a work submitted to me will count as -5 (minus five) points off the total grade.”
Holy shit, what.
The gall to edit James Joyce.
The ego it takes to claim that simple words are ‘dead’ words.
The cruelty of punishing kids for using common, everyday, essential words.
This isn’t about expression.
This is about elitism — about embracing some faux-literary divide and stepping over one-penny blue-collar words so you can instead reach for the five dollar words in the jar on the high shelf.
The problem here is that it assumes our expression is limited by the simplicity of our language. It is not. You can express complex ideas with simple words. You can tell whole stories or give voice to complicated emotions with language that is clear, direct, and confident. The soup is good is a fine fucking sentence, I’ll have you know. It is clear. You don’t need to say ‘delectable’ because delectable is a fancy-pancy froo-froo word, one that is arguably redundant. You’d be better off directing kids to learn how to express themselves not with more complicated words, but rather with complicated images, metaphors, ideas. If a teacher feels that “the soup is good” fails to go far enough, have them describe how good, or how it makes them feel. Why is it good? Why do you like it? How does it make you feel and to what does it compare?
Context is more meaningful than painting up your words to be pretty.
Pretty words are often very nice, indeed, and also very hollow.
Characters say things and do things and nothing about that limits the power of either. What a character says and does is far more significant than how that character says or does it. The language is there to serve the idea, to give it clarity and beauty. The idea is not there to serve at the pleasure of the language. Don’t let the words gum up the meaning of what you’re trying to say.
I mean, for fuck’s sake. Sure, once in a while a character will yell or bark or spit a word out like it was something foul on the tongue. Once in a while a character will be pompous enough to believe food should be called ‘delectable’ because a word like ‘good’ could never be sufficient. Certainly big words are not to be avoided just because they’re big words — but we should cleave to them because they are the right words, not simply large and fancy and ever-so-precious. I’m using some fancy words here in this post. I do it because I like them but more because I think they are appropriate. They serve me. They create and enhance meaning.
Most of the time, simple words will do.
Simple words can be strung together to form complex sentences and complicated ideas. Some of the most astonishing poetry is the most straightforward — not the showiest, not the splashiest. That is what we should be striving to teach kids — and, further, to teach upcoming writers. Expression is more than the sum of word choice. And word choice is not garish makeup to slather across your paragraphs and pages just because you think it was too crude and not pretty enough. Don’t punish kids because they aren’t high-falutin’ enough for you. Sophistication is not well-demonstrated by purple prose. Work harder. Think bigger. Eschew the elitism of language.
Otherwise, fuck you.
Is that simple enough for you?
142 responses to ““I Meant What I Said When I Said The Soup Was Good,” I Ejaculated Most Fizzily”
[…] And finally, the irrepressible Chuck Wendig asserts that he meant what he said when he said the soup was good. […]
Nothing has changed in the years I’ve been gone. Schools are still teaching people crap and lies.
If someone wrote a book using ‘banish boring words’ and sent it off to a publisher, how long would it take to get rejected?