Date: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 11:22:40 +0000
From: Lynne Murphy M_Lynne_Murphy[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]BAYLOR.EDU
Subject: banning words

dennis baron, who taught me how to teach writing, argues that one should
not ban words in freshman comp essays. in spite of my blacklist, i
don't entirely disagree with him--that is, if we're talking about
banning words or phrases because they're "grammatically incorrect" or
"ugly". i don't care if they use 'like', i encourage them to use the
first person, etc. what i'm trying to do with my blacklist is to make
the students aware of high-schooly phrases that keep them from saying
what they actually mean. so, e.g., my (right now very short) list says
that unmodified 'society' should not be the subject of a sentence.
without this rule, i get essays with lots of sentences like "society
says that women should be thin." two problems: which society? (there
are certainly social systems in which the claim is not true.) and how
can a society "say" something? (does society have a mouth? a book of
law?) so, this rule is intended to force them to get specific and
sensical in their claims--e.g., "in american society today, women are
rewarded for being thin and punished for being fat." similarly "the
dictionary" is banned because there is no single abstract dictionary.
(i also make them cite specific editions of bibles instead of _the_
bible, but that's just my little catholic/unitarian rebellion at a
baptist university.) grammar is only 10% of the final grade of my
papers, but content is 60% (the rest is organization & use of sources),
and meaningless phrases haven't much content. i try to use the
blacklist as a way of starting them thinking about words--making it
clear that these are phrases that are student cliches, but that any
phrase can be used meaninglessly. these phrases give them examples and
ways of thinking about their words. i hope.

still avoiding essays,

M. Lynne Murphy
Assistant Professor in Linguistics
Department of English
Baylor University
PO Box 97404
Waco, TX 76798