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It’s been a year filled with ‘uniquities’

While some things have changed in our recent past, other things remain the same. Bloopers abound, and they are as entertaining as ever. I bring you the latest batch.

Misspellings are in abundance. Recently I saw frivolous spelled incorrectly in the following sentence “I could have mentioned frivilous ways to spend time.” These kinds of misspellings involve writing the wrong vowel in an unstressed position where the sound has been reduced.

And the incorrect use of apostrophes also seems to be waxing, not waning. A student wrote to me recently that he “had lot’s and lot’s of time now.”

Many bloopers are amusing because they convey an unintended meaning. As our writing system and speech continue to diverge in the U.S., it is not unusual for students, in reaching for an elevated form of the written language, to obtain only a partial and incomplete recall of the desired form and use instead a word that is much more familiar to them. Consider the following examples. Writing about another country, one student observed that, “Poor political conditions have recently been exasperated with the approval of laws that criminalize the right to civic protest.” The student meant to write “exacerbated” which is a far less common word than “exasperated” and interestingly, the vowels in each word, including the stressed vowel, are in the identical order. Same chassis, different consonants. Another student, describing the importance of protecting the environment, flipped the order of two internal consonants when he wrote “For these people, the conversation of the blue mountains is a life-or-death situation,” meaning to write “conservation.”

I recently heard from a student with a very reasonable request who very politely requested that I respond at my nearest convenience, while another thanked me for taking time to hear his side of a misfortunate situation. In another correspondence, I was informed that the writer “upholds the tenants of the college” and I could not help but imagine a rather skinny sophomore earnestly trying to balance those who rent from the college on his shoulders. I did chuckle when a student told me he felt really accomplished with himself. I do not know if this one strikes you as odd, but it does sound strange to me. You can feel good about yourself; you can be pleased with yourself; you can be satisfied with yourself, but someone is or isn’t accomplished period with no following prepositional phrase.

One switch in words that I have observed lately is the use of “accumulate” for “acclimate.” And I have heard this from more than a few students. One was sharing some experiences he had during a study abroad to Europe. He told me that while “he was accumulating to the environment of his host city, he took his time to get to know the area.” Another told me it is always important to accumulate to a new environment. Sometimes when reaching for an elevated tone, the resulting language is just a bit clunky. This is why multiple drafts of a piece of writing often work wonders. I was surprised to see a laptop described as a “societal enhancing product” and a little concerned when I read about the “destructing path of social media,” which the author identified as the era that came after the rotary phone.

Perhaps all these bloopers are best described by the student author who sagely noted “This has been a really different school year, full of a lot of stressful situations, uniquities, and uncertainties.”

Whatever the future holds for us, may the uniquities of young writers continue to make us chuckle as we were all young writers once.

JULIA PALMER is an associate professor of modern languages at Hampden-Sydney College. Her email address is jpalmer@hsc.edu.