The English language

I have always enjoyed teaching English — especially freshman English — for many of the same reasons I love the English language in the first place: Students invariably introduce me to new ways of using (read: abusing) or interpreting the language. This has been true everywhere I’ve taught, regardless of demographic, though I admit I … More The English language

Taboo: The answers

Your grandma makes it — it’s warm. You sleep with it. Answer: a quilt  This is a really old famous writer. Answer: William Shakespeare  It’s Friday! It’s a candybar!Answer: Payday  It’s coming out of your nose. “Boogers! Snot!” Yes — another word for what’s happening . . . . Answer: Drip   (hilarious laughter) Just skip it! Answer: Armpit  Thing in the sky. When … More Taboo: The answers


This week I have my students playing Taboo. The exercise serves a number of functions, actually: 1) It helps them form bonds within their newly-created workshop groups; 2) it allows them to practice description by finding alternate ways of describing things or ideas, since they have to avoid the obvious descriptive terms on the cards; … More Taboo

Passive voice

I don’t lecture on passive voice with the same frequency or fervor as I did back when I taught technical/professional writing, but it’s still a sticking point for me, and I like to point it out when I see it. My favorite example remains the Reagan line during the Iran Contras of the `80s: “Mistakes … More Passive voice

“The Bullet Surprise,” courtesy of “beta amphetamine”

My friend Beth Ann Fennelly has a new book of of poetry out, Unmentionables, which I’ve been salivating for since I finished her nonfiction book Great with Child a year ago. I haven’t ordered it yet, but I’ve been thinking about the book, so to whet my yearning I’ve picked up an old favorite, her … More “The Bullet Surprise,” courtesy of “beta amphetamine”


I’ve been contemplating my role in the classroom, and I decided — not as definition but as meditation — to explore the origins of all these labels we apply to ourselves. While I acknowledge that most of these etymologies have evolved to have entirely different connotations, I enjoy examining the beginnings of words as a … More Labels