Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Speaking Hinglish

Students do not look forward to Final Examination time. I can sympathize with them. As a teacher, I don't look forward to this time either, although my reasons are surely different from those of my students. But those who teach English have perhaps a harder time of it then those in other fields. My friend teaches math. Yes, her students will sometimes make some terrible errors in their calculations on her exam, but all she has to do is mark the answer wrong. English teachers are expected to identify the type of error made and to comment on how the error contributes to tangled meaning.

Math teachers don't get term papers to correct. As one student pointed out to me--okay, as many students have pointed out--if I didn't give term papers I wouldn't have the problem of marking them. With some of the errors I just grit my teeth, wonder about the mental faculties of the student, comment on the error and forget about it. Other errors stick in the mind. Some of these errors involve students who "almost" know how to use a word. Others involve unique spelling errors--or perhaps trusting that Spell Check actually knows what it is talking about.

My week has been made infinitely more frustrating by a letter submitted by a student. In the letter the student was to write to management either for or against the idea of a company fitness center. The student concluded his letter thus: "Therefore, I believe that our company should establish a procreation center. This would provide a great benefit for employees who work long hours and cannot find the time for procreation otherwise. I am sure they would use it often and would get great enjoyment from it." They didn't cover this in graduate school! I finally took the coward's way out and merely marked the wrong word as "spelling error."

Because I know that the student will tell me that it was all Spell Check's fault, I attempted all kinds of misspellings of the word "recreation," and sure enough, with one of them the suggested list from Spell Check gave "procreation." What bothers me the most is that a senior in college can't seem to differentiate between "recreation" and "procreation." (Apparently Microsoft can't either.) This does not bode well for his future marriage prospects. Nor for his future employability.

When marking my own students' errors gets to be too much, I head for the books written by Richard Lederer. When I see the errors he has collected over the years my own problems don't seem quite so bad in comparison. Below are some gems from his writing.

Comets...are thought to be ruminants from the beginning of the universe.
Headline: Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?

In 1957, Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise.

Each Thanksgiving it is a tradition in our family to shoot peasants.
News dispatch: The crime bill would reinstate the death penalty for certain violent crimes: assassinating the President; hijacking an airliner; and murdering a government poultry inspector.
Can anybody explain why Kiwi International Airlines is named after a bird that cannot fly?

The pistol of a flower is its only protection against insects.
I don't want to cast asparagus at my opponent!
Wanted: Unmarried girls to pick fresh fruit and produce.
Seen in a Pennsylvania cemetery: Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.
Sign outside a gift shop: Live Artificial Trees.

World War II ended on VD day.
The blood circulates through the body by flowing down one leg and up the other.
The patient has no past history of suicides.
Louis Pasteur discovered a cure for rabbis.
The patient experienced mood swings because she suffered from PBS.
A brand claim: Every rectal thermometer made by Q-Tip is personally tested.

A squid has ten to twelve testicles that hang down from its body.
Headline: Yellow Perch Decline to be Studied.

Get rid of aunts: Zap does the job in 24 hours.
Seen in a Michigan restaurant: The early bird gets the worm; special shoppers' luncheon before 11 a.m.

In the Olympic games the reward to the victor was a coral wreath.
Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Headline: Experts Increase Probability of a Big Quake in California

Artificial insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow and not the bull.
Queen Elizabeth's navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.
A skunk was found wandering among the phews of a local church.
Lost: small apricot poodle; reward; neutered; like one of the family.
Dog for sale: eats anything and is fond of children.
Song line: Chipmunks roasting on an open fire.
The Civil War was started by John Brown, a rabbit abolitionist.
Headline: 4-H Girls Win Prizes for Fat Calves.

Vacuums are nothings; we only mention them to let them know that we know they are there.
Water is composed of two gins, oxygin and hydrogin; oxygin is pure gin, hydrogin is gin and water.

Wind is like air, only pushier.
Seen on a Tennessee highway: Take notice: when this sign is under water, this road is impassable.
Headline: Typhoon Rips Cemetery, Hundreds Dead.

Rural life is lived mostly in the country.
Porter...lectured on "Destructive Pests;" a large number were present.
Headline: Sterilization Solves Problems for Pets, Owners.
Many dead animals in the past changed into fossils while others preferred to be oil.
Genetics explains why you look like your father and if you don't, why you should.

And then there are these:

In a New Hampshire jewelry store: Ears pierced while you wait.

In a New York Restaurant: Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.

In LA dance hall: good clean dancing every night but sunday.

In Florida maternity ward: No children allowed.

In the offices of a loan company: Ask about our plans for owing your home.

In a toy department: Five Santa Clauses,no waiting.

In a Maine shop: our motto is to give our customers the lowest possible prices and workmanship.

On military bases: restricted to unauthorized personal.

On a display of 'You are my one and only' valentine cards: now available in multi pack.

In downtown Boston: Callahan tunnel /No end.

In a window of a general store: Why go elsewhere and be cheated when you can come right here ??

In a Maine restaurant: Open 7 days a week and weekends.

In a New Jersey Restaurant: Open 11 AM to 11 PM Midnight.

In a Pennsylvania cemetery: Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves....

On the grounds of a private school: No tresspassing without permission.

On a movie marquee: Now playing ADAM AND EVE with a cast of thousands..


Anonymous said...

Like you, I teach. Like you, wht the students sometimes write in their papers astonishes me. Lederer is great to get your mind off your own students' troubles and read someone elses instead.

Anonymous said...


Honored Professor:

This comment is not intended for you to show publicly,
but is for your attention only:

In your first paragraph, fourth sentence,
you should have said
"a harder time ... than ..."
(and not "then").

Of course,
this is a common error,
but I thought that,
since you teach English,
you would want to be made aware of this - Privately - of course.

thank you very much
for providing us with such a humorous glimpse into your students' foibles.


ProfK said...

The writer of the comment that follows asked that I not publish the comment. He did so, I believe, because he had no intention of causing me public embarrassment. For that sentiment I thank him. However, I am publishing the comment because it points out something very important: no one is exempt from making a mistake. Proofreading should be second nature, whether done on a school paper or on a posting on a blog. Our words deserve to go out "well dressed" and appropriately too.

So thank you Mordechai.

ProfK said...

Sigh, the comment I refer to is above mine, not below it.