From our friend Robert Shepherd, who may have watched the famous video in which David Coleman–architect of the Commin Core standards, now President of the College Board, which administers the SAT, original treasurer if Muchelle Rrhee’s StudentsFirst–uttered his immortal line about how no one “gives a &@(@” what you feel or think. This was his strong denunciation of personal expository writing. One of the best responses was written by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, a teacher of creative writing, who explained how important it is to allow and encourage young people to find and use their own voices. She wrote: “And where will we be as a nation if we graduate a generation of young people who can write an academic paper on the Civil War but have no power to convey the human experience?”
For David Coleman, in Honor of Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday
The very talented Peter Greene recently posted a humorous piece comparing Rheeformish language to a poop sandwich–nastiness wrapped in glowing phrases (e.g., “higher standards”). I generally love Peter’s writing, but I’ve never been fond of scatological humor. I’m not sure why I have this distaste (other than for the obvious reasons), since I consider swearing one of the most useful and engaging of the many boons conferred upon us by speech.
I once read, in “The American Scholar,” I think, or perhaps it was in “Verbatim,” a tragic report on the paucity of dedicated swear words in classical Latin. The Romans were always envious of the subtlety of the Greek tongue, of its rich resources for philosophical and literary purposes, but the Greeks were even less well endowed with profanities than the Romans were. The poor Romans had to result to graffiti, which they did with wild and glorious abandon, while the Greeks stuck to salacious decoration of vases.
I have a nice little collection of books on cursing in various languages. French, Spanish, German, Italian–the modern European languages, generally–are rich mines of lively expressions. But our language, which has been so promiscuous through the centuries, has to be the finest for cursing that we apes have yet developed. We English speakers are blessed with borrowed riches, there, that speakers of other tongues can only dream of.
So, when I watch a David Coleman video, there’s a lot for me to say, and a lot of choice language to say it with.
Those of you who are English teachers will be familiar with the Homeric catalog. It’s a literary technique that is basically a list. The simple list isn’t much to write home about, you might think, but this humble trope can be extraordinarily effective. Consider the following trove of treasures. What are these all names of? (Take a guess. Don’t cheat. The answer is below.)
Back to my dreams of properly cursing Coleman and the Core, of dumping the full Homeric catalog of English invective on them.
I have wanted to do so on Diane Ravitch’s blog, but Diane doesn’t allow such language in her living room, and I respect that. So I am sending this post, re Coleman and the Core, thinking that perhaps Diane won’t mind a little Shakespeare. (After all, it’s almost Shakespeare’s birthday. His 450th. Happy birthday, Willie!)
Let’s begin with some adjectives:
Artless, beslubbering, bootless, churlish, craven, dissembling, errant, fawning, forward, gleeking, impertinent, loggerheaded, mammering, merkin-faced, mewling, qualling, rank, reeky, rougish, pleeny, scurvie, venomed, villainous, warped and weedy,
And then add some compound participles:
beef-witted, boil-brained, dismal-dreaming, earth-vexing, fen-sucked, folly-fallen, idle-headed, rude-growing, spur-galled, . . .
And round it all off with a noun (pick any one that you please):
Or, if you want whole statements from the Bard himself:
“Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of the Nile.” (worms = snakes)
“Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.”
“You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”
“You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!”
“Thou sycophantic, merkin-faced varlet.”
“Thou cream-faced loon!”
There. Glad I got that out of my system.
BTW. Those are names of dragonflies, above. Beautiful, aren’t they? Shakespeare loved odd names of things. Scholars have shown that he used in writing a wider vocabulary than any other author who has ever wrote in our glorious tongue. Again, happy birthday, Willie. What fools those Ed Deformers be!