I believe that most people don’t obsess about language as much as an English teacher does. It’s our curse. We can’t overlook a misplaced apostrophe, an incorrectly spelled word, or a dangling modifier. English teachers know language, and we have radar to catch those who abuse it.
It’s all really for a good cause. Language experts are all about communication. Using the written word to convey our thoughts, opinions, emotions and information is our forte. And when it’s misused – watch out. You’re no match for us.
Surprisingly, I don’t have a problem with ‘net speak’. My students use it as they do any other second language, and they know when to switch back and forth. And if they forget, well, I surely remind them.
What really gets me going, though, is poor word choice. It’s laziness, simplicity and thoughtlessness combined. Word choice really ruined my week. I had an unfortunate encounter with a word that no educator wants to have in the same sentence with his or her name: layoff. Use of this word in schools from now through March 15 is sure to create high anxiety and low productivity, which is exactly what happened to me.
I received an email indicating that I would be ‘bumped’ in lieu of a potential ‘layoff’ and I had 48 hours to respond. End of email.
Now, communicating by email is a dangerous thing for those who are unable to express themselves well with the written language. Unlike handwritten letters, email has very little emotion or personality to help the recipient understand the nuances of the message. Word choice becomes critical, and unfortunately this week, word choice was just plain….wrong.
When I read the words ‘bump’ and ‘layoff’ my heart dropped into my stomach. I have 10 years seniority in my district and could not imagine what this meant. Twenty-one years of teaching and I’m still worrying about a layoff? This was definitely not the message I wanted to receive at the end of a long school day, but there it was.
I pulled my jaw shut and started to process. I went back into my head and began to spin all sorts of scenarios about what might be going on and how I would react. In other words, I panicked. Layoff is not a good word.
After lengthy discussions with colleagues, friends, the assistant superintendent, and a night spent tossing and turning, another email provided clarification came that ‘layoff’ was the wrong word choice. ‘Bump’ was correct, ‘layoff’ was not. ‘Bump’ isn’t ideal, but it’s sure better than ‘layoff’. One wrong word choice, and my day and night flipped into a tailspin.
Precision of language may be a curse of the English teacher, but there’s a good reason. Words have power. They can bring elation and devastation. They can show emotion and action. Words well chosen and precise give us the ability to communicate at a high level, and words chosen thoughtlessly and carelessly can bring us to the lowest depths of all.
The next time you’re typing an email or texting someone, remember: it’s all in how you say it.