I’m Both Hateful (or So I’m Told) and a Language Professor, So . . .


I must really be a language professor. Or, at least, something very like one. (See below.)


Well, the BYU Fall Term of 2012 is coming to an end.  I’m more or less done with my Arabic 490R readings class, though I’m absolutely awash in papers and final examinations from Middle East Studies – Arabic (MESA) 250 (“Introduction to the Religion of Islam”) and MESA 467R (a course on the Qur’an in English).


I’m beginning to gear up for the 2013 Winter Term, when I’ll again be guiding a readings course (Arabic 490R), as well as teaching MESA 250 (“Introduction to the Religion of Islam”).  I’m going to be making some substantial changes to the latter, both because I want to do so and because there is considerable uncertainty about whether one of the textbooks I wanted is going to be available.  (Things may be getting a bit desperate, just as they were this past term, only with a different book.)  I’ll also be teaching Arabic 425R (a course on the Qur’an again, though this time bi-al-‘Arabi).


Students out there who may be thinking of enrolling in MESA 250 should know that I’m going to require everybody in it to read through Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in preparation for the various papers required by the class.  There won’t be any test on it.  They simply have to certify that they’ve read it, which will allow me to be merciless on the mechanical issues it covers.  And papers will need to comply with the Chicago Manual of Style and/or with the latest edition of Kate Turabian’s little book (which is, essentially, a mini-Chicago).


Finally, do you see that guy above?  It’s really true:  I’m a language professor, and all I had to do was to look at him.  I hated him instantly.  Passionately.  Irrationally.  I have no idea who he is or what he does, but I hate him.  (If I didn’t, wouldn’t he be advertising falsely?)


Posted from Orlando, Florida.



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  • Curly

    Why be merciless on style mechanics?

    • danpeterson

      Because those writing formal university papers should know the difference between “its” and “it’s,” should be able to avoid run-on sentences, and should consistently have the number of their verbs agree with the number of the verbs’ subjects. Among other things.

  • Greg Smith

    I was going to say I thought Strunk and White was now frowned on, but I guess if you’re worried about subject/verb agreement and basic stuff, those concerns are rather moot.

    I’m always astonished at how bad the writing of college/university students is generally. “What do they teach them at these schools?”

    • danpeterson

      Strunk and White ARE frowned on in certain circles, though I guess I’m too stodgy to have paid much attention as to why.

      Yes, I’m worried about commas, apostrophes, run-ons, and subject-verb agreement.

      Did I get a Ph.D. for this?

      I suspect that many of my students don’t read much anymore.

  • David Kent

    All four of my children were enrolled in a middle school that didn’t allow late work. If it wasn’t turned in on time they received a zero. They were explicitly warned at the beginning of the school year. The parents were warned. Everybody knew about this policy. It was a tough lesson for some of the students. It was a tough lesson for some of the parents. As a result, though, there were almost no assignments not turned in on time. It was a great lesson that served them well when they went to high school. I don’t see that Dr. Peterson has done anything except expect his students to perform at a level consistent with where they find themselves in a university setting.

    • danpeterson

      I rather like the idea of accepting no late assignments. That’s the way it sometimes is in the real world, after all. If a judge demands that pleas be on his desk by 8:00 AM, she often really means 8:00 AM. And, in the family construction business, if a bid was due at city hall by 1:00 PM, it wouldn’t be accepted at 1:01 PM. (Rival bidders would see to that.) By being overly lenient with students, we may not be preparing them for the competitive and demanding real world out there.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    An Ivy League school educated reporter recently wrote on the subject of the diminishing lion populations on the great African savannah. A lowly college professor made the comment that Savannah is a city in Georgia and would only contain lions in a zoo, while savanna is the more than likely location she was referring to. In the same instance, he also reminded her that the snows of Kilimanjaro exist at elevation, not at altitude, unless of course the white stuff was swirling around her jet as she was flying through the clouds. No one is perfect.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    When I was on the Law Review editorial staff in law school the school hired an English professor to teach us how to write more clearly. He used Strunk and White as the text for a week long course. After a week that included several writing exercises and tests the professor told us we were the worst writers he had ever seen. He concluded that teaching lawyers how to write clearly was a hopeless cause.

    So if your students can’t cut it in Middle East Studies, you can recommend they go to law school.

    • danpeterson


  • http://www.yourestatematters.blogspot.com Michael R. Loveridge, J.D.

    My Freshman English class at UCLA required Stunk & White. . . wonderful book! Another excellent source on writing is “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser, as well as his terrific book, “Writing To Learn.” (Teachers, take note: If a student can’t explain a concept in writing, he may not have mastered it!). You can purchase both books here: http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-30th-Anniversary-Nonfiction/dp/0060891548

    • danpeterson

      Excellent books!

  • http://www.yourestatematters.blogspot.com Michael R. Loveridge, J.D.

    BTW, Zinsser’s other book, “On Writing Good,” didn’t sell very well.

    • danpeterson

      To bad, he wrote it real good.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    I really liked John R. Trimble, Writing with Style. Brief, focuses on the why of certain conventions, and very humorous in how he dismisses other conventions.

    • danpeterson

      That’s one I don’t know. Thanks for the recommendation. I like good books about good writing.

  • Eric

    For what it’s worth, Geoff Pullum’s critique on the venerable Strunk & White: http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497/
    Best, –Eric

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    Dan, I really enjoyed chapter 8, “Superstitions,” wherein he talks about the clergy and doctrines of the TOTELs (The One True English Language). It made me laugh.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    Eric, terrific article. I think the author made a great point that Strunk and White used good style; they just hadn’t analyzed it enough to accurately articulate it in rules.