The Revolution

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A while ago, Adam Walker did an impromptu performance of one of his favorite poems, The Revolution Will Not be Televised, by Gill Scott Heron and a response poem he wrote. Dash happened to be on the ball enough to get it on “film.” Check it out!

A Clatter of Collective Nouns

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The English language has over 1000 names for groups of things.  My Dad, who as a former English Professor and current Attorney cannot be slighted for his lack of word knowledge, hates this particular game, calling it an activity that stupid people engage in thinking it’s smart.  He prefers a somewhat more streamlined method of referring to groups of things, i.e. a “s**t-load” of bears, bees, birds, or even animals not beginning with the letter “b.”  My brother prefers to refer to things as “bunches.”  Meanwhile, I am of a similar mind to my father and often find myself saying “that’s a s**t-ton of. . .”

Clearly the actual terms appeal to people more for their whimsy than for their utility, and after a sounder of beers my brother and I found ourselves trying to come up with a few.  Sadly, the only clever collective noun I could call to mind at that moment was a “murder of crows.”  First, because “murder” seems strangely apropos for sinister gatherings of black birds, especially for anyone who has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and also because it was referenced in the Simpson’s episode Weekend at Burnsie’s where Homer explains to Marge, “It’s a murder, honey. A group of crows is called a murder.”  Thus it covers at least two distinct branches of trivia.

There are many websites dedicated to collections of, uh, collective nouns.  Some, are familiar like a “gaggle of geese” and a “school of fish,” while others, such as a “harem of seals” and an “implausibility of gnus” border on the ridiculous and sound as though they were made up on the spot.  While the aforementioned examples can be corroborated, I’m sure others *are* fabrications, as I’ve yet to find a site that cites its sources. The following list of 20 collectives, contains many that I like, along with some originals.  Can you tell the difference?  Comment with your favorites, real or speculative.

knot of toads
plague of pigeons
kettle of finches
dray of squirrels
murmuration of starlings
leap of leopards
bale of turtles
cuteness of koalas
exaltation of larks
sounder of boars
shrewdness of apes
unkindness of ravens
serendipity of sea lions
sloth of bears
muster of storks
zeal of zebras
labor of moles
sedge of cranes
parcel of penguins
grim of wolves

Wordplay: Scrabble

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Yesterday, we writing consultants indulged ourselves in some board game activity during one of our slowest days in the writing center. The game of the day was Scrabble. I’ll assume you’ve heard of this game. If not, stop reading, look it up, play a game or two and come back. Now, I must confess that I am not a rabid Scrabble player. Despite my voluminous lexicon, I only dabble in the game occasionally. Gage and Ori are the players. Ori is even a part of the National Scrabble Association.

Because I don’t play Scrabble regularly, I had several starts and stops as the first game began. Sure, I fell behind quickly, but the nature of the game is such that you are never truly out of it as long as you use the board efficiently and get decent letters. The words you can make are up to you. You are only limited by your vocab and the seven tiles in your possession. Any turn can be the game winning turn.

La/Fax/Ore/Axed in the bottom right is worth 55 points

I feel like the game of Scrabble is on par with telling riddles. There is an innate desire among the well-worded to show off our skills and Scrabble allows us to do just that. Not only does the game help increase and display one’s vocabulary it also helps build vocabulary by forcing players to build off of words already laid out on the board. I felt great when I turned Ori’s “Jo/To into Jot/Toy and then followed that up with Goy, a triple word score.

As the first game went on, skill and board efficiency won out. Even though I got better, I was not much of a match for Gage and Ori. They were gracious, the reality is that I was a no more than an interesting strategic wrinkle. But I’m OK with that. I took as much pleasure from playing as I did watching Gage and Ori use their tiles to see the possibility of words on the board. Ori dropped Mink which Gage turned into Minks/Shiv. Of course, the coup d’etat was Ori’s final gambit. His 55 point score, a wicked combo of La/Fax/Ore/Axed, would have won the game had I not played Clean/In off of one of his previous plays. My play allowed Gage to put down Ice for a triple word score and seal the deal.

That is how the game works. Each player brings his own knowledge to the game board and augments how other players see and play the game. Honestly, I can’t wait to play again.

Is the art of the Love Letter extinct?

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As lovers of writing, we at Phreelance Writers appreciate all forms it takes. Sure, we hold debates over punctuation and whether or not different types of writing are detrimental to other types, but overall, we respect and admire the ways in which we communicate. Recently, Ori, one of our contributing writers, mentioned that, while cleaning out his room, he found some old love letters written to him by an ex. This got us thinking.

Is the art of the Love Letter extinct? By this we mean is the practice of creating a hand-written note full of romantic or erotic prose a dead art? We asked our esteemed panel of friends and fellow writers to weigh in on the subject. We’d like your thoughts too, dear readers. Join our discussion by leaving a comment.

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Gage

It’s been at least a year since I wrote a handwritten love letter beyond the length of a greeting card.  Does that mean the love letter has died out?  I don’t think so.  Perhaps the handwritten letter has dwindled, but I’m pretty sure my love will come across just as well if I type a letter and print and mail it as it would if I scrawl it in pen—perhaps even more so, since the writing will actually be legible.

I understand the sentiment that people have about handwritten letters.  The dedication it takes to write and mail a letter gives it more weight than a simple email—we get loads of those every day.  But I don’t buy into the pessimism shared by people who say romance has to be handwritten.  Sure, I save the handwritten love letters I receive.  I have a drawer full of them.  But I also archive all my Gmail love letters, and often re-read them when I feel like reminding myself how romantic my relationship is.  Love letters aren’t dead—they’re just evolving.  Those emails work just fine.

Ori

Last weekend I organized a drawer in my bureau that I’ve been using as a memory dump for many years now.  Special finds include identification cards from 6 years of schooling, ticket stubs from every high school dance, and a sealed, unused condom, expired in 2002, which I think must have been from the first package I ever bought.

But the artifacts I was most excited to uncover were bundles of love letters.  The first I ever received was written by my kindergarten-sweetheart after I moved from Mississippi to Massachusetts.  The envelope is bordered in tiny hand drawn red hearts and they replace the dots on each “i”.  The last batch was written to me at a writing residency where in order to encourage artistic isolation, the proprietors did not provide internet or phone access.

Every few years for the last 20 years some philosopher, writer, or technophile feels the need to proclaim that print media is dead and will soon be supplanted by digital media.  Print media endures because people enjoy books not just as ideas, but as objects.  Someday convenience and price may put an end to the print era; however, I hope we never reach the same point with love letters.  Love and writing love letters should never be matters of convenience.  The extra effort helps makes love letters special.

But even if a lover were also a digital designer and took the time to craft a compelling digital billet-doux, it still wouldn’t compare.  You can’t touch an e-mail knowing that your lover touched it.  An e-mail will never be S.W.A.K. (sealed with a kiss).  An e-mail cannot carry the scent of your lover.  And on the darker side, if a lover spurns or betrays you, you can delete the e-mail, but that’s a cold and empty gesture, whereas burning a stack of love letters can be extremely satisfying and at least pays suitable tribute to the passion
the relationship inspired.

Andrew

The handwritten love letter doesn’t need a Cialis, nor does it need an epitaph. There are many ways to communicate love through the wiggling of your fingers, and those fingers need not simply stroke lustful words with a pen. Those fingers can stroke the keys of a keyboard, ejaculating a stream of erotic prose in praise of your amour. Those fingers can stroke your lover’s aching scalp before whispering sweet nothings. Those fingers can stroke your lover’s stiff neck, sowing the seeds of seduction.

If you think you want me, then text me, email me, call me, or write me. If you know you want me, then hold me, touch me, kiss me, and tell me. Express the love you feel, and your love will be felt.

Nick

Handwriting love letters is not a dead art. It is a rare art, true, somewhat like a waning species that can only be found in the last beautiful, unspoiled places of earth. But there’s no reason to give up hope or resign the love letter to extinction because it’s hard to find. It’s a private thing to begin with, so you wouldn’t see it often. I don’t believe in the cranky, cynical rhetoric that is so ubiquitous in any time, in which navel gazers eulogize the lost golden age of generations past. That’s a too-easy and lazy approach. You have to work to sustain a good thing in an ever-evolving culture. We can take matters (literally) into our own hands and cultivate a regrowth of this rare art by writing love letters ourselves from time to time. Only one person anywhere needs to write a love letter for the art to live on.

I recently watched Love in the Time of Cholera, based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book. It’s about a man who is fanatically in love his whole life with a woman he can’t be with. He consoles himself, partly, by helping other young lovers write letters to each other and says it’s like writing a love letter to himself each time. In his business letters, he weaves romantic, expressive language into otherwise plain communication, and when chided by his boss, he admits that he can’t stop because he needs love, has to express it somehow. Maybe that’s the essence of the act to begin with—the expression of love, more even than its object. As long as that expression remains important to our existence as a species, love letters will survive with us.

Wit and Wordplay: A Lesson in Education

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Our love of words has been well documented on Phreelance Writers. I often find myself talking to Gage and pausing to find the right word to accurately describe a situation. It’s not just an exercise in pulling esoteric words from my vocab, it’s about picking le mot just, the one word that fits best.

Now, time for something completely different…

Gage and I surround ourselves with people who share our passion for writing and words. This has developed into a community of people who also strive to find the perfect word.

During the past few weeks, many of the students we tutor have been working on an essay about an “academic discourse community.” I won’t bore you with what this means exactly since we, ourselves, are somewhat confused by the terminology, but this link is a decent enough explanation. The students were told to pick a class, other than English, to use as their discourse community. Naturally, we tutors thought some students would pick the Writing Center. We later found out that the Writing Center was not a valid choice because it is not considered a full class.

Really?

This assignment got me thinking about Phreelance Writers and the Writing Center as a discourse community. Looking over the requirements, we appear to fit the bill. Let’s break some of this down:

1) has a broadly agreed set of common public goals.

We all enjoy reading, writing and academic discussion. On top of that, we all work in a writing center, teaching students how to write better. If that isn’t a “common public goal,” I don’t know what is.

2) has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.

This is the same as “insider knowledge,” and, yes, we have it. Certain words have taken on new or secondary meanings so that we can use them in mixed conversation while smirking at our own wit. We have even developed a way of saying a specific word to denote both a greeting and a fulfillment of the mitzvah.

3) uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.

Our main “participatory mechanism” is wit. We treat it like a currency, using it to trade humorous barbs, stories and repartee. We vibe off each other, pushing our jokes and ideas to earn the maximum amount of credit.  We’ve created a space that rewards creativity while simultaneously eliminating the banal.

The point is that the Writing Center would have made for a great academic discourse community. It’s the only class that includes all the students and it’s one of–if not the only–space where students and instructors interact on fairly even terms. A shame it was banned from contention.

Words and wordplay are important at Phreelance Writers and in the Writing Center. Our desire to use them in new and unique ways inspires students to do the same when they write. They learn from listening to us banter. Just because we don’t teach in the traditional sense of a classroom setting doesn’t mean that we aren’t educating the students we see. Respect our vision.

Big Hunnid: Phreelance Writer Favs

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the inspiration for our lingo.

Dear Readers,

In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is our 100th post.  It’s kind of a big deal.

We’ve have many notable milestones so far.  We’ve been jobless, we’ve applied to jobs, we’ve been ignored by jobs, we’ve gotten jobs, and in between, we’ve written about some other stuff as well.  Like any self-respecting publication, we’ve recruited contributors to work for free for us, and we’ve used social networking to our advantage to gain readership.  We’ve missed our self-imposed deadline of daily content maybe once or twice, and we feel that’s pretty damn good.

We’ve looked back over our work and felt that some posts have risen above others. Below, we’ve listed our favorites in four categories: Dash’s favs, Gage’s favs, favorite guest contributor posts and favorite collaboration post. We invite you to add your favorite posts in the comment section. After all, you are just as much a part of the blog as we are.

Dash’s Favs

Job Search Depression – This post was great for several reasons: It contains video, numbered bullet points and a metaphor. It really doesn’t get better than that.

Back to Square One – This post was excellent because it gave Gage a chance to flex his journalism skills by writing the beginning of a full-length feature. It’s a pleasant return to form.

The Other Travel Writer – This post epitomizes the essence of blogging. I think blogging is the ability to see something and comment on it in a public manner. Gage wrote this post on a bus while traveling across the state in such a way that the reader feels as if they are sitting next to Gage on that bus. The photo enhances the feeling.

Gage’s Favs

New (Old) Jobs – This one is great because Dash is exercising his all-too-capable wit.  There’s a lot going on here, some riddle, some social commentary.  See if you get it! If not, no problem: we figured out how to put our answer upside down, like on a cereal box!

Of Mice and Music – Dash is a trained journalist, but that doesn’t mean the man can’t write some poetic prose.  This post is great because it uses journalistic observation as well as creative style and language.

Teachable Moments Part II – At our jobs we need to individualize our teaching strategies.  Dash is a master of motivation, but sometimes we have to let the students motivate themselves.  This is a well-told blog story that captures Dash’s character and some of our workplace environment at the same time.

Favorite Guest Contribution

Top Five Reasons I’ve Ignored Your Job Posting – We lament that Dez hasn’t written for us in, well, a long time. We miss her. But when she did sling words for us, they were razor sharp and full of wit. She was the aggressive voice shouting those things we were all thinking but were too timid to say.

Love and Art in Handwriting – Even though Nick is the newest guest contributor, he’s made his mark early. When you hand write a blog post like he did, you have to respect his work ethic and commitment to the craft of handwriting.

Favorite Collaboration Post

Come On! (8/28/10) – This post makes me laugh because of the what went into writing it. I wrote the first blurb about Marcus Evans at 3:30 a.m. after being out all night with Gage and some other friends. My ire was fueled by massive inebriation and fatigue. The next morning, I reviewed what I had written previously and found it to be quite accurate, so it stayed.

Stuff We Don’t Miss –  Who doesn’t love top ten lists? Furthermore, I dare you to show me someone who has completed an undergrad degree who doesn’t miss any of the top three. If you do, I’ll show you someone who is lying through their teeth!

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you down the road for Big Two Hunnid.

Are Text Messages Destroying English?

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As Gage so aptly pointed out, the English language is a fickle beast. It is ever changing and growing to fit the needs of those who use it to express themselves. These types of changes are not unique to English. The Royal Spanish Academy, a nearly three-century-old institution in charge of regulating the Spanish language, is currently considering the elimination of accent marks on widely used words such as “este” (this), “aquel” (that) and “solo.”

While accent marks are not an issue in the English language, there are evolving forms that present new and interesting challenges to those who make a living using and teaching the language. The past few days, at work, have been spent reading student essays based off several articles that speak to the potential positive or negative outcome of a sudden increase in various online and hand held technologies.

After comparing notes and philosophies, a question was raised: Is the language of the “text message” destroying the use of grammatical English? We, here at Phreelance Writers, appreciate diverse points of view. Please consider our thoughts and submit your own as comments.

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Dash

I think the emergence of a “text message” language is proof positive that the English language is alive and well. Sending text messages or “IMing” is a type of language that is read and understood by a specific set of English language users. When a subset of language users develop their own version of that language it’s called a dialect. The language of the text message is becoming a dialect and should be respected as such.

Moreover, the text message language allows for greater expression of ideas and emotions. While writing “I love you” is standard and accepted, writing “I ❤ you” is also acceptable in the text message language. The ability to use visuals to communicate harkens  back to earlier forms of language. I think it is great that this type of modern language is able to incorporate older forms and make them relevant and useful.

Ori

First and foremost I use texts when I need to commnicate small amounts of information, whether urgently a la “pick up toilet paper on your way home!” or topically, “I just saw ?uestLove at starbux.”  You’ll notice that those are sentences in the quotes.  I don’t use text-speak.  I rarely abbreviate words.  Why not?  1) I’m a writer and I’m simply neurotic about using words.  Plus, I like people to feel as though my communications are thoughtful.  I write out the extra letters because I care and 2 ) because some text-speech is just dishonest.  How often have you actually laughed out loud while or just before using “lol”?  This does not mean I disapprove of all text-speech: while I don’t use it and I frown upon its use in formal settings, such as for academic papers, I think text-speech is an amusing language evolution.

In particular, it has instantly streamlined acronyms.  I used to feel that with exception of acronyms that have entered the lexicon as words such as “scuba” (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus), “snafu” (Situation Normal All Fucked Up), and “laser” (Light Amplified by Salubrious Egrets Recreating) could be spelled without entering a “.” between each letter, text speak eliminates this convention. Ultimately, I’m in favor of streamlining language, and admit that there are other elements of text-speech I could benefit from using in certain settings, and while I fear that over-simplification can lead to the dilution of detailed expression, I believe communication is resilient and flexible enough to withstand and perhaps even benefit from an increase in text-speech conventions.

Gage

Destroying is a strong word, but yes, text and instant message lingo are certainly detrimental to learning formal English language.  I’m not against creativity with language, coming up with new words and changing the meaning of words, but like my boss always says, you can start breaking the rules only after you know them.

I think my concern with the prevalence of text-speak has to do with the ways that people learn.  It’s obvious that the things we do often become habits, so if people text “ur” twenty times for every “you’re*,” that’s what they’ll learn and become good at.  I don’t want to sound like a conservative language snob, but I do believe that standard English is more valuable than text slang.  It’s more widely applicable in all writing situations, and aside from the emerging “cell phone literature” niche, it’s the way that all writing is done.  If you want to read and write, learn the regular way first, then mess around with it.

*Side note: The fact that “ur” can become “your,” or “you’re” is a problem in itself, and overuse of “ur” can only lead to more homonym confusion when it comes to writing real English.

Barbara

Texting is certainly altering grammatical English.  When I text, (at least several times each day), I break every grammatical rule I know: e.g. I do not use capitals, I write sentence fragments, I do not use formal language, I leave out apostrophes, and I frequently use ellipsis instead of laboring to express my full point.  Why?  The keyboard is tiny and frustrating.  Rather than deal with a tiny, frustrating keyboard, I do all of the above because it saves me time.

However, I know each and every error I commit.  My concern is for those who do not have a command of grammar and syntax.  The language we use shapes the language we will use.  A perfect example of this comes from earlier lessons; e.g.; in the 1980’s, an ad campaign misused the word “it’s,” using it as a possessive pronoun, and viola!  Suddenly every student was confused about the difference between “it’s” and “its.”  While it is true many people made this error before this ubiquitous ad campaign, it seemed the problem mushroomed.

I think texting has that same potential–to make error appear correct.  Although I realize language is alive and tends to simplify, it is that simplification of texting that most alarms me.  Complex language structures enable complex thought.  In an era of simplicity in thought, it is hard not to see that simplicity lead to, quite frankly, stupidity.  It is hard not to fear that texting, as another form of multitasking, creates even more distraction and contributes to the inability of people to concentrate over a reasonable length of time, or enjoy the privacy of their own complex thoughts.  One of my closest friends, a published author, told me she realized texting, chatting, and constant distractions had diminished  her ability to sit and read for two or three hours at a stretch.  If this woman, middle-aged, educated, and literate, finds herself diminished in ability to concentrate, what does that portend for those who do not have the background and experience she has?  Are we destined to become a bunch of twittering fly-by-nights who cannot think complexly enough or long enough to solve the enormously complicated problems we face, or even the enormously complicated lives that we live?  Can we fulfill the purposes of our soul or contemplate our individual place in the cosmos if we cannot slow down enough to think a grammatically correct, complex thought?

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