These Sentences Contain No Harmful Fillers

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plate with forkWritten by a professor to professors, this article, “Diss ‘Like’” (Ted Gup, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/8/12), eloquently explains why usage of the verbal filler “like,” and perhaps worse, our general acceptance of it, significantly harm all of us.

The fine piece certainly is worth reading in its entirety. Notable excerpt:

“[Like] is a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, relieving the speaker of accountability. It tells students that the world is so intrigued by what they have to say that it is willing to clean up after them, to sift through the verbal refuse for the nuggets concealed within.”

As an English teacher myself, I’ve noticed a common retort to such arguments: “who cares?” But to dismiss this criticism of flabby, inexpressive language with a shrug is, it seems to me, to be complicit in the erosion, or “corruption” as Gup says, of language as a whole.

One could argue the erosion has been happening for awhile now. The extraneous “like” has been a problem since at least the early ‘90’s, when my own high school English teacher interrupted an offensive “It’s, like, really hot outside” with “Is it LIKE hot, or is it INDEED hot?” Prof. Gup in his article explains that he notified his students of their uttered “likes” by holding aloft a “LIKE” sign at each offense. Both methods call attention to use of verbal fillers on the spot, and emphasize slowing down and thinking about what we’re saying: that is, speaking with deliberation. Don’t expect the listener to “clean up after you,” as the quote above has it. This idea, of course, also applies to written expression; as Strunk and White’s venerable Elements of Style says about writing a paragraph,

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

So this year, consider working toward making your communications more concise and eliminating bad habits from your speech. A well-spoken college graduate more easily commands attention and, perhaps, credibility and respect; and speaking with grace and purpose is a significant personal accomplishment as well as a valuable, versatile life skill.

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From U to You: 3 Reasons to Visit Uni Research Hub

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neon blurFor cutting-edge news that appeals to your sense of discovery, check out It’s a conglomerate of research news from universities in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, and it’s especially rich in the Sciences (current categories: Earth & Environment, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, and Society & Culture). Students, here are three reasons to visit:

1)      To find out a bit about your college:
If you are a prospective or transfer student to any of the site’s contributing colleges, you can get an idea of the kind of academic research they’re doing. (Look for the “Browse By School” drop-down menu at right.) That research may or may not impact you directly while you’re on campus, but it’s illuminating nonetheless.

2)      To find ideas for essay assignments or projects:
If you’re faced with a research paper assignment, you can find good topic ideas on the site. Some students freeze when they’re given free rein to choose their own topics, and this would be a helpful browsing site in the “exploratory” beginning stage of research. Scroll down to “popular tags” or just browse around amongst the categories tabbed at the top of the site.

3)      To quench your thirst for knowledge, in general:
Whether or not you’re formally a student, if you consider yourself a lifelong learner, read the site for knowledge’s sake! It’s updated frequently, and you’re bound to find something of interest for discussion, sharing, or simply your own edification.

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The Learning Bounties of an Ordinary Day

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Westlake on a sunny day

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Here’s an idea for learning on an ordinary day, and the beauty of this exercise is its adaptability to any age group. That is, high school or college students casting about for an essay topic might find this a refreshing alternative to “beeline for Google”; and kids of all ages might find an exciting new angle on something familiar.

First, make a list of what you do in a typical day. Then, ask yourself what you know about the origins of those activities. For instance, you might find in a typical day, you

-eat some food.
-use the computer or a cell phone.
-take a walk on a sidewalk.

So, do you know where, exactly, your food originates? If you’re having a glass of milk, what do you know about the dairy industry? About the business of agriculture? About cows? Organic milk? Soy milk? Nutrition and the difference between vitamins and minerals?

What do you know about the first computers? About how landline phones were invented, and how cell phones differ in operation? About when cell phones became commonly used instruments, and how, and why?

That sidewalk: how is it constructed? Where do we get concrete and asphalt? When did these substances replace simple dirt or gravel roads, and why? Who is in charge of paving our city streets?

And so on, and so on.

These examples illustrate how good questions – sometimes simple questions – can start you on a journey of learning. Of course, learning expands and deepens as one progresses educationally: while a grade school youngster might write a report all about the history of computers, a college student might write a more focused essay about one aspect of computer science ethics, or one of the various debates surrounding e-learning.

In all cases, good research questions were necessary. So choose your own topics to explore, perhaps from the most mundane of circumstances, and push your own limits as you find out more.

Spelling “Success”


Content: Well-known C19th pangram The quick br...

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A site on college prep, a piece on spelling. Is the state of our education so dire?

Yes, I do believe grade school kids should master spelling rules, and high school, much less college students, should not misspell words on formal assignments. While that may be ideal, the reality is spelling errors crop up everywhere: in college-level essays, but also on signs in public places and notably, on the web (ever read comments on YouTube?).

Another reality is that many intelligent adults don’t find proper spelling to come easily; but rather than shrug and continue to spell badly, such people (if they are mature) recognize their weakness and live with a dictionary close at hand.

So, as the t-shirt saying goes, “Bad Spellers of the World, Untie!”, and behold the tips below to help conquer your spelling demons:

1)      Don’t over-rely on Spell Check. It’s a handy tool, but beware: it can’t think for you. It only recognizes whether a word is in the language; it doesn’t check for usage. Do a web search for “Spell Checker Poem” and you’ll find a humorous but powerful example of Spell Check’s serious limitations.

2)      Do print your document and read it aloud slowly before turning it in (or presenting or sending it). This is just as important in the professional world as it is in the student’s world, by the way. No one wants to make silly errors, and we catch errors more frequently on paper than we do on screen.

3)      Do use a dictionary when you aren’t sure how to spell a word. Let’s face it: foregoing the dictionary with a “close enough!” attitude is just plain lazy. Using online dictionaries may seem easy, but don’t let your old-fashioned paper one get dusty. Personally, I find the “old school” dictionaries much faster to use (plus, no annoying ads!).

4)      Do (re-)learn spelling rules if necessary. Check out a few good links to get started:
“Some Rules and Suggestions about Spelling”: a wonderful page with interactive quizzes at the bottom. From the Capital Community College Foundation’s Guide to Grammar and Writing.
“English Spelling Rules” from
“Spelling: Common Words that Sound Alike” from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).
What a page of resources: “ESL: Spelling” from The Internet TESL Journal.

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