To Save Writing

Please click here for our petition – and if you agree – sign and share!

I normally use this blog for personal musings on everything from shower oranges to anecdotes about teaching; however, every now and then a much more serious issue captures the stage.

Long story short, the administration of the school where I teach, Stony Brook University, is indiscriminately eliminating ALL of their adjunct Writing Program faculty. I urge you to please read, sign, and share this petition in protest against these wholly unjust measures to both the faculty – and more importantly – the student body we serve.

Sometimes I truly worry if this is the beginning of the end of the humanities. But then I think: not while we have a chance to do something about it!

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Top Ten Out of Context Quotes From Today’s Student Conferences

*Note: All quotes are – for better and worse – my own words.*

“I’m a jerk, not evil.”

“Is the fire alarm really going off right now?”

“Uh….okay.”

“Good luck with the philosophy.”

“Shoot some pool for me.”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“Okay…I can ignore the body paragraphs.”

“I gave up on that in second grade.”

“If I had written that sentence down, you would have seen the comma.”

“I always wanted to gamble at a church.”

Do you have any favorite out-of-context teaching quotes? Please share!

Top Ten Most(?) (Im)practical Teaching Fears…

For teachers and students alike, as our school year stress ramps up, it’s important to keep our anxieties in check – at least those we can control. While there are many shared fears among us as humans, we all have those specific to our relative lots in life as well – in my case, as a teacher.

My hope is that by shedding light on these phobias, perhaps they’ll lose some of their anxiety-inducing luster? Here are my top ten most(?) (im)practical teaching fears. (Note that while these aren’t in any specific order, some of them have come true. Can you guess which ones? Comment below!)

1. Wearing the wrong shoes to class – and by ‘wrong’ I mean wearing my morning Crocs sandals instead of some form of professionally acceptable footwear.

2. Wearing mismatched shoes to school. Yes, you read that italicized bastard right.

3.  Forgetting to wear shoes at all…

4. Forgetting to wear a belt.

5.  Forgetting to bring the lesson plan.

6. Bringing the wrong lesson plan.

7. The old unzipped fly.

8.  Getting a student’s name wrong who you call on.

9. Leaving class because you have to go to the bathroom.

10. Forgetting you have class altogether and sleeping through your alarm clock’s best blaring attempts.

What fears among these do we have in common? Do you have others? Please share!

Beyond the Word

Check out my recent interview with a former student of mine! So exciting to see our work pay off as these young folk really start to make positive impacts on their own communities – and the larger world!

RhetComp @ Stony Brook

by Joe Labriola

I recently sat down with Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Student President, Ayyan Zubair – before his speech to the campus community about the recent ending of DACA – to discuss the role of writing, rhetoric, and effective communication as a student, activist, and emerging global citizen.

Photo credit: Ayyan Zubair and the SB Statesman

What do you think the value of writing and rhetoric is for students across academic disciplines?

I have a lot of friends who are pre-med – I’m a math and economics major. And if you can’t write, you really can’t speak that well either. For example, whether you like Obama or not, you can’t deny that he’s a brilliant speaker. And why is he a brilliant speaker? Well, he’s able to write. I’m actually reading his book right now, The Audacity of Hope. His story’s amazing. I’m waiting for his next one after…

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That Time in my Life When Grammar Met Poetry

Dear gods! (yes, gods plural) I just stumbled upon this old undergraduate final project of mine! While I’m not sure what English and or writing class it was for, it certainly must have been a doozy for the professor to grade. There might even be some errors here that undergraduate me overlooked – there’s certainly some nauseating verse – but also some entertaining gems. Ahh…to be an undergraduate who thinks he knows grammar again… Do you notice anything out of sorts here? (besides for butchered rhymes and meter). Please leave any in the comments below!

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Rhyming Reason
to a God-Awful, Boring Subject
By Joe Labriola

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Table of Contents
1. Introduction……………………………………………………………..p. 3 – 4
2. “Imply” vs. “Infer” ……………………………………………………..p. 4 – 5
3. “Then” vs. “Than” ………………………………………………………p. 5
4. “Lay” vs. “Lie”………………………………………………………….p. 5 – 6
5. “Between” vs. “Among”…………………………………………………p. 6 – 7
6. “Affect” vs. “Effect”…………………………………………………….p. 7
7. Quick snares……………………………………………………………..p. 7 – 8
8. “Who” vs. “Whom”………………………………………………………p. 8 – 9
9. “Whoever” vs. “Whomever”…………………………………………….p. 9
10. “Me” vs. “I”………………………………………………………………p. 10 – 11
11. “Neither nor”…………………………………………………………….p. 11 – 12
12. “Tense”…………………………………………………………………..p. 12
13. “Me” vs. “Myself”……………………………………………………….p. 12 – 13
14. “Fewer” vs. “Less Than”…………………………………………………p. 13 – 14
15. Subjunctive………………………………………………………………p. 14
16. “Lying” vs. “Laying”…………………………………………………….p. 15
17. “Lain” vs. “Laid”…………………………………………………………p. 15
18. Superlatives……..………………………………………………………..p. 16
19. “Hopefully”……….………………………………………………………p. 16 – 17
20. Conclusion……………………………………………………………….p. 17 – 19
21. Works Cited………………………………………………………………p. 20

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Gather all those who wish to know
about the rights and wrongs of prose;
of how to write in song and script;
and use the rules you’ve often skipped.
I’ll speak of words that are misused
and teach you how they are abused.
And by the end I hope you’ll know
enough to make your papers flow.
Now this might seem against all sense
to teach such tools within such tense,
but rules are dumb and not much fun
and rhymes are cool when they’re well spun.

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I seek to teach all those who try
in school and life to just pass by,
and right the wrongs you often make,
and point out your most made mistakes.
Now let’s begin with how to use
the words that we most often choose
and turn out wrong and make us fail;
that give us F’s and turn us pale.

Sometimes you say or write, “imply”,
but you are wrong although you try.
“My words imply that she is mean
because she said she will not clean.”
What you instead “infer” from her
is that she’s mean since she won’t stir.
And, “I infer from what she said,”
is how you use this word instead.
When you “imply” it’s often you
who others say says something true.

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When you “infer”, you are the one
who hears others and claims a pun.

Now “then” and “than” are often mixed.
I know adults who need this fixed.
They say, “I am smarter then her,”
but this is wrong, you can infer.
Because “then” moves time, space, and plot,
while “than” compares, contrasts what’s not.
“I am smarter than all of those….”,
is how to use “than” in your prose.
“I went to Kate’s and then to Ken’s,”
is how you say you saw your friends,
because you moved and don’t compare.
The worth of friends you do not care.

Now that your mind has been prepared
it’s time for words that often scare
like “lay” and “lie” and how they’re used,
and now learn why they are confused.

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Now both are verbs and both are right;
when used correct they should not fright.
To “lay” is to put something down.
To “lie” is when you’re on the ground.
“The boy will lay it on the floor,”
and “I lie down nearby the door.”
But “I lay down in bed to rest,”
and “I laid down my failing test.”

So try all those and you will see
which one is right out of those three.
Speaking of which, which do you guess?
“Between”, “among”, which sounds the best?
“I choose between the two of you.”
“I pick among the six I view.”
“Between” is when there’s only two.
“Among” you use when more than few.
“Between these groups,” if you mean two.
If plural, but two, then still it’s true.
And leave “amongst”. It doesn’t flow

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unless Britain you choose to go.

Another one we often mix:
“Affect,” “effect,” which one to pick?
Now, “I affect how you all learn.”
Is that right or cause for concern?
That line is right and this is why:
because “affect” is when you try
to do the act that makes the change,
and makes “effects” from your exchange.
“I felt effects from your knife.”
This is correct cause you’re in strife.
The “knife” “affects” and you receive
“effects” that pain and badly grieve.

That was a stretch but made my point.
I’m trying not to disappoint.
Admit it’s not as bad as school
with lazy lines and boring rules.
Compose yourself; you’re almost there.

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Perhaps I’ll list some simple snares
to ease your mind and give you break;
to help your mind again awake.
“Its there’s,” is wrong “It’s theirs” is true,
and “your” you own, and “you’re” is you.
And don’t use “ain’t” in any case
cause “ain’t” “ain’t” right in any place.

Now that’s enough so let’s move on.
There’s more to do before I’m gone,
like “who” and “whom” and when they’re used
and why they both are so confused.
Know: “who” is “he” and “whom” is “him”
and take a line and make it slim.
Like, “Don’t you wish that we could find
out who shot John and made him blind?”
So lose the words before the “who”
and answer like you have a clue.
Like: “He shot John and made him die?”
The “he” to “who” you here apply.

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Now, “John’s the one whom I despise.”
You read this line and then revise.
“I despise him,” not “He I hate.”
And so it’s “whom” without debate.
The same for when you add “ever”
Like, “Whoever said that never….”
“He said never…” and that is right.
“Whomever you pick, we will like.”
So, “We like him,” is what should seem
the correct choice within this scheme.
“Whomever you chose, we will kill,”
“We will kill him,” is right, though ill.

Geez, this is long and drawing on.
Although my goal that you won’t yawn
I think has worked so far indeed.
If you’re still here then you still read.
I must admit that this is hard.
It’s left my mind and heart both scarred.

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It’s fun for you but pain for me
but through these rhymes I hope you’ll see.
So what of “me” and “I” to do?
What rules to know to make these true?
Well, “I” it does and “me” allows.
Of how it’s done, I’ll show you now.

“I” first person, pronoun subject
while “me” receives what you inflect.
So “I” can do and “me” can act
from prepositions. This is fact.
“I wish to go to sleep today,”
is the sentence that you should say.
And, “Me cannot think what to do,”
is not a line you should construe.
Like “who” and “whom” you can replace
with one question within its space.
Like, “He asked Bob and I to go,”
make, “He asked I to go,” to show.

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Now that line’s wrong, and “me” is right.
That, “He asked me,” instead you cite.
The same goes for with “we” and “us”.
Replace them when you need success.
So say, “Between just you and I,”
you take the “I” and “us” apply.
“Between just us,” does that sound good?
Or “we” seem right and understood?
If “us” sounds right, then that you use.
What word sounds right is what you choose.
So, “He asked me how it begins,”
replace the “me” to see which wins.

Now there is also “neither nor”,
the rules of which can be a bore.
“Neither I nor Chris understands,”
is the right line although it’s bland.
But note the verb and how it’s used;
how it’s not plural. Don’t be confused.
The word that’s by the verb the most

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that is the tense that you should host.
“Neither I nor them can decide,”
look to the “them” to be your guide,
and since it’s plural you know the way:
the verb after is plural today.

And what of tense? What should be said?
When you have two to write instead.
Know, “She and Chris went to the store.”
And, “She and them, they all ignore.”
“He comes to fight and write for us.”
“They come because they know they must.”
You see my point of how this goes?
A few more lines I will compose.
“I do these rhymes because I must,
although my heart and head will bust.
Next time a game or something bland.
Such epic verse I cannot stand.”

Go back to “me” for just a bit.

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“Me” or “myself” how to commit?
The rule of thumb is pretty good:
When you use “I”, “myself” you should.
So, “I myself cannot believe,”
is the right line you should perceive.
And, “He returned the book to me,”
is what is right, now do you see?
“I went myself before the court.”
“Myself” you here want to resort.
And, “They killed me after this verse,”
is how you should write and converse.

We’re almost done so don’t complain.
A few more rules are left to name.
“Fewer” “less than”, which way to go?
Which way to make your words most flow?
If you can count then use “fewer”.
Like, “I have five fewer than her.”
But if unknown and cannot view,
then use “less than” for all you do.

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Say, “I have less money than them,”
Or, “I’m less glad, you see, than when
I hadn’t done these stupid rhymes
that seem no less than the worst crimes.”

I think that you should know as well
“subjunctive” tense and how to tell
when you should use this form and why;
of where and when you should apply.
When in a mood or are unsure,
instead of “was” you should use “were”.
Like, “I wish that these rhymes were done,”
because you wish for other fun.
“If I was you,” is incorrect.
Instead it’s “were”, you can’t object
because you think and do not state
facts that you cannot debate.

Now I could end right here and now
or keep going and teaching how

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you use the rules I’ve taught so far
to make your words seem less bizarre.
Like “lie” and “lay”, remember those?
I taught you how to use in prose.
“Lying” “laying” we should speak of.
I left these out before above.
“I am lying within the jail,”
is what to use so not to fail.
And, “I’m laying down to rest,”
This is the act that sounds the best.

And what of “lain” and “laid” to do?
You thought it done, but we’re not through.
“My friend has lain for many hours,”
and, “I have laid down the flowers.”
Use “lain” for “lie” and “laid” for “lay”.
This is the rule you must obey.
Say, “I have lain in bed to rest,”
and, “I laid down my grammar test.”
Get it? Got it? It’s not that bad.

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There’s two more left so don’t be mad.
I’m proud you’ve gone so long this long.
You’re almost there so please stay strong!

Superlatives are also mixed,
but I’ll show how to get them fixed.
Unique, perfect, the best, divine,
are all the words you can’t malign.
So, “He’s the most unique of us,”
is not a line that you should trust,
because unique, it is the most;
it is the best that you can boast.
You either are or aren’t best;
just know this for speech and tests.
“It is unique unlike the rest.”
Now there’s a line I can digest!

So finally we come at last
to one I think is most harassed.
“Hopefully I think we are done.”

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Now there’s a line that you should shun.
Cause “hopefully” is when with “hope”.
We’re almost done so do not mope.
“I really hope this is the end.”
Now there’s a line you can defend.
Just know with “hope” you wish for good.
This is often misunderstood.
And so I hope that now you see
all of these rules I do decree.

So now all you who gathered here
have nothing left to learn or fear.
I chose eighteen and this is why
cause these are ones to get you by.
Eighteen seemed right for you adults,
and now my rhymes you can consult
in case you wish to write or speak
just look to my rhyming technique.
But just to make myself most clear,
please let me end with you still here.

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And list some rules that I did break
to make these rhymes keep you awake.

Like “and” and “but” I did begin
certain lines, which some say is sin.
Do not do that unless you must.
This is one rule that you should trust.
Some rhymes I stretched and other’s made,
and lots of rules and words I played.
But that’s poems and epic verse
so please praise me and do not curse!
I still feel like I do deserve
some praise, some rest, for all my nerve.
So with this said, let me be done
before my words you truly shun.

Thank all of you for coming by
and hearing what I said and why.
I do believe Shakespeare would say,
“Oh, what a great rhyming display!”

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I hope you had great fun like I,
now that I wish you all good-bye.
Farewell my friends and take this verse
and use it to write and converse.
And as for me, my job now done,
new works I soon will have begun.
But no more verse for learning words.
I leave such laws to fellow nerds.

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Works Cited
“Commonly Confused Words.” University of Richmond Writing Center & WAC
Program.
<http://writing2.richmond.edu/writing/wweb/conford.html&gt;.

Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language.
<http://www.oed.com/&gt;.

Why Sometimes it’s Better to be ‘Savvy’ Than ‘Smart’

Don’t let this savvy/smart sounding title fool you – I hardly consider myself to be either ideal here, but even an average Joe finds the right answer once in awhile. And in my experience, it can certainly help to recognize the merit of both concepts, those being that of ‘smarts’ and ‘savviness’ respectively.

Last week I found myself at Craft – a charming little local craft beer store – sampling some very fine brews. On the counter sat a clear glass jar, filled to the sealed top with what else but fresh, Earthy-green hops.

Mmmm….hoppy….

Hops are a vital ingredient in many a-manner of brews, specifically the now wildly popular IPAs (Indian Pale Ales). There’s quite a long history and culture surrounding when and why hops were introduced to the brewing process – as well as how that process has evolved over the centuries. But perhaps I’ll save that chronicle for another post or several. The point is that these green little flower buds are indeed a vital element within the brewing world, often noted for the distinctly bitter and or citrusy zeal they can impart upon any given drink.

Next to the hop jar was another jar with white paper slips inside. The beertender explained the contest: simply guess how many hops were in the larger container. There was some discussion about what the number might be – and many guesses – but as these answers were scribbled down, I continued to drink, and think: what equation might work to make a close guesstimate?

I say guesstimate because I’m not confident enough in my mathematical skills to call it anything else. In fact, I’m so unconfident that I don’t even call what I do ‘math’, but rather ‘maff’, which is, according to the self-dictionary inside my head: “Joe’s method of numerical processing rooted in subjoetivity rather than in consistent mathematical modes of calculation.”

This is not to say that I don’t use actual tried-and-true formulas, but rather that I don’t trust that they’re always the right ones, or that I carry them through correctly, resulting in my need to substitute some elements of any given mathematical process whenever I feel the need to adjust an equation by thinking, eh, seems closer to what’s probably right by adding or subtracting ________ instead.

It pays – in this case, more or less literally – to be ‘savvy smart’.

To give some further context, I remember talking to my teacher after my 10th grade state math exam. I was rightfully nervous as to whether or not I passed. “I’ve gotta say,” she began, raising an eyebrow. “This is probably the most interesting test I’ve ever seen.”

“Is that…good?” I asked, brows equally uneven.

“Well, you passed,” she said to my exhaling relief, and then continued, “’cause you got enough of the answers right, even though you used all the wrong formulas.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, mostly. But you showed your work too, so, two out of three still counts as passing. I’m more impressed how you somehow got enough answers right.”

I shrugged. “I guess they just seemed right.”

This ‘lesson’ stuck with me through the rest of high school, then college, and all the way more than a decade later to this craft beer store counter with its hop jar. I knew enough to try to calculate its volume. π r2, or something, right? I used my phone – which I know from the model type to be about 7 and 1/2 inches long – to approximate the radius, and height. Ah! That was the other part of the equation! Volume =  π r2h

One might even call me…crafty…….

Subtracting a few dozen for the slightly narrower neck of the jar, I came up with a solid sounding number: 580. But staring at the thumb-sized pieces I realized a problem: solid, or rather, full, which the inside of this vessel was far from. Each hop’s similar yet still unique shape created far too many gaps among them to total 580. It was time to adjust my calculation. It was time for maff.

A “smarter” guesser might have been able to employ an equation among a small sample set(s) of hops to calculate the total volume of space in-between said set(s) and then just multiply that by the total sets to come up with a number of units to subtract from the original total. This explanatory sentence alone, however, was a struggle enough for me to write and even then doesn’t seem entirely right – and so creating an actual calculation along these lines was far from a practical option. Instead, I dug back into my 10th grade math skill sets, tilted my head in study of the jar, took another sip, and thought: eh, fifty fewer should do the trick.

My final tally came out to 530. I was the closest without going over by three hops.

Now that’s some savvy maff for you.

Do you have maff stories of your own? Savvy tricks? Please feel free to like, comment, and share! And subscribe for future musings by entering your email on the right!