Whenever I teach older students, whether they’re undergraduates, graduate students or junior faculty, I find a vivid, pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing — the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own.
I keep reading books and seeing movies where nobody can fucking say anything except fuck, unless they say shit. I mean they don’t seem to have any adjective to describe fucking except fucking even when they’re fucking fucking. And shit is what they say when they’re fucked. When shit happens, they say shit, or oh shit, or oh shit we’re fucked. The imagination involved is staggering. I mean, literally.
Renowned author Dan Brown woke up in his luxurious four-poster bed in his expensive $10 million house – and immediately he felt angry. Most people would have thought that the 48-year-old man had no reason to be angry. After all, the famous writer had a new book coming out. But that was the problem. A new book meant an inevitable attack on the rich novelist by the wealthy wordsmith’s fiercest foes. The critics.
I tell students that they are welcome to use singular they in writing for my class, but they should footnote it the first time they use it and in the footnote explain their rationale for using singular they. And students do, both in my class and in other classes... This footnote accomplishes at least three things: It shows readers that the author is consciously making a choice to use singular they; it informs readers about legitimate reasons for using singular they, even if they disagree with its use in this context; and most importantly, it asks students to be careful, self-conscious writers, reflecting on and explaining their choices in their writing.
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