Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Admission Ticket Assignment

My Applied Linguistics professor has a requirement of us for each class: that we write 250 words in response to a prompt given at the end of the prior class called an "admission ticket". You have to attend class to turn it in and to get the prompt for the next week's ticket. You can get the prompt from a classmate, but you cannot get someone to turn the ticket in for you if you miss a class.

At the end of the semester, you turn all your tickets in. They will have been given a check, check-plus, or check-minus, meaning they'd been accepted. If one is not accepted for whatever reason (looks like one already turned in, etc), it gets an X. If you turn in the maximum number of admission tickets (in our case, 14), your grade goes up. If you turn in one fewer (13 for us), then your grade is what you earned on other assignments. If you turn in two fewer, your grade goes down one letter grade, and onward.

I share this with you because I think it's a brilliant way to avoid taking attendance (and wasting valuable class time) and to encourage students to attend class.

Anyway, our prompt for this week was to think of an amusing example of illogical, non-standard English. Here's my response:

Using language to sound smarter is nothing new. We constantly see it in freshman writing as they click “thesaurus” in Word, not fully understanding that synonyms are words that are similar, not necessarily equal in meaning. As I thought about amusing examples of illogical, non-standard English, I immediately thought of malapropisms[1].

Malapropisms occur when a speaker substitutes a similar sounding phrase or word for one of intended meaning. One might say, “I think her point was irreverent” instead of “I think her point was irrelevant”, since the two words sound similar. Most of the examples in actual usage occur when a speaker either doesn’t learn a common phrase properly (“pigment of my imagination”) or attempts to use vocabulary he grasps tenuously.

Popular culture has used malapropisms humorously for as long as people have been misusing language—Shakespeare certainly included them among his other methods of wordplay.

Unfortunately, some infamous instances of malapropisms in actual usage come from our current President. Sites that discussed malapropisms referenced Bush’s tendency towards language misuse, compiling frequently updated lists and using it as mockery-fodder, even coining a term for his peculiar speech impairment.

The comic effect of malapropisms is undeniable, even when they occur unintentionally. I personally find them enjoyable because it gives a glimpse into the mechanisms of language, and how difficult it can be to operate in a discourse that one is unfamiliar with. Critics of our current president cite his unusual usage as evidence that he is unschooled in political discourse, and therefore unfit to be our president.


“Bushism.” Wikipedia. 25 January 2008.

“Malapropisms.” Fun-with-words.com. 25 January 2008.

“Malapropism” Wikipedia. 25 January 2008.

Weisberg, Jacob. “The Complete Bushisms.” 25 January 2008. 9 January 2008.

[1] While I was tempted to pepper this admission ticket with malapropisms, I refrained for ease of reading. It was certainly fun to think of ways to misuse language…


The Aimful Wanderer said...

So that's what you call it. That makes me want to kick people in the shins.

Timothy said...

Neat idea. I'd just hate to have to grade all those admission tickets!

Jenn said...

It is a pretty neat idea--and I think he just reads through them and doesn't mark down a grade, since we have to turn them back in at the end.