Friday, 30 January 2009

The future's bright. The future's pedantic.

Today I was helping a dyslexic kid in an English lesson. The lesson was on Macbeth and the students were summarising the main plot points on a chart. A kid asked what the verb form of prophecy was. (As in "the witches ________ that Macbeth will be king.") Now, I'm supposed to stick to my own one-to-one student in this lesson but, word geek that I am, I can't resist an opportunity to show off my vocabulary. However, before I could speak, the teacher - a pretty good teacher as it happens, one of the few decent types in this school - answers with 'prophesize' and goes to write it on the board. The cardinal sin as a teaching assistant is undermining the teacher, but I couldn't let this lie. I couldn't do it. In another lesson, maybe, but not English. So I piped up with "No such word!" The kids turn around,interested. "I'm sorry, sir, but the word is prophesy (pronounced prophes-eye). Prophesize isn't a word." Now to the guy's credit, he tried to be kind to the poor deluded woman challenging his omniescent English knowledge. "Well, in the dictionary, it says..." I was up, out of my seat, the poor kid who can neither read nor write much more than his own name was on his own now. I took a look over the teacher's shoulder. I said, like him, as kindly as I could "Wiktionary isn't very reliable. Try the school dictionary." he looked it up again online, this time on Wikipedia. Again, not necessarily right, which you'd think a graduate and qualified teacher would know. I stole a dictionary from a handy kid and proved my point. He was very gracious about it, but looked uncomfortable.
I must have apologised about 10 times for my pedantry and my big mouth, went on about how widespread the misconception was. etc etc. I always feel bad doing this sort of thing, but in the end an English teacher tried to teach a non-existent word. I must have seen 20 spelling and grammar errors taught by teachers in the last month. Given the number of days I didn't work (I'm on supply), that's over one a day. Only a few, where I felt I knew the teacher would be ok with it, did I correct. And even then I felt bad. The ones I left made me feel worse, though. It's like having an unscratched itch.
At the same time I love it when people coin new words. After all, we revere Shakespeare as the ultimate writer and he was always at it. Those ex-colleagues of mine who read this will have probably heard the excellent Roy-ism 'dudify' ('doodify'?) - meaning to make something higher quality/more flashy (more 'dudey' i.e. cool)- usually applied to geography presentations. I still use 'dudify' regularly, there are probably kids all over the city who think it's a real world. But in an English lesson, when a kid ASKS for a word, even when studying the number one English neologist (is that a word? It is now...), well sorry, but the pedant gene kicks in.


  1. Well done. I don't think I could have kept silent there either. I admire your restraint with the people you didn't correct. I think my head would have exploded.

    I'm not sure how much of a neologist (I like that word too) Shakespeare was... I think it's more likely that he was the first person to write all the words he's credited with in a form that's survived. He wrote drama that the common(ish) man could understand and identify with (hence the widespread presence of slang), so using funny words would be a bit out of character, I reckon. What do you think?

  2. "Nauseous" is my peeve
    When used as "nauseated."
    Makes me want to puke!