“Trigger Warnings” for Hamlet

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This week the British publication The Guardian reported that “Students in America have been asking for “trigger warnings” to be included on works of literature which deal with topics such as rape or war.”  Works that were of concern to students at the University of California at Santa Barbara included Things Fall ApartMrs. Dalloway, and The Great Gatsby, all of which I have taught.  This demand for fair warning so that those who have been traumatized can adequately prepare for the shock of what they read assumes that having something in a syllabus (which may or may not be read by students anyway) will insulate students from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that may come up in any given text.

I’m not so sure.
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How to Anger English Majors

shakespeareI love languages.  I specialize in the “dead” languages of Greece and Rome.  But the history and development of languages has always fascinated me.  I was hooked the first moment I heard about Indo-European (which was first hypothesized by William Jones, whom I hope is a long lost relative).    One thing I firmly believe about language is that grammar is primarily descriptive not prescriptive.  Though it does give us rules about (prescribes) HOW to speak, it is mainly a reflection of (describes) how we in fact DO speak.   Languages change.  And as languages change, so do the rules.  One group of people who just don’t get this is English majors.  Maybe because they enjoy knowing the rules and condescending to those who don’t, who knows?  But in keeping with the holiday season, I give you 2 things that are absolutely true about English but which will absolutely infuriate English majors. Continue reading