They’re really NOT any more fun the second time around! Nor any less time-consuming.

Therefore, since my deadlines are lurking right around the corner, I present to you: my college application from high school, now being dusted off for my transfer applications!

I would like to copy-edit the world. Actually, I don’t much enjoy pointing out people’s errors; a better way of describing my compulsion is that when something is spelled or punctuated incorrectly, the mistake screams at me from the page. I don’t claim to know everything about punctuation or grammar, and in fact I can explain very little of it, but signs advertising banana’s or schools named St. Albans make me wince and wish I could rearrange the apostrophes.

I’ve grown up loving language and the written word, which is probably why it bothers me to see them used incorrectly. Before I even went to preschool, I spent hours making my parents read me certain words or letters from Richard Scarry’s Find Your ABCs until I knew them all. I remember the inside cover of the book most fondly: it had the alphabet printed on it, and I’d amuse myself by naming each of the letters. I have been reading voraciously ever since.

Even so, my own writing used to drive my newspaper copy editors crazy: I usually use the “Oxford comma” before the and in a list, often write overlong sentences, and always prefer the British spellings of words. This last is probably most noticeable in my application; I usually blame extensive reading of British works during my formative years, but really, I think the extra vowels are prettier.

One of my favourite things about yearbook design, actually, is its ability to showcase the beauty of words. I love using individual letters as design elements, especially lowercase letters. There’s something simple and pleasing about the shape of an “e”, for instance, or an “h”.

But language is much more than decorative. It is the most effective way to attempt to convey one’s thoughts. I say “attempt” because although words have so many nuances, a description of something can never quite encompass the whole thing. In my mind, reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry and translating The Aeneid from Latin are very similar because both activities involve unraveling words to get at something bigger, which is probably why I like both so much. In Emily Dickinson’s poems, the word “circumference” refers to much more than geometry, just as the Latin word “mores” means much more than “customs”; in both cases, one must think about them to understand, rather than just translate literally.

Language is also more than communication: it is a glorious mass hallucination. Words only have meaning because some group of people agrees that they do, and yet language is so pervasive. Before I traveled to Europe, I knew intellectually that most people wouldn’t speak English, but I was unprepared for what that really meant. I couldn’t pick up on the double meaning in that country’s poetry or discuss philosophy, but I also couldn’t read the signs in the Metro or tell a waiter I was vegetarian. I only got by because it was a school trip, and we had a bilingual guide.

I’ve also been fascinated by language’s mutability: because it is so closely tied to culture, language never stays put. New technologies and new ways of thinking give birth to new words, such as ringtone and supersize. I particularly wonder about how English is changing now. Online communication is infamous for ignoring all but the most basic rules of language; for example, when using instant messenger, my sentences lack capitalised beginnings or punctuated endings, and I know my friends are guilty of worse. A large part of me, still in love with English as I read it in books, resists this change, but a smaller part wonders. English as we use it now would be considered inelegant and too informal, compared to Shakespeare’s English; perhaps the language is not being destroyed, just changed. Perhaps when I try to insist upon bananas and St. Alban’s, I am just being old-fashioned, not correct.



  1. yinyang says:

    Nice essay. I especially like this: “when something is spelled or punctuated incorrectly, the mistake screams at me from the page.” That’s pretty much how I feel, too.

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