Forbes has an interesting article, Dear Student: I Don’t Lie Awake at Night Thinking of Ways to Ruin Your Life
One point he makes, I really need to work on.
First, I do not â€œtake offâ€ points. You earn them. The difference is not merely rhetorical, nor is it trivial. In other words, you start with zero points and earn your way to a grade. You earn a grade in (say) Econ 100 for demonstrating that you have gained a degree of competence in economics ranging from being able to articulate the basic principles (enough to earn a C) to mastery and the ability to apply these principles to day-to-day affairs (which will earn an A). Iâ€™ve hurt my own grades before by confusing my own incompetence with competence and my own (bare) competence with mastery, so trust me: Iâ€™ve been there, and I understand.
I actually have said the “take off” points. I need to do it the other way around.
The author, Art Carden, is right. It is not simply a matter of word choice but a matter of deep and inherent meaning.
Of course, “rhetorical” in his paragraph is not the rhetoric I practice, but the common usage of the word to mean “empty of sense or meaning; having no point.”
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Thank you for posting this. I am in the middle of research papers with my winter course, and I feel like I have had this conversation far too many times. I too am guilty of the phrasing “taking off points.” I would hazard the guess that if I’d remembered to explain it the way Carden has then I could have saved myself a few awkward arguments. It’s certainly something to keep in mind for spring. Thanks again.