Email Etiquette: Results

I teach email etiquette to all my first-year students. I also teach it to my upper division students, just in case they didn’t get it when they were the young ‘uns. Many, I would guess even most students, take the ideas to heart and use them when they create emails they intend to send to profs. If they did not, the strange and extreme lack-of-email-etiquette pieces we receive would not be afforded so much attention.

Since there are some students who cannot imagine anyone doing such a thing as forgetting to use the email etiquette–and both the ones least and most likely to are those who would fit this category–I like to collect these little nuggets as real-life examples.

from the CHE forums:

“Entire e-mail (no greeting, no signature):

I having trouble remebering what the assignment was for 2mor so please get back at me with sum details.

Clearly someone skipped the e-mail etiquette portion of the syllabus.”

dr_know. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2371.”, 26 January 2011,,30991.2370.html. Accessed 31 December 2018.

Why, yes, I did know I am probably spending too much time on the fora… But they are so enlightening!

Research Paper: History

Yes, I know this is TeachingCollegeEnglish, not history. However, having been a double major undergrad (at least according to myself and the number of hours I took in both fields), history resonates with me. Also, I have students writing research papers. Some of them are on history. But really, lots of this can apply to anyone’s research project.

This was on the Chronicle of Higher Ed forums, in the HOF (Hall of Fame) section, written by marlborough back in 2011. Please go to the CHE for other fascinating statements and professors talking about professer-ing.

Quote here:

GI do this with pretty big 300 and 400 level history classes.  I posted this on another thread, but here it is again.  The bonus is that the steps are more or less plagiarist and ghost-proof.  This is for History, but other fields may be able to adapt:

Primary Source Eval:
his form will not work perfectly for every source, so please follow to the best of your ability and improvise any replacement questions appropriate to your source.

1. Title and author of your source
2. When was this written, and subsequently, when was it published. If this is memoir published substantially AFTER the events described, how does the time gap affect the material (i.e. is this someone who is now an adult describing the actions of a child, this person’s politics changed, etc.)
3. Capsule biography of the author of your source–why is this person an appropriate or important source of information, what are his/her biases through religion, politics, class, gender, etc.
4. What are the limitations of this source–was this person absent at important events, or have a restricted view of them for some reason? Does this source have a bias that makes it problematic, and if so, what is it?
5. What does this source do well? What people, events and themes does it give useful information about?
6. Make a wish list of complementary primary sources you wish existed to fill out the blind spots or limitations of your primary source. They don’t have to really exist, just guess at what would give you a really complete picture of the scene you’ve touched on with this one source.
7. List at least ten solid historical questions for which this source would be good research material. These are likely theses for your research paper, so think carefully about this. List your questions and mark at least a couple of them which you feel are most promising as paper directions.
*Because this is a short paper, look for things that are narrowly defined–for example, instead of asking “what was life like for soldiers in the WWI trenches?” ask “what effect did letters from home have on WWI soldiers” or “how did WWI soldiers experience a poison gas attack?” 

Research Proposal:
1. Which of your research questions have you chosen?
2. Why? What is interesting about this to you? What other skills/interests/background do you bring to this question?
3. What are your own immediate feelings about this question? What do you think the answer will be? What are your personal biases about this?
4. What other PRIMARY sources will you use to investigate this? List them in as much detail as possible if they exist, and also list “wish list” items that we will search for a little harder–sometimes they do exist.
5. What SECONDARY sources will you be consulting to round out your understanding of the context of the question and your source? List a preliminary pool of books, journal articles and other materials. Unless the websites you find are professionally handled collections of primary materials or secondary sources of REAL merit, don’t even bother, and don’t tick me off by including them with actual sources. 

1. Have a really good, focused thesis question appropriate to a 10 page paper (chosen from your best research questions).

2. Assemble a big pile of sources likely to have some bearing on your question. Look everywhere you can, including JSTOR,, Google Books, the MnPals system in the library catalog search, the bibliographies of the primary and secondary sources you already have, etc.  Use the key words you brainstormed.

3. Go through each of these with your _thesis question in mind_. Write it on your arm, if necessary.  Each time you find something, stick a post-it note next to the information and move on. Pretty soon, you’ll have a stack of books and articles marked up with post-its.

4. Set aside several hours. Using Word, go to the pull-down menu Tools and click on “envelopes and labels.” Click on “options” and select Business Card, then click “New Document.” You will see a Word page that has been divided into business card sized sections. If you are old-school, you can do this on index cards, but this is easier to do, you can proofread it and save it forever.  You will also be printing ME out a copy, or copying index cards.  Your choice.

5. Start with the book on the top of the pile. Make a bibliography card by typing in the full and complete citation of the work into the first square on your page.

6. Then, for each post-it in the book, make a square, starting with a short citation (author, title if more than one work by author in your stack, and page number). If you cannot quote or summarize the post-it marked information in the space of a business card, you don’t understand it. Try again.

7. Once you have gone through your whole stack of sources, save your pages of squares and give back all of your sources to the library. Seriously, send them away. Avoid fines. Clean out your backpack. If you’ve done your notes correctly, you don’t need them any more. Print out your pages of squares and (carefully using a paper cutter) divide them into little separate squares.

8. Deal out of the stack all of the bibliography cards, putting them in alphabetical order for easy use later. Paper clip them and set them aside.

9. Take a while and sort what you have on the squares into different ways of answering the question. When you have a strong answer, try to phrase that answer in the form of a declarative sentence.  Presto!  You have a THESIS.  See what you realistically have to work with and what arrangement of arguments works effectively for what you have to SUPPORT that thesis. If you are lacking an important element, go get a source to deal with that, post-it note it and make some more cards. If one stack gets big, divide it into more workable piles that make logical sense. Eventually, you should have about a stack of 1-2 squares for every paragraph in your paper. If it becomes obvious you’ll need some connecting paragraphs that come entirely from you, use a blank square and write up what needs to go in that connector.

10. Paperclip paragraphs together and then stack these in the order you want to use them in the paper. This is a nice time to make an outline so you can see the whole paper in skeleton form (AND turn in a required outline).

11. Sit down and write the paper. Just have the stack of squares next to you at the computer and go through them in order. When you quote something or reach the end of a paragraph, put in the citation, handily located at the top of the card (for your first citation, when you need full information, just pull out the bibliography card and put a little check mark on it that means you’ve done first full citation in the paper). When you’re done, get the bibliography cards and do the Works Cited, which is easy to arrange in alphabetical order, carefully discarding the cards for any unused works.

12. Go back and carefully proof-read your paper, careful to look for your/you’re and they’re/there/their mistakes, use of less than full names for people you’ve first mentioned in the paper, misspellings and other careless stuff likely to annoy me. Quote ends.


Marlborough. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2353.”, 4 January 2011,,30991.2340.html. Accessed 29 December 2018.


As I read on my kindle (or other places), I note new vocabulary. I enjoy words and their meanings and I am always thrilled when I learn a new vocabulary word. Sometimes, however, I don’t use the word and then it is lost.

Recently I learned the word mogshade, which means the shadow of a tree, but when I wanted to use it again, I could not remember the word. I even looked up the websites that I had been on at the time, trying to find it. Despite finding the actual article, I still did not see the word. Thankfully, however, I had put it on the blog. Yay!

In our house the wall in the dining room, grass cloth painted a light gray, produces an amazing art piece when the mogshade of the 100+ year old mesquite right outside the back window is visible in the evening. That’s why I went looking for the word again and now that I have found it, I refuse to let it go.

Main point:
Mishegoss is a Yiddish word, which I knew just from the look of the word, that, when I looked it up on the kindle app, did not appear in the dictionary or Wikipedia. However, when I whipped out my phone and put it into Google, I found multiple entries for the meaning.

Mishegoss means craziness or senseless behavior or activity, according to the Free Dictionary.

The word was used in a romance novel, Santa’s Playbook, by Karen Templeton-Berger, published as Karen Templeton.

“Please don’t give me any mishegoss about fighting for my man, Virgil–” (200).

It is a wonderful word and sounds cool, too.

Delightful Words

I call myself a word hoarder, so when I ran across the post on the BBC on 26 Words We Don’t Want to Lose I was intrigued.

I needed the word for “shadow cast by a tree” (did it really come from Old English?), mogshade, just a few days ago.

Finding out there was a word for “a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbour coming and the time she knocks on the door” from Maine Lingo made me laugh. The word is scurryfunge.

Lost Language Reclaimed

After six generations of no speakers of Wopanotooaok, nineteen students are receiving their education entirely in that language. I wonder whether the sounds of how people speak are the same?

“The language brought to the English lexicon words like pumpkin (spelled pohpukun in Wopanaotooaok), moccasin (mahkus), skunk (sukok), powwow (pawaw) and Massachusetts (masachoosut)…”

The movement to revitalize native American languages started gaining traction in the 1990s and today, most of country’s more than 550 tribes are engaged in some form of language preservation work, says Diana Cournoyer, of the National Indian Education Association.

But the Mashpee Wampanoag stand out because they’re one of the few tribes to have brought back their language despite not having any surviving adult speakers, says Teresa McCarty, a cultural anthropologist and applied linguist at the University of California Los Angeles.

‘‘Imagine learning to speak, read, and write a language that you have never heard spoken and for which no oral records exist,’’ she says. ‘‘It’s a human act of brilliance, faith, courage, commitment and hope.’’

from the Boston Globe

Americanization of English

The Conversation‘s article “The Americanisation of the English language: a frightfully subtle affair” says that Americanisms aren’t killing English.

Spelling goes both directions fairly equally, the article argues.
” Take spelling, for example – towards the 1960s it looked like the UK was going in the direction of abandoning the “u” in “colour” and writing “centre” as “center”. But since then, the British have become more confident in some of their own spellings. In the 2000s, the UK used an American spelling choice about 11% of the time while Americans use a British one about 10% of the time, so it kind of evens out.”

I was relieved to learn that folks is correct, after all, just American.
“The British are still using “mum” rather than “mom”, “folk” rather than “folks”, “transport” rather than “transportation”, “petrol” rather than “gas”, “railway” rather than “railroad” and “motorway” rather than “highway”.”

I am amazed by the discussion of apostrophes, as a class of English majors was unable (or perhaps only unwilling) to explain the rules of apostrophes or admit they knew them.
“Americans also use a lot more apostrophes in their writing than they used to, which has the effect of turning the two words “do not” into the single “don’t”. They’re getting rid of certain possessive structures, too – so “the hand of the king” becomes the shorter “the king’s hand”.”

Having been unaware that gradable adverbs were a thing, I was intrigued to learn that these include boosters (like, for Brits, frightfully and awfully) and down-toners (like quite and rather). American boosters would be really and very. I’m not sure we have down-toners–even the spell check doesn’t recognize the word. (Don’t get too excited. I realize that specialized language for various fields are often underlined as misspelled when they are not. I just don’t know if down-toners is an example of that.)

It’s an interesting article with more than I discussed here.

Evolution of “Do”

While the title of this makes me want to sing a ’50s doo-wop, the information I am referencing comes from the same research that I have talked about in my last two posts, Evolution of English and Evolution of English (again).

Though the arguments on the verb shifts they make seemed to me to be “old hat,” I had no idea what their point on the use of do changing was exactly. I’m glad to have found an IFLScience article that summarizes that point.

As another example, look at the word “do”. By our current use of the word, “do” did not exist in the same way 800 years ago. Instead of saying “Do they say?” or “They do not say”, one would say: “Say they?” or “They say not.”

The use of the periphrastic “do” emerged in two stages, first in questions (“Don’t they say?”) around 1500 CE, then in imperative and declarative statements around 200 years later. Plotkin explained: “It seems that, once ‘do’ was introduced in interrogative phrases, it randomly drifted to higher and higher frequency over time. Then, once it became dominant in the question context, it was selected for in other contexts, the imperative and declarative, probably for reasons of grammatical consistency or cognitive ease.”

How they know the cause/reason for its selection in those contexts isn’t clear. Perhaps that is just their supposition.

Evolution of English (again)

My last post, Evolution of English, talked about a study in language drift from UPenn, as described in a Science article.

LifeHacker’s “Stop Resisting Change to the English Language” by Jaime Green is talking about the same study.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that randomness is a more powerful component of English’s evolution than previously thought. (The findings can’t necessarily be extrapolated to other languages—as one of the researchers told The Guardian, “English is weird.”)

For a long time, linguists have thought about language as subject to evolutionary selection, much like species. When a language has more than one way to say something, or variable spellings, the “fittest” one wins, with speakers, en masse, selecting for ease, speed, and regularity. But the new research shows that those streamlining forces don’t always seem to win.

By tracking past-tense spellings of 36 verbs—those found to have at least two spellings, like quit/quitted and spilt/spilled—researchers could see a slice of how English, from 1810 to the present, evolved. And they saw that it made no sense. Six of the 36 verbs had one form being actively selected for. And for four of those six, the chosen past-tense form is the irregular one, which in grammatical terms is decidedly unfit.

Researchers expected selective pressures to steer language toward regularity, making the language easier to remember (and more logical!). But no, they saw “Dove” instead of “dived,” at least in American English; “woke” instead of “waked.” There may be other logical factors driving these evolutions—the researchers speculate, for example, that “dove” is favored because it lines up with the similar-sounding, and similarly patterned, “drove.”

Dive’s past tense is dove. It’s an old irregularity and it’s a common one. That’s why it stuck around. That was my argument in 2013 and I haven’t changed my mind. Now I have someone else’s research to help show more research-focused proof.

Evolution of English

Two evolutionary biologists and two linguists from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed historical language data to examine the evolution of English. In a letter to Nature, they argue for random drift, according to Michael Erard in a Science article.

The researchers used statistical methods from population genetics to analyze three well-known changes in the English language: how past-tense verbs in American English have taken the “-ed” ending, (as when “spilt” became “spilled”), how the word “do” became an auxiliary verb in Early Modern English (as in “Did you sing?”), and how negative sentences were made in Old to Early Modern English.

When it came to the verbs, they found that drift’s influence was stronger when the verb was less frequent. Only six past tense changes in their data set, such as “lighted” to “lit,” were deemed to have changed for purposeful reasons, such as being easier to learn and use.

This doesn’t seem to me to be that exciting or revolutionary, though I suppose the research to support it is significant.

Why doesn’t it seem revolutionary? Because I already knew it–and gave a speech on it, in 2013.

Verbs have gotten simplified. We used to have seven different sets of normal endings. Now we only have one—that –ed you learned in elementary school. However, the most common verbs, the verbs we use the most, are the ones most likely to have kept their original form—so there are [still] seven sets of endings instead of just one.

That is rather cool because you can always tell that a verb is old—really old—if it has an odd ending.

For example, the past tense of Dive—and I’m going to tell you this, not ask you because one of the authors I have been reading recently misused it twice—is dove. Dive, dove. But the past tense of jive is not jove. Jive is a new verb, so its past tense is jived. dive, dove… jive, jived.

The –ed ending was one of our seven endings in English, so just because a verb ends in –ed in the past tense doesn’t mean that it isn’t old… We’re exceptional like that.