Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Wrong Word"

To say a writer used the "wrong word" (cf Lunsford and Lunsford, 2008, p. 789) is a pretty serious claim, it seems to me*.

(*This is probably only something a PhD student would say.)


What is the difference between the following: "wrong word"/ "word choice error" / "inappropriate for an academic essay" / and just a stylistic preference?

And how on earth am I going to categorize this kind of thing?

For example, here are 6 people rejecting the use of the phrase "it is known to all" in an essay:

1 It is known to all: 
Not necessary – if its known to all then why state it

2 It is known to all:
I didn’t know that!  I always advise students to avoid this kind of phrase

3 It is known to all:
Overused, meaningless expression that makes a false claim (it may not be known to all).

4 known to all:
well-known (otherwise this is a bit presumptuous)

5 known to all:
Proper expression: “common knowledge”

6 to all:
Best to avoid superlatives and absolutes in a serious essay-unless there is strong supporting evidence. Try “it is commonly known”, or “many people know”

1-3 seem to be doing basically the same thing -- rejecting it because it's cliche, or a kind of 'empty phrase' that they don't like. (NESTs tend to really go after these things, by the way -- Chinese teachers do it much more rarely.)

4 verges on that, but you could also say it's arguing this is a 'word choice' problem, with a simple substitution of a more appropriate phrase (which again, is a register thing, too).

5 is straight-up correction, probably related to register, but possibly not -- I could just as easily imagine it as a correction of an 'awkwardly worded' phrase ("it is known to all" does sound weird to me).

6 is very clearly looking at it from the perspective of what is considered appropriate for a serious academic essay written by a university student.

So, my question is, does it matter if I differentiate what is going on in each of the comments? Because if I do, I might drive myself crazy.

I can hear the voices of my committee echoing in my head: "It depends on what your research question is."

Oh, but my research questions are damn slippery things that seem to grow and change and shift whenever my mind isn't on them.

I need to print those suckers out, tattoo them on my arms, repeat them like a mantra. I really do.

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