As some of you may already be aware, several dictionaries have now accepted the colloquial meaning of “literally,” with Google’s definition being the most recent to shift. The Oxford English Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster have added similar alternate definitions. Well, these dictionaries have botched it. Let me explain why.
It’s a strange experience to lecture students on why one of my own poems fails. It’s bizarre to spend so much energy convincing readers that they’re right and I’m wrong. But that’s how I spent my Thursday afternoon.
When I run a workshop, I complete the same assignment students are given. Even though one of my motives is letting students see areas for improvement in my own work, it’s rare that a student gives me critical feedback. Sure, they’re less practiced at critical reading, they’re scared of speaking truth to power, etc. But what worries me is another assumption: Anything they don’t understand is their fault.
After reading the prose poem I handed out for the last workshop, several students indicated their confusion but avoided expressing that confusion in a critical way. One student exemplified the problem when she said, “I don’t know. Nevermind everything I just said. I’m just dumb.”
As per the rule in our workshops, I kept my mouth shut until everyone had given their initial critique. Then I gave a rant that I feel is worth recording here.
I spent most Thursday in heated discussions incited by my latest LitReactor article (“8 Reasons Intelligent Writers Must Read Twilight”). That article drove at but never fully elaborated on some of the key misconceptions of the writing community. I want to talk about three specific myths told commonly in writing circles. These myths are based on dangerous assumptions which blind writers to potential opportunities and build unnecessary walls between the writing community and the rest of the world.
The Oxford Comma: Give Me Clarity or Give Me Death
I ask every writer and editor I work with one crucial question: “What’s your opinion on the Oxford comma?” At times this has even been my conversation opener, because, much like religious nuts who won’t befriend those not of their faith, I just can’t bear people who don’t believe in the serial comma. I feel like spending time with anti-Oxford-comma-ists may cause me to break out into a terrible rash.
A friend of mine posted this video and tagged me, what with me being a punctuation/spelling/grammar/language Nazi. Even after this well-phrased video, however, I stand my ground. Here’s my response to the video.