Bad Tips for People who Like Good Tips

April 24, 2007

Much to my sorrow, my faculties of composition are not as developed in [foreign language] as they are in English. But when it comes time to write an essay (and it too frequently comes time), I generally have four strategies for getting around this problem, three surefire ways of finding success:

1) Use higher registers of speech. This is especially good for languages like Hebrew where there are multiple words for “because” or “why” that signify higher strata of discourse. My content may still be terrible, but at least I’m aiming at a higher audience.

2) Intricate poetic allusions. I started using this one this year, and it works wonderfully. The general idea is to read a couple of famous, short, easily adaptable poems in the language in question and structure part of your essay to read as an homage. Feel free to drop whole lines of poetry into your work–as long as it is very obvious you’re making a reference to something you’ve already read in class.

3) If you really want to show off your non-existent virtuosity, pick some kind of nautical theme, and run, er, swim with it.

Example: After the Spartan wave had crested, the tide turned, and the Athenians raised anchor, setting sail into the vast waters. But the currents were not entirely pacific, and the undertow played with the ballast, steering the Athenians toward uncharted islands.

That’s an A+ essay right there. Just make sure to alternate nautical motifs with those about fauna.

4. The Vocative case. When things are really slow going, take advantage of the vocative case. The vocative case is: “That case of nouns, adjectives, or pronouns, which in inflected languages is used to express address or invocation.” Amazingly, this can also be used in a figurative sense, as in this truly great poem.

Piers of Fulham 370 in Hazl. E.P.P. II. 15 To knowen folke that ben datyff: Their purches be called ablatif: They haue their ioen vocatif

Grammar-monster explains that the English vocative is generally formed by separating a part of a sentence with a comma, as in, “I’ll see you Tuesday, Allan.” They also provide a great moral defense of Bill Clinton by arguing that it is possible to read, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman miss Lewinsky” as “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” (Emphasis added). In this example, the vocative may have absolved Clinton from lying as he would have exclusively been addressing Miss Lewinsky about some other woman, “that woman.” Since we don’t know who that is, I will keep my first statement in the subjunctive; he very well may have slept with that woman.

I find that a slow-going paper is often improved by invocations of the audience. I like to use “O” or its equivalent whenever possible. As in, “As a result of society’s increased stratification, it has become difficult, O great and merciful professor, for graduate students to get good grades.” Feel free to pair this with lines such as, “I, your poor and wretched pupil.” Your professor will be pleased with your playfulness.

Note: do not use strategy 4 in a French class. Stick to example 3. Elaborate themes always move the french. Also, I haven’t tried my vocative strategy in Hebrew yet, as the only vocative I know is the Arabic loanword “ya”–a word which sadly has to be followed by slang or some other type of street talk, and would be out of place in solution 1.

I hope these help you find success, O wise salad lovers.

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One Response to “Bad Tips for People who Like Good Tips”


  1. […] involved reading Yiddish poetry and writing terrible compositions (if only I’d followed my own rules) in said language. Summer Yiddish programs like, I imagine, Ottoman Turkish programs, create a […]


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