On Fridays, Evan Peterson offers five stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out. It’s the Week in Writing:
There are plenty of good reasons to examine how writing is taught in schools; however, this week, an article looked at how it probably shouldn't
Also, a teenager writes about the value of writing outside the classroom, MAD
magazine is celebrating a birthday, Google n-gram improves, and a look at the origins of the word “sketchy.”
More on the writing revolution:
A few weeks ago, The Atlantic
began a series of articles and essays about why American students can't write. The root article explored a high school in New York that turned itself around by focusing on writing in all classes. That article's author wrote a follow-up piece urging other schools to follow the example. Too often, she said, schools rely on creative writing classes as the only necessary writing instruction: “The assumption, it seems, is that coherent sentences spill from children as easily as tears or laughter, as long as teachers are nurturing and provide a safe space.” Instead, schools should do what New Dorp High School is doing by teaching kids to articulate thoughts through writing about any subject, according to the author.
A Teenager's Take on The Importance of Writing:
Reminding us that writing can aid learning in school or in life, the Learning Network
blog at The New York Times
featured a post from a teenager in a foster home, and how writing has helped him cope with loss. Also a good lesson on dedication—“three pages every night before I go to bed.”
MAD is 60:
Whether you're a fan of the satirical magazine or didn't know it was still around, this piece is worth a read. Most of us know about the covers spoofing movies and politicians, but you might be unfamiliar with MAD
's writing, a process that's become more difficult as readers have become more familiar with satire. Editor John Ficarra, one of only four editors in the magazine's history, explains: “The editorial mission statement has always been the same: 'Everyone is lying to you, including magazines. Think for yourself. Question authority ... But it’s gotten harder, as they’ve gotten better at lying and getting in on the joke.”
Better Google n-grams:
Google did more this week than mess up press releases
and watch its stock fall off a cliff. It also introduced upgrades to its fascinating n-gram viewer, which is bar far the most fun of the language corpuses. When used creatively, it could take up your afternoon. N-gram is a collection of words featured in millions of books published between 1800 and 2000, and scanned into Google's n-gram database. It’s nearly a trillion words. The upgrades include a bigger database (about 6 percent of all the books ever published), cleaned up metadata for more accurate searches, and parts-of-speech tagged for the billions of words.
Origins of "Sketchy":
In the presidential debate this week, President Obama referred to Mitt Romney's economic plan as "sketchy," which was then a trending word on Twitter. Mark Liberman wrote on Language Log
about the word and a search for the origin of its most common modern usage—a reference to something questionable or unsafe. He used Google's n-gram search, and it's first book appearance in this context came in 1994. Let's see what the new, improved n-gram has to say
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.