A few weeks ago I wrote about an online course, Write101 on EdX, from the University of Queensland. It focuses on grammar and style. I announced that I’d audit it actively (this means no pay, but participating in the assignments), but I’ve since changed my mind.
I’ll continue auditing the course, but I’m not going to submit the assignments. This is not an easy course. There are grammar MOOCs out there where you can simply rush through with a minimum of work, and the quizzes are simple enough. Not so this one. The first assignments would have been: what did I learn about grammar in this course during the first few weeks? I’d have to write a 300 word essay, submit it, and peer-review the essays of other contributors. This is not a very difficult assignment. I could have done it. But I have difficulties with the quizzes and the content already. Add to that the stress of submitting to a deadline and reviewing to a deadline–I don’t think I need that stress right now. The course is still useful to me, because it gives me an idea on what to focus, and where to study harder. So, to get to the point, what have I learned?
I don’t now anything about grammar, that’s my first insight. I may be able to use the language correctly most of the time, but that is more due to my ‘language-feel’ and less to my knowledge of grammar. The second insight is that learning this properly can be fun. The third is: I need more time.
The lecture videos that go along with the course are fast-paced. Things are explained briefly and not with very many examples. The course material tells about helpful books, links to helpful websites–but for me studying all this takes a lot more than the announced four hours work per week to really understand what I’m reading. And call me silly, but I don’t want to fail the quizzes. That goes against my honour as a writer-impersonator. 😉 I need more time. Call me stupid, but I don’t get the complicated parts from looking at simple examples. I got some books, and book recommendations, however. They have great examples, one is for teachers with exercises and a key. I plan to do these exercises because there will be explanations in the end. Just doing exercises doesn’t help me much if no one tells me why my answer is wrong.
And so I’ll prod along, but less ambitious than in the beginning. But I like the course, it is interesting. Some of the things discussed there are worth thinking about in-depth.
Did you know, for example, that grammar and glamour are related words, that the word glamour is based on the word gramarye and that this is said to be an alteration of the word grammar? All of them are linked to magic, which results in the magic of grammar, the magic of using language with skill and knowledge. Isn’t that what a sometimes fantasy writer would want to know? Magic is power over things or people. Words can be as powerful as magic when they are used by a skilful word-caster. They can delight, ensnare, deceive, incite. They can ignite revolutions, call for war, condemn to death, pardon, forgive, heal, and give comfort. They can separate families and forge life-long friendships.
“Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you…” is just not true. I’m sure that it is meant as comfort, that words have no physical effect and if you shrug them off–water on a duck’s back–they are just hot air blown by idiots. But we know better now, don’t we? In the past, psychological damage through bullying may not have been acknowledged, but now we know the effects bullying has on people. Likewise, we are aware–or should be–of the power of words in politics. People seem to act differently when they are in a crowd. And when someone knows what the crowd wants to hear and promises these things–realistic or not–countries can be changed, people killed, wars started. There are plenty of examples in less recent and very recent history for this.
Other historical figures have shown us that the opposite can also be true. Words, chosen properly and spoken with passion, can calm, can create peace, can heal. And words chosen by a skilful writer can create new worlds, exciting stories, adventure, romance, excitement–just in our minds. This kind of magic is worth studying, I think. Casting a spell with words but minding the spelling while we do it: that’s the way to go.
Apart from that, I’m struggling with parts of speech, phrases and clauses, adverbs, participles and gerunds, verb tenses, phrasal verbs, verbal phrases, and verb phrases. Who knew that verbs can be so difficult?
In the future I’ll post some more about the course. For now I thank you very much for your patience if you made it to the end, and reward you with two videos from the first week which I liked very much.
Stephen Fry: Kinetic Typography
“Weird Al” Yankovic: Word Crimes