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The Age of the Essay

michael posted about 10 years ago | from the 500-words-or-more dept.

Editorial 286

bluFox writes "Paul Graham, has just published a new article on the English literature and role of Essays. It is not connected to lisp or languages or hackers for a change, but still feels like a continuation of his earlier articles."

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Why is this on Slashdot? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181480)

News for nerds? Stuff that matters? It's neither.

And before you mod me down, realize other people will ask the exact same thing.

Re:Why is this on Slashdot? (1)

JohnGrahamCumming (684871) | about 10 years ago | (#10181576)

I agree. As much as I like these "Graham-grams" I'm not sure this particular one was anything really relevant to Slashdot (apart from reminding me that Paul Graham is smarter than me... again :-).

Perhaps it's time for


Re:Why is this on Slashdot? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181708)

He's a pretentious twit. I wish people would stop quoting him

Re:Why is this on Slashdot? (1)

Jonny_eh (765306) | about 10 years ago | (#10181991)

It's relevant to slashdot because it's something interesting and somewhat geeky. It's explaining why English class sucks and why it should suck. Something that geeks have always thought. Can you think of any other mandatory high school course that was less geek friendly than 'English'? It would be way more bearable if it wasn't so focused solely on ancient English literature. You seriously don't 'learn' anything from Shakespeare, at least from reading one work every year in high school that can be devoted to more meaningful, relevant, and modern works.

Re:Why is this on Slashdot? (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | about 10 years ago | (#10182057)

I think there are a couple of good reasons to study ancient literature:

1.) To foster an appreciation for literature as a whole by looking at its history. Many modern works of literature contain references to earlier works, and are often directly inspired by them.

2.) The idea is to teach students how to analyze literature in general. The hope is that you will take the skills you learned analyzing Shakespeare and apply them to other works.

3.) When teaching analysis, it's a lot easier if you're teaching a text that has been analyzed thousands of times by thousands of other people already. It makes it less likely people will think you're just making stuff up if many others throughout history support your analysis.

In essence, the point of learning Shakespeare is not solely to learn Shakespeare, but to learn skills of analysis that will serve you in many aspects of your life. A large part of learning is simply learning how to learn.

Re:Why is this on Slashdot? (5, Insightful)

UserGoogol (623581) | about 10 years ago | (#10181923)

Firstly, Paul Graham is both a geek and a nerd. But more importantly, in its purest form, nerd-dom is nothing more than socially maladjusted intellectualism. His essay is talking about how essays are a great way to think about ideas. Therefore, his essay is nerdy, therefore, it's appropriate to talk about it on Slashdot.

Re:Why is this on Slashdot? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181947)

Please. We should publish every nerd's essay about something becuase it's an extension of their nerdom? This doesn't belong here. He has a website and people that like it can visit it on their own.

"still feels like a continuation"... (4, Funny)

tcopeland (32225) | about 10 years ago | (#10181482)

...can't beat that LISP humor!

Hey, let's just post everything he writes (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181521)

I bet you could write a script to automate it... or PEOPLE COULD VISIT HIS SITE IF THEY LIKE HIS WRITINGS SO MUCH. But that might be too hard.

please, only comments in essay form! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181523)

you know you want to

Impact of Blogs (4, Insightful)

Kombat (93720) | about 10 years ago | (#10181565)

This is another area where the Internet has had a clear impact on a topic. Whereas it used to be like pulling teeth to get kids to write and submit essays, now you can't turn a corner on the web without running into one blog or another, loaded with essays on a wide range of controversial topics. While the Internet has had a clearly detrimental effect on our spelling abilities, I think it has had a correspondingly positive impact on our willingness and enthusiasm to express opinions of all kinds. Even sites like Slashdot are loaded with rants on all sorts of topics. Heck, I have a positive-karma modifier on trolls and flamebait posts, just because those threads are often the ones with the most spirited, passionate discussions. :)

Re:Impact of Blogs (3, Funny)

Dark Lord Seth (584963) | about 10 years ago | (#10181605)

Blogs? Essays?

Oh, wait... You're referring to the 3% minority of blogs that are NOT about the cat, the latest Linkin Park song* or that cute "boi" at high school? Okay, carry on.

* -- I use that term lightly in this case...

Re:Impact of Blogs (1, Insightful)

dasmegabyte (267018) | about 10 years ago | (#10182025)

Some of us 'bloggers write EXCLUSIVELY essays. I have never written a post about my dog or music that was not speculative and insightful, or at the very least long winded and pretentious.

Then again, I majored in essays...and I can't give them up. Shit, that's why I've got over 3000 longwinded Slashdot comments, as well.

In fact, that's something the Internet has that talk radio and TV panels do not: you can take as much time and as much space as you need to to be an effective disputant. Can you sum up your idea into a thirty second soundbite? Great. But if it takes you 10,000 words...the Internet doesn't give a 'em if you got 'em.

Re:Impact of Blogs (5, Insightful)

smclean (521851) | about 10 years ago | (#10181630)

On what do you base your assertion that "the Internet has had a clearly detrimental effect on our spelling abilities". I don't see how having to use text as a communications medium could do anything but help spelling abilities.

I think we just notice that more people can't spell worth a damn now that they are forced to attempt to spell in order to function in their job, social life, whatever they use the internet for.

Re:Impact of Blogs (4, Insightful)

JPelorat (5320) | about 10 years ago | (#10181914)

Because they take shortcuts, use stupid abbreviations that take just as much time to type as the real word, and generally type in a 'stream of consciousness' style that apparently gives more credibility for each new typo or misspelling.

And they get pissed off at anyone who tries to correct their spelling. "it dosent mater eveywun can stil understnad me bitch fuck off cocksucking whore", I believe is the standard response. Funny how they always seem to get the swear words perfect though.

You're right, we do notice it more. But the primary problem is that hardly anyone takes pride or care in what they do anymore.

"yeah whatevah it's just the internet who cares"

Re:Impact of Blogs (2, Insightful)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about 10 years ago | (#10181983)

When people take shortcuts and use stupid abbreviations, that signifies that the written language is evolving.

As pedants, it's our role to resist this change at all costs!


Re:Impact of Blogs (0, Flamebait)

JPelorat (5320) | about 10 years ago | (#10182063)

Thanks for the insult. Do you have anything useful to offer, or are you just going to sit there and wallow in apathy and sarcasm?

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

FCAdcock (531678) | about 10 years ago | (#10182311)

Better apathy and sarcasm than aarogance and rudeness. Do YOU have anything useful to offer? It seems that his comment was as useful as yours.

Re:Impact of Blogs (4, Insightful)

kafka93 (243640) | about 10 years ago | (#10182127)

Your use of "anymore" -- a compound word whose use is unorthodox but generally accepted -- is a good example of the way in which the English language is a fluid, changing thing. And the Internet has played its part in this. And since written language in particular has generally followed attempts to codify spoken language, it shouldn't be too surprising - or too disturbing - when its use by greater numbers of people leads to changes in linguistic trends. And, after all, the average reader would probably have a harder time reading Chaucer than he or she would reading a blog or an IRC channel.

That's not to say that careless language is a good thing, of course; but we should be careful when it comes to railing too much against different usage of language on the basis that it's "incorrect".

Re:Impact of Blogs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10182169)

D00d... yer teh SUCK!1!1!!!one!1!! ;)

Re:Impact of Blogs (4, Insightful)

dasmegabyte (267018) | about 10 years ago | (#10182281)

The thing is, the people who are poor spellers, have poor grammar and who use poor organizational skills don't matter so much on the internet. Just like in the real world, people on the Internet detect the difference between a well thought out point and a bunch of mindless rambling based on the coherence of the argument. If your argument is well spelled out, understandable and flows organically from point to point, you'll get more links, more mod points, etc.

What the internet allows that the real world does not is a chance for people who aren't naturally good at organizing ideas to make themselves heard regardless. Many people who visit open forums like Slashdot et. al. are much better at explaining opinions than they are at making them...which is why so many highly moderated posts begin with "What I think you mean is," and so on. This means that poorly written posts that have valid points are not necessarily ignored...they are quite often embellished so that the validity of points raised by good thinker is strengthened by those who are good writers.

Incidentally, this bolstering of good ideas with good language is in my opinion the first step towards making an important viewpoint into a political lynchpin: finding a way to explain the viewpoint and the urgency of it in an understandable (if not completely accurate) way. Bush Jr has (some would say unfortunately) had great success in his political career due to the bolstering he receives from his speech writers -- lord knows he couldn't survive in an oratorical vacuum. Bush's camp almost seems to have take cues from the internet -- they've realized that not speaking perfect English is an easy way to get the common man to associate himself with you, even if you're a multi-millionaire oil baron and career politician who's a former coke fiend.

The point is: people who can't spell and can't write aren't a problem on the internet, because it's the internet and it offers a system of checks and balances that will quite often bury their points. You want to promote better English? Use it yourself and don't make it a point of elitism -- all that does is create a feeling of separatism that's not getting us a less abbreviated internet.

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

misleb (129952) | about 10 years ago | (#10181961)

I think the spelling "problems" have more to do with the use of 'net slang and abreviations than any actual inability to spell. People use the same kinds of shortcuts in casual speech all the time, so it isn't like it is something new. People are just learning to adapt casual speaking styles to written communications.


Re:Impact of Blogs (2, Insightful)

JPelorat (5320) | about 10 years ago | (#10182035)

Shortcuts like ppl, thx, plz? And i herd their wuz sum diferenses beetween surten werds to. Oral colloquialisms in a visual medium just don't work. It's a one-way transfer only.

The Internet may not be hurting anyone's learning ability, but it is certainly not *helping* anyone to learn how to spell. Not when so many just don't care what their words look like or how they use them.

One word (1)

jdcook (96434) | about 10 years ago | (#10182010)


Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

dillon_rinker (17944) | about 10 years ago | (#10182090)

on't see how having to use text as a communications medium could do anything but help spelling abilities.

HA! I've thought long and hard about this issue, and I disagree heartily. With regard to blogs, I think they do have a detrimental effect on spelling.

Here's things were:
1. Kid reads books and sees correctly spelled words. Correct spelling reinforced.
2. Teacher reads everything kid writes. Teacher corrects misspellings. Correct spelling reinforced.

Here's how things are:
1. Kid reads internet and sees many misspelled words. Incorrect spelling reinforced.
2. Most of what kid writes is not read by teacher. Most misspellings are not corrected. Correct spelling not reinforced.

In the words of my junior high gym teacher, "Practice does not make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect."

BUT ON THE OTHER HAND...the purpose of written communication is to COMMUNICATE. If you spell a word differently from a dictionary, but you get your meaning across, where is the harm? Who is bothered except for pedants? People who spell well will think you stupid...but weightlifters will think you weak unless you can bench press what they can. Who cares?

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about 10 years ago | (#10182456)

the purpose of written communication is to COMMUNICATE. If you spell a word differently from a dictionary, but you get your meaning across, where is the harm?

Exactly so! And I might add that in the case of inane misspellings and abbreviations, when they do NOT communicate, will be misunderstood, or worse, cause the reader to give up on the entire posting. Such usage will attrophy and whither. Literal apoptosis.


Re:Impact of Blogs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10182458)

BUT ON THE OTHER HAND...the purpose of written communication is to COMMUNICATE. If you spell a word differently from a dictionary, but you get your meaning across, where is the harm? Who is bothered except for pedants?

Sure, but the problems arise when you DON'T get your meaning across.

Consider an Asian who learnt English as a second language. They come across a post by someone who writes carelessly: something like "what maters is how u act when u loose a game".

It's obvious to you what that means. But it won't be obvious to someone whose English is far from fluent. What does "maters" mean? How, precisely, do you "loose a game"? No ordinary dictionary will even point them in the right direction.

Spelling isn't about being clever. It's about being polite. Poor spelling, when not excused by dyslexia or second-language status, doesn't make you look stupid - it makes you look lazy and rude.

Who cares, apart from pedants? Why, everyone who doesn't find reading English easy. There's several billion people in that category, you know.

Re:Impact of Blogs (2, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 10 years ago | (#10181691)

While Blogs in general are questionable, I do think that the internet is having a positive effect on literacy and writing ability. At the very least, putting communication in written form forces people to learn to communicate clearly and concisely.

As for spelling, I think you'll find that it has always been an issue. The only reason why it has become more apparent, is that internet users fail to take the time for a proper proofread. Not that I'm about to start proofreading every message I write. It simply takes too long for the very time-sensitive communications inherent in the internet.

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 10 years ago | (#10181869)

And yet you managed to avoid grammar and spelling errors despite not proofreading. Why can't the 'LOLOMGBBQ!!' crowd can't do the same?

Re:Impact of Blogs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181919)

Actually, not entirely: in The only reason why it has become more apparent, is that internet the subordinate clause should not be separated by a comma. But pretty good nonetheless.

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

ScottSpeaks! (707844) | about 10 years ago | (#10182067)

At the very least, putting communication in written form forces people to learn to communicate clearly and concisely.

It may encourage that, but it clearly doesn't force it. There's still plenty of unclear, rambling net.poetry that people are presenting as if it were prose.

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

Osty (16825) | about 10 years ago | (#10181804)

While the Internet has had a clearly detrimental effect on our spelling abilities, I think it has had a correspondingly positive impact on our willingness and enthusiasm to express opinions of all kinds.

That just about covers why it used to be difficult to get kids to write and submit essays. When the essays are going to be graded on such "silly" things like spelling, grammar, coherency, research, proper citing of sources, etc, kids obviously shy away from writing. On the internet, however, none of that matters (sadly). Therefore, for every quality essay you get (which will still involve some amount of grammatical errors, spelling errors, fact-checking errors, etc), you get a ton of crap and drivel that would be a waste of time to read. Yes, it's good that the internet gets people to read and write, but if the quality of the writing doesn't improve is it really a win? (I'll ignore quality of reading, because I enjoy trash sci-fi and fantasy novels which could hardly be called "quality" :)

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

JohnnyO (50199) | about 10 years ago | (#10181912)

I don't see a lot of essays there, do you?

Speak for yourself (1)

ShatteredDream (636520) | about 10 years ago | (#10182092)

I frequently make use of when I write on my blog. Almost every one of my spelling mistakes comes from typing faster than my brain can translate abstract concepts into English, which is why we have proofreading.

I will agree with you that the ones modded down can be the most interesting. I personally find moderation systems to be nothing more than "democratic censorship." It is amusing how we howl at the government for deciding what opinions should be heard, but so few really care that many discussion forums like slashdot and are some of the worst censors online.

What worries me is that we take this attitude over into our politics. We think it's ok to mod down an idea we think is really stupid, which is the equivalent of screaming shut up and trying to take away the microphone from a speaker. I just worry sometimes that eventually people will be accustomed to this attitude and want the government to really start acting like this.

But then at least slashdot is nowhere near as bad as some of the political forums like freerepublic, where posting an article from a locally (as in local to the site) controversial writer can get you banned. I have been banned numerous times for posting articles that made them think. There is a basically an official censor who trolls around and arbitrarily tells people to "pipe down" or "knock it off" and if he/she/it (such a ball-less individual is probably a eunic or hermaphrodite) doesn't like your post, bye bye to your account.

It's private censorship, but it is still censorship. It may not be protected by the first amendment, but if we respect the first amendment then we should err on the side of letting people troll than risk silencing them.

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

GeorgeMcBay (106610) | about 10 years ago | (#10182385)

The Internet doesn't make us spell any worse, just like having a TV show like COPS doesn't make criminals a bunch of dumb, inbred hick wife-beaters. In both cases, the medium just shows us the way things already were. People were already horrible spellers. You just didn't know it because you weren't communicating with them in a textual environment.

Re:Impact of Blogs (1)

MrHanky (141717) | about 10 years ago | (#10182475)

... essays on a wide range of controversial topics. While the Internet has had a clearly detrimental effect on our spelling abilities, I think it has had a correspondingly positive impact on our willingness and enthusiasm to express opinions of all kinds.
And I think Slashdot has the positive effect of getting people to express whatever they want, but the detrimental effect of making them do so before they RTFA. Because, as TFA says:
An essay doesn't begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it.
Unfortunately, you rarely see that attitude in a blog.

Hmm... the term (2, Insightful)

winkydink (650484) | about 10 years ago | (#10181573)

"apropos of nothing" comes to mind

Well, that's ironic... (2, Funny)

Weaselmancer (533834) | about 10 years ago | (#10181579)

...'cause I just published an essay on English literature and the role of articles.

" Who cares about symbolism in Dickens? " (1, Funny)

slashpot (11017) | about 10 years ago | (#10181581)

Beavis and Butthead.
That's who.

The role of Best Sellers, as Esseys (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181587)

Esseys have somewhat been replaced by bestsellers.

Just think of Dan Brown's book: The Da Vinci Code.

It should have been a 75 pages long essey, published by some university press, in a few hundred copies.

Instead, it was transformed into a several hundreds of pages of fake thriller, detective story, suspense or what, made it to the New York Times bestseller list, edited as a movie in book form already.

But even after this transformation, it's quite an interesting essey.

Interesting article (2, Insightful)

Nos. (179609) | about 10 years ago | (#10181588)

And I agree with most of it, especially the point about taking a position and dending that. I did that a few times in both high school and university. Did well on some and failed on others. I tried to take positions that I did not agree with as it was more interesting to try and combat my own beliefs on an issue than to rehash a position so many others had done before. Now like I said, I didn't agree with the stance I took, I did it as a learning excercise, for example, I did one on heros and chose hitler. Now I did not try and defend the murder of countless jewish people, instead I looked at how Germany improved under his rule. I learned a lot about Hitler and his rise to power and some of the good things he did for Germany. Of course, the things he did wrong far outweighed the good, but it was a good way to learn something about our past. Everyone else in the class did somewhat easier things like Regan helping to bring down the Berlin wall and such.

Re:Interesting article (1)

Sexy Bern (596779) | about 10 years ago | (#10181694)

I must admit to feeling uneasy about the FA and your reply both starting sentences with conjunctives.

Re:Interesting article (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 10 years ago | (#10181926)

Considering that there weren't all that many other grammatical errors, couldn't they have used conjunctives for effect? I do so all the time on purpose, despite knowing that it's technically incorrect.

Re:Interesting article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181809)

"How Germany improved under his [Hitler's] rule"?

Well, Germany was ruined in record time under Hitler's rule. If you call that improvement... than it was probably a world record.

Not to mention the "highly improved" industrial method of murdering millions for... for what?

For the sake of Germany's improvement?

I can't see THE hero in this story...

Devil != hero. No amount of "improvement" makes the transformation.

Re:Interesting article (1)

Jonny_eh (765306) | about 10 years ago | (#10181931)

By analysing the benefits Hitler brought to his people, it can bring about a greater understanding as to how a people can even follow such a person in the first place. Of course, I h8 the bi*tch with all my guts but it doesn't change the fact we shouldn't turn history, or any idea, in every direction in order to learn the most out of it.

Should We Call The Police? (1)

BrianMarshall (704425) | about 10 years ago | (#10182065)

These days, I would imagine that if a student wrote an essay about Hitler being a hero, the school would go nuts, realize that they have to call the parents, inform the principle, call the police?

We live in very oppresive times - believe the right thing, or else!

Hero (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10182134)

One might have made an honest mistake of seing Hitler as a hero, let's say, until 1939. But after that?

The problem I have with essays.... (4, Insightful)

rokzy (687636) | about 10 years ago | (#10181602) that they usually seem to be about filling out a point to meet a word limit and not about getting to the point.

I think this arises because "the point" is usually nothing profound in itself so the only thing you can do to stand out is blabber on in a particularly well way.

Being a scientist I'm necessarily biased about anything that can be called an "essay". The closest thing in science is probably a review paper but that also should be as concise as possible.

I blame schools.

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (1)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | about 10 years ago | (#10181849)

"...the only thing you can do to stand out is blabber on in a particularly well way."

I see you've got a great start!

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (1)

rokzy (687636) | about 10 years ago | (#10181934)

1. the spelling and grammar is correct.
2. my point is clear.
3. I'm anti-essay so why would I want anthing more than 1 and 2 ?

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (3, Funny)

daeley (126313) | about 10 years ago | (#10182229)

1. the spelling and grammar is correct.

The spelling and grammar are correct. Mostly. Sorry, couldn't resist. ;)

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (2, Funny)

rokzy (687636) | about 10 years ago | (#10182283)

lol, I was treating "spelling and grammar" as a single thing thus "is".

isn't that allowed?

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (1)

RWerp (798951) | about 10 years ago | (#10181904) that they usually seem to be about filling out a point to meet a word limit and not about getting to the point.

"Filling a word limit" has nothing to do with professional essays on literature. My grandmother is a professor in Polish literature (yes, there is such thing) and an editor in a literature journal. Her motto is: "there is no such text which quality could not improve by making it shorter".

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (1)

rokzy (687636) | about 10 years ago | (#10182030)

yes what you say SHOULD be true, but not necessarily in practice.

I just looked up the thesis requirements for PhDs in physics and English

"thesis should be no longer than necessary to provide a succinct introduction to the field of study for the non-specialist, to present your results and to discuss what conclusions can be drawn"

"quality not quantity is the most important thing"

"thesis shall not exceed 70,000 words including appendices, footnotes, tables and bibliography"

English: "a dissertation of 80 000 words"

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (1)

RWerp (798951) | about 10 years ago | (#10182152)

To be frank, I don't consider PhD theses to be professional texts. They are rarely read by other people, apart from the best ones, or --- in experimental sciences --- as reference for data.

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (1)

rokzy (687636) | about 10 years ago | (#10182176)

maybe not, but doing a PhD is training to be a professional. and in this case the humanities students are being told to meet a word limit whereas the science students are being told to meet a quality limit.

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (1)

RWerp (798951) | about 10 years ago | (#10182292)

Yes, this is stupid.

Re:The problem I have with essays.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10182190)

If you think that essays are merely about meeting a word limit, you must have gone to community college. It is impossible in my english class to get decent grades by dribbling on incoherently without ever establishing any credible points. Although I can't speak for any public schools other than my own, I had several good english teachers who taught proper college essay-style writting, without any considerable focus on reaching word limits.

A well written essay on any subject compentently proves to the reader that you are an authoritative source on the subject, and you are well-backed with credible evidence; that is the foundation of all research material.

Although your particular field of research may not use essays, think about historians, lawyers, journalists, and psyhcologists. Although I do admit that writing essays (particularly english essays) is painfully boring and trite, the skills it reinforces are invaluable in social and medical science.

The boring parts (0, Troll)

MikeMacK (788889) | about 10 years ago | (#10181606)

When I give a draft of an essay to friends, there are two things I want to know: which parts bore them, and which seem unconvincing.

How about the parts about writing essays.

I hate essays (3, Funny)

grunt107 (739510) | about 10 years ago | (#10181613)

To start, essays are an ill fit in my life.

The proof is that I am ignorant and apathetic: I don't know how to write and essay, and I don't care.

In conclusion, essays are not a favorite of mine.

Re:I hate essays (1)

Hinhule (811436) | about 10 years ago | (#10182312)

Yeah what's the point of an essay anyway? When you could just write. "The point of this paper is (insert point)." I hate having to read pages of nonsense and then have to try to figure out what they where trying to say.

WTF? (1)

p0 (740290) | about 10 years ago | (#10181616)

Woah, hold on, maestro, you just made me go Cold TURKEY! I thought we're done with writing essays!!

"With the result..." (2, Insightful)

e9th (652576) | about 10 years ago | (#10181643)

"...that writing is made to seem boring and senseless."

Writing complete sentences will improve your essay.

Re:"With the result..." (1)

qtp (461286) | about 10 years ago | (#10182000)

Writing complete sentences will improve your essay.

The example you chose is a complete sentance.

Re:"With the result..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10182183)

It's only a prepositional phrase, not a compete "sentance," as you so glibly put it.

Re:"With the result..." (2, Funny)

e9th (652576) | about 10 years ago | (#10182383)

Thanks, Mr. Grammar Man, but at this time I am only accepting criticism from those who can spell "sentence" correctly.

CRappy pAul graham essay Posted (CRAP) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181644)

Paul Graham writes:

"When I give a draft of an essay to friends, there are two things I want to know: which parts bore them, and which seem unconvincing. The boring bits can usually be fixed by cutting. But I don't try to fix the unconvincing bits by arguing more cleverly. I need to talk the matter over."

Judging by this piece, perhaps he needs some new friends.

Nice bit on "learn something from every job" (1)

tcopeland (32225) | about 10 years ago | (#10181653)

And the difference in the way fathers and mothers bought ice cream for their kids: the fathers like benevolent kings bestowing largesse, the mothers harried, giving in to pressure. So, yes, there does seem to be some material even in fast food.
Sort of a "let down your bucket where you are" philosphy - try to find something interesting in whatever you're doing. Just because your job title is "CVS administrator" doesn't mean you can't put together an hourly build [] . Good times.

Good essays (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181654)

The highschool model of essays is wrong. They should not set out a case, and defend it. An essay seeks to engender understanding, to dig, and to find the truth. In a way, a good essay is like a river. A river meanders, but only as a device to reach the most efficient path to the sea. Likewise, an essay should twist and turn along its course. It's part of the most efficient path to the truth.

Fact (4, Insightful)

scottennis (225462) | about 10 years ago | (#10181677)

The better you become at reading, the better you become at writing. It only made sense to combine the two disciplines by requiring writing to be about things you read.

Now, having said that, I believe that once a student has achieved proficiency at writing about what they read, they should be encouraged to write about other things as well.

To quote Thoreau, "How vain it is to sit down to write when one has never stood up to live."

As to the question "Why is this on Slashdot?" I have a degree in English Literature. When I took my first job in IT, my boss told me that most IT people were an inch wide and a mile deep. Perhaps the person who posted this is trying to help some of us nerds broaden our horizons!

To quote one of the nerds from the movie "War Games" "Remember when you told me to tell you when you were acting rudely and insensitively? Well you're doing it now!"

Good for you! ;-) (3, Interesting)

PaulBu (473180) | about 10 years ago | (#10181997)

I have a degree in English Literature. When I took my first job in IT, my boss told me that most IT people were an inch wide and a mile deep.

In this case you surely have read this essay, but if not -- you'll enjoy it! ;-) []

To quite its epigraph: If there's nothing different about UNIX people, how come so many were liberal-arts majors?
It's the love of words that makes UNIX stand out.

Paul B.

Now I know... (3, Insightful)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | about 10 years ago | (#10181696)

Now I know why I like Paul Graham's essays so much. You read the essay, and you follow along with the thoughts. You never feel forced in a certain direction, or at least not for a long time. Eventually, the essay often manages to convince you of something, but it's not by force. It's because you draw your own conclusions, that may or may not agree with the author's.

For the next article... (4, Funny)

pyrrhonist (701154) | about 10 years ago | (#10181698)

In a follow-up article, he will claim [] that, "Python programmers write better essays than Java programmers".

Re:For the next article... (2, Funny)

Jerf (17166) | about 10 years ago | (#10182017)

I don't know about "better":
but I will bet they are better indented.
(BTW, python lover [] , so I get to say this. :-) )

python -c "import this"

seems appropriate, though it is not well indented.

Re:For the next article... (1)

BrianMarshall (704425) | about 10 years ago | (#10182094)

A COBOL program is an essay.

I care! (3, Interesting)

ImaLamer (260199) | about 10 years ago | (#10181713)

Who cares about symbolism in Dickens? Dickens himself would be more interested in an essay about color or baseball.

Mind you I've haven't read Dickens since middle/high-school but I care.

It's not just the symbolism, it's the experience. I was watching some show on PBS and the host said something that I wish English teachers would have said to me. To paraphase; 'Reading a narrative is an exercise in building life experience. No one has written about that particular character at that place and time. Reading allows us to see the world through different eyes'

It makes perfect sense too. Whether it's Dickens or Dick (Philip K.) you are getting a point of view out of the book. Looking at it that way is much more rewarding. The host went on to say that reading lets you know that other people have had similar experiences and no experience is completely new.

Man, that would have helped in life. Not being a fan of fiction, I shunned most books that I was forced to read and never absorbed those experiences. Later in life I often wondered "why is this happening to me" or simply "I can't take this". I wish I would have read more as I was growing up and coming to maturity (Daniel Goleman [] says maturity ~ 15)

I think the reason that we were supposed to write those essays on Dickens and company were to share our view of the books, and to have us look deeper than the plot. Maybe I'm wrong, I usually am, and maybe I'm crazy... that has been proven.

I am also wondering how this got on Slashdot. (4, Interesting)

ahfoo (223186) | about 10 years ago | (#10181833)

But I'm pleased in a way. I have an MA in Composition and Rhetoric and one of my many jobs is grading GRE practice essays. I did about fifty this afternoon in fact. See, that's why I'm a /. junky. Essays and arguments are my life's blood.
However, I'd like to point something out to the author and it's something I see a lot of which is a misperception regarding what students are writing about in school.
Especially when people think about testing they assume that essay topics are completely inane. Well perhaps this has been true in the past, but these days I see many essay topics that do focus on very broad personal issues and encourage the students to explore things using any creativity they can come up with. So the problem that he's discussing in his essay is somewhat contrived. In fact, students are encouraged to write about unusal, quirky and personal issues even in test settings. Not only that, but some of them come up with some really beautiful work even in the constrained environment of a test session. There are limits, but it's really not that bad.
I'm trying to think of an example. Here, today I had some that were on the topic of living through a difficult experience. That's a very general topic that refers you specifically into your own personal life. I read some real beauties. Actually that wasn't GRE though. That was another class. I had a bunch of GMAT today, but that's another story as well. Those are fun in a different way.
Anyhow, it's really not so bad and I always teach the students that if you get a lousy topic you can usually write your way around it.
My MA was in Comp, but as an undergrad I did Creative Writing. Any MFAs in the house? Losers!
There's no way you can tell me that these kinds of writing courses make writing boring. If anything they can get too edgey. We used to have all kinds of hardcore sexual stuff written about other people in the class and it was like who's going to say when? I guess it depends where you go to school.
Well, I'm rambling at 4:50Am so let me just close up with this bit of writing advice. If you want to have good time as a writing major try San Diego State. They've got a sweet writing department. You won't get rich, but you probably won't regret it either.

Re:I am also wondering how this got on Slashdot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10182433)

"But I'm pleased in a way. I have an MA in Composition and Rhetoric and one of my many jobs is grading GRE practice essays."

Is that before you clean the shake machine or after you man the register?

You know, there's something I tend to say to a lot of liberal arts majors: "Yes, I would like fries with that."

The English Class Ruined the Essay (4, Insightful)

twifosp (532320) | about 10 years ago | (#10181836)

I think that the essay rules ruined the essay.

In school we focus on the rules, in terms of how an essay should be structured, and what it should contain.

Rules like spelling and grammar ARE important, but not as important as the content. I'd rather read an easy by a brilliant person with English as a second langauge, who doesn't write very well, opposed to an essay written perfectly by a random bloke.

This is where the English class ruined the essay. It was graded on those rules, and seldom on content.

They should focus on free thinking, creative writing, as much, if not more than the structure.

Re:The English Class Ruined the Essay (2, Insightful)

jared9900 (231352) | about 10 years ago | (#10182136)

That's largely because the essay in English class was to exercise grammar and vocabulary (which includes spelling btw). It is nice to read essays with good content, but if the grammar, use of terms and spelling are horribly incorrect then it's completely useless to most readers.

Re:The English Class Ruined the Essay (1)

Ansonmont (170786) | about 10 years ago | (#10182244)

Maybe. I taught English Composition at Southern Vermont College for a year, and I tried to allow my students to grab onto a topic and really explore it. However, for someone to really convey their ideas well they need to present them in as straightforward a manner as possible. Writing without lots of grammatical, spelling or mechanical mistakes is easier to understand than poorly contructed prose.

Anyway, presentation is not a substitute for substance, but it sure makes it easier to wade through. Not every email or post I make to Slashdot is error free, but I DO know how to write with minimal errors and you really should know the rules before you decide to ignore or break them.

For bonus fun, find the errors in the above text!

Re:The English Class Ruined the Essay (2, Insightful)

thegrue76 (211065) | about 10 years ago | (#10182295)

Except form and content are intimately entwined. A truly perfect piece of writing will not only be formally precise but intellectually stimulating. You can have all the brilliant ideas you want, but if you can't express them in a clear, engaging manner, you've got a handful of roubles in a world of American vending machines: your currency ain't gonna get you a Mountain Dew. And yes, sure, clear writing without interesting thought contained within it is pretty worthless, but. I guess the point is: you can't separate the two.

While it's true that form might be taught more vigorously than content in schools, there's good reason for it; many students still need to grasp the formal rules of good writing. That, and it's so much harder to teach someone to think creatively than it is to teach them to write clearly. I guess it might be like composing music: you can learn what all the notes on the staff "are," but making them work to create music is something else entirely. Let alone, getting those notes to create truly original, creative, exciting, enticing, whatever music.

Re:The English Class Ruined the Essay (1)

twifosp (532320) | about 10 years ago | (#10182424)

You make a good point and it reminded me of the "structured language" = conscienceness thought debate.

I realize those devices are neccesary, but my original intent is to say that they are over emphasized in school. Which in turn gives a negative impression to some students.

Creative writing teaches brainstorming an outline before you write. Come up with your idea and/or point. Introduce it in a manner that the audience will identify with. Offer the points, and counterpoint, and why your point is better than the counter point. As a bonus, it'd also be nice to include some factual data with your point.

This is where I think teaching should focus FIRST. I agree with you 100%, both are neccesary. My org. post was to offer a theory on why the essay has a negative context to it for some people. There is no language without rules, and there is no communication without language.

hom0 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181844)

be a lot slower To have regular megs of ram runs a way to spend been sitting here to the transmission Disturbing. If you progress. In 1992, used to. SHIT ON declined in market your replies rather share. *BSD is so that their ransom for 7heir Turd-suckingly worthwhile. So I 'first post' aare a few good another troubled Dim. Due to the

Where's Arc, Paul? (4, Interesting)

GCP (122438) | about 10 years ago | (#10181845)

I enjoy reading Paul's various works, but I'd sure rather have Arc.

After generating considerable excitement about Arc, a lot of discussion, and frequent updates to his Arc website, Paul simply went silent regarding Arc.

Yes, it's true that he'll attend conferences to give keynotes. He'll be billed as the guy behind Arc, but then his talk won't so much as give a status report.

Some have lamented that he has appparently chosen to take the cathedral approach instead of the bazaar with Arc, but I don't see any signs of a cathedral, either. For a language to stand some chance of success these days, it needs a lively developer community. I see no signs that Paul is even interested in hearing from anyone else, much less soliciting help. For the guy who built Yahoo Stores, putting up a discussion board for Arc discussion wouldn't be much of a challenge, but he's never done so.

His site claims to solicit ideas, but that site has been a "cobweb site" for years now. The page on which he was collecting ideas stopped being updated a few weeks after it opened and hasn't been updated for years.

I'd love to have something like Arc. So would a lot of people. It looks as though Paul has lost interest but doesn't want to say so.

Instead, we get interesting essays, which is admittedly more that I deserve, but still less that a lot of us were hoping for.

Re:Where's Arc, Paul? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181930)

Maybe he just realized that lisp sucks. ;)

Re:Where's Arc, Paul? (1)

jdavidb (449077) | about 10 years ago | (#10182459)

Half the design is up there. Why doesn't somebody finish that and write the language?

His question about Humor. (3, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 10 years ago | (#10181894)

In the essay he asked why we find misfortune funny.

I like Heinlein's answer to that question: "We laugh because it hurts to much to cry.".

Basically Heinlein was of the opinion (and I agree) that it is ONLY misfortune that we find funny. That the laugh, the joke etc. are coping mechanisms we have developed to let us deal with bad things.

Re:His question about Humor. (2, Interesting)

kafka93 (243640) | about 10 years ago | (#10182210)

Where is the "misfortune" in, say, a good bad pun? In any number of Monty Python jokes, for those so inclined -- or, better yet, in half the League of Gentlemen sketches (which certainly do eke humour from other emotions, but rarely from a sense of misfortune)?

Q: What's brown and sticky?
A: A stick.

Not everything is a "coping mechanism for dealing with bad things". Cheer up.

Re:His question about Humor. (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 10 years ago | (#10182329)

Not sure how effectively I can answer that question, but I will try.

That is an example of an "Ha Ha, you overthought the question." joke. The reason it is funny is that the person trying to answer the question supposedly can not answer the question.

It is making fun of the supposed person for their inability (misfortune) to come up with such a simple answer.

Re:His question about Humor. (1)

BrianMarshall (704425) | about 10 years ago | (#10182309)

"We laugh because it hurts to much to cry." - R.A.H

I was going to make a snide remark about how this could possibly be, when people seek out humor because it is so much fun.

But then I thought, wait a minute, we all have (to one degree or another) a mechanism to feel bad if we see someone in pain. Perhaps, the reaction of finding something funny and laughing about it is an alternate mode for the brain to follow, to avoid going to deep into the feeling-bad mode inappropriately.

Or maybe laughing is the brain's way of rebooting (or resetting or recalibrating) the empathy circuit - so you don't keep feeling worse and worse as you find more and more pain around you.

Re:His question about Humor. (2, Informative)

lawpoop (604919) | about 10 years ago | (#10182334)

"Basically Heinlein was of the opinion (and I agree) that it is ONLY misfortune that we find funny."

I disagree about the only. I think there are two parts to humor, misfortune and puns. As I paraphrase from the 2000-year-old man, "A hangnail for me is a tragedy. If you fall down a manhole, now that's comedy!" But there are also linguistic jokes that don't necessarily involve tragedy, yet people still find them funny.

essays place in history (3, Insightful)

dirvish (574948) | about 10 years ago | (#10181896)

Makes me wonder if people will look back hundreds of years from now and wonder... 'What the hell were they thinking writing in that horrible format?' Kinda like I do now with some of the weird medieval writing styles. I wonder if English teachers ever reflect on sort of things before they make their students write yet another essay.

Paul Graham channels Andy Rooney (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10181933)

"I write down things that surprise me in notebooks. I never actually get around to reading them and using what I've written, but I do tend to reproduce the same thoughts later. So the main value of notebooks may be what writing things down leaves in your head."

Having a Degree in English (4, Interesting)

techsoldaten (309296) | about 10 years ago | (#10182023)

Having a degree in English literature, it is always strange to see the odd relationship technology people have with the written word.

This essay reads like one of a hundred handouts I received in Intro to Lit classes. It makes the argument that you must make an argument, that there is structure to any argument, and that there is a historical tradition behind how an essay is constructed.

There is an analagous relationship between the art of writing an essay and the discipline of an engineering discipline (in my case, constructing software). In both cases, there is a desire for internal consistency, overall clarity and optimal design. Structure tends to consist of a series of discreet statements put together so that the order has an affect on the overall outcome of the project.

Many of the engineers and programmers I work with would be baffled to know this. For them, writing is a series of consise, actionable statements scribbled on sticky pads or in the margin of documents. They tend to think in terms of how something that is said contributes towards a goal rather than what it means or how it was stated. The idea that there is structure to how arguments are presented, that there are logical and rhetorical devices used in the same way as control structures in programming languages is lost on them. Which is a shame, because soem of the best engineers I know would be excellent essayists were they to write down their thoughts.


Re:Having a Degree in English (1)

kafka93 (243640) | about 10 years ago | (#10182288)

I don't understand the distinction you make between "how [the way in which] something is said contributes towards a goal" and "what it means or how it was stated".. surely these are usually one and the same thing, for the novellist as for the technical writer?

That the mechanisms good writers use in creating prose may be subconscious and automatic doesn't mean that those mechanisms don't exist.. I'd say that the best writers are often those with the firmest grasp of their medium, and I don't hold much stock in those who believe that "what you have to say" is more important than--or even especially distinct from--"how you say it".

At any rate, I suspect that we're in agreement here.. but it seems that "a series of concise, actionable statements" isn't necessarily a long way away from what can be considered literature -- especially if we consider Robbe-Grillet.. :)

Great Essayists use Python (4, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | about 10 years ago | (#10182165)

Every great essayist I know, given a choice only writes essays in Python. English is for the common peasant, yes you can write an essay in it but it will be crap. Great essayists are far more productive when they use Python and if you advertise the fact you are writing in Python the standard of essayists you get will be much higher.

The Essay format (3, Interesting)

Mateito (746185) | about 10 years ago | (#10182340)

My fiancee is currently writing in the essay format, but she's a non-native english speaker who is preparing to take a TOEFL test.

Basic essay format is 5 paragraphs: Introduction, 3 paragraphs with supporting points, conclusion. Each paragraph has rules, so essentially you don't need to think about structure when writing an essay.

As a result, its stilted and hard to read.

Essays are a very very basic overly structured way to introduce writing skills. They are probably appropriate for people new to stringing more a few sentences together... such as non-native speakers and 10 year olds.

However, I've come across university professors who want assignments submitted in "strict essay format". I think this is more a sign of laziness on their behalf (read the introduction and the conclusion and briefly check that the intervening points see vaguely reasonable) than something that promotes good writing. At University level, taking one point of view and defending it blindly should be the exception, rather than the rule. At this stage one should be able to see that there are very few "black and whites", and appreciate the shades of grey and spectrums of colour.

Np, I'm not writing a fucking conclusion.

what a clown (0)

BigGerman (541312) | about 10 years ago | (#10182341)

>>> due to a series of historical accidents the teaching of writing has gotten mixed together with the study of literature.

Accidents my azz! How else would you learn how to do something but by looking at how others did it before you? And, in case of writing, by studying how the great novels were written?
Same, glance-over-something-I-dont-understand style of essay as his recent piece about Java and coolness.

Paul Graham is always right! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10182376)

Hi, I'm Paul Graham.
Here are a few rules:
1. Everything I know is right
2. Everything I do is right
3. For responses to counter-arguments see #1 and #2.

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