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English majors: Sassy or snobby?

Sarah Eckrich
Opinion Editor
seckrich@lhup.edu

 

pixabay.com

pixabay.com

I’ve heard it said on more than one occasion (many more than one…) that English majors are pretentious.

In the past, I’ve attributed this to a lot of things. There’s the tendency on the part of many of us to be the stereotypical “grammar Nazis,” serving a biological imperative to teach the world how to use “good” and “well” properly. There are all the big, pretty words we like to use. There are the many connections we make between things, which appear to be the handiwork of overanalyzers with superiority complexes, but that are actually just the byproduct of minds that work in analogies by nature.

Then I caught myself being critical and pretentious and I had to rethink the stigmatization of my beloved major.

It happened like this: there’s a product being sold right now that is essentially a short stick upon to mount one’s photo-taking device of choice and which is then subsequently used to ease the apparently all too strenuous process of taking selfies. What are they calling it? A selfie stick. What it actually is, is a shortened monopod marketed at idiots who happily use phrases like selfie stick in regular conversation.

And there it was—a major flaw. I just equated all people who would use the term. “selfie stick” with idiocy. I proposed in a way that the rhetorical choices of a person directly correlate with their level of intelligence, which probably isn’t entirely fair. And it’s definitely got a level of pretentiousness that comes with it.

But there’s more to it than that.

“A Girl Writing; The Pet Goldfinch” by Henriette Browne

Think about it this way for a second: I and many other English majors are dedicating ourselves and our lives to words. We’re spending our time (not to mention our money) devoting ourselves to the pursuit of all things written—some combination of interpreting and producing them. We are drawn to the nuances of the language, the beauty in poetry, the relevance of symbolism and our ability to understand emotions and events we weren’t a part of through words.

Given that, I’m not sure that it’s fair to call any one of us pretentious for sticking like glue to that thing which we love: language.

You don’t call a mechanic pretentious because they know what they want out of a vehicle and have informed opinions on others. Maybe it’s because machines seem less subjective, so the associated opinions appear to be more based in fact. But they aren’t. A mechanic is presented with information and makes decisions. English majors are presented with information and make decisions.

It’s really because people are willing to acknowledge that they drive cars that they know nothing about, but they’re not willing to acknowledge that there could also be more to the language that they use every day. And maybe that’s because someone else can fix your car, but you have to maintain your own linguistic integrity.

That’s not meant as a criticism; I don’t expect everyone to get off on reading and writing. I’m just suggesting that if you aren’t a logomaniac, maybe you can see where many of us English majors are and understand that our closeness with words isn’t so much unmitigated pretentiousness as it is an expression of an innate, burning passion within us for language, something that the mass populace bastardizes on a daily basis.

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