Five common misconceptions about English majors.

English Majors via toothpastefordinner.com

As someone who has devoted the majority of his twenties to studying Literature, I’ve run into a few misconceptions about what being an English major means. This can range anywhere from what I’ll do for a job to what I should be good at, to the simple statement of “why would you do that. I hate reading!” So, in as lighthearted a fashion as I can muster and to vent about certain frustrations, here are what I’ve found to be five misconceptions about English majors. In no particular order…

5. We are all grammarians/grammar nazis: This one gets under my skin more than any other, simply because grammar is difficult. I avoided the grammar class during my undergrad like the plague (and opted instead for the Linguistics course. Not sure if I made the right choice there). There’s a reason for this too; language was first a spoken act. Now, I’m not saying this to propose a “primacy of speech” argument, but rather that oral communication came before written communication, as we know it. In that sense, grammar is kind of like fitting a square peg into a rectangular hole; it sort of makes sense, but it’s not quite there. Spoken language is fluid, dynamic and open to change and regional variance. Grammar hasn’t been as open and dynamic (until recently, that is) and much of the “correct grammar” we have is built around a class based system. Bad grammar is equated with lack of intelligence and low social class. And this irks me. So, I hate grammar, it’s hard, it’s stupid and I try to do my best with it as an English major. However, most of us, unless we are teaching middle school, aren’t grammar nazis. Because we suck at it too.

4. We all want to teach: I’ll try to keep this one short, simply because I feel kind of contradictory writing this. I want to teach. I might not get that chance because I chose other paths earlier on. I didn’t want to be licensed to teach right out of my Bachelor’s in part as a reaction against this familiar maxim. However, I’ve found that I enjoy it and am trying to own this stereotype. That said, I know many English majors who work in technical writing, publishing and oddly enough as lawyers. After working across from a courthouse for a few years, I learned that there were many English geeks turned lawyers. So, next time someone asks what you are going to do with your degree, just tell them that you’ll be the one representing their sorry butt the next time they get a speeding ticket.

3. We are all speed readers: No. Just, no.

2. We will be dirt poor for the remainder of our lives: See comment about becoming a lawyer. I also think there is something to this whole “living within your means” idea that could give you a pretty comfortable life no matter what your future career is. I’m not a good example, but I’m working on it! And, you could always just become a sell out and write the next Twilight. Hmmmm… maybe I’m not arguing this point very well…

1. We chose our major to coast through school: Here’s your homework. Read Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida. Next, go write a 15 page, single spaced paper critiquing/explaining how this work influences your reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Then come tell me I coasted through my major.

Fellow English majors, what gets under your skin? Non-English majors, do you think I’m being too harsh? >:)

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5 thoughts on “Five common misconceptions about English majors.

  1. I hate hearing, “Uh-oh, do you have a backup plan?” or “I bet that is useful,” followed by self-righteous chuckles. I want to say (and sometimes do), “Actually it IS useful, jackass.” Having an English degree has provided me with a lot of interesting jobs in different industries over the years. I feel it’s much more versatile than some of the more “practical” degrees.

    1. I agree. I think the major problem comes when others don’t realize how versatile the degree is (re: employers). Glad to hear you’ve had some success!

  2. I love this post. You’ve listed my biggest pet peeves – the grammar one and that we chose it to coast. I’ve also dealt with the teaching one extensively, but I deal with it so frequently I learned that it was a waste of energy to get annoyed each time it came up.

    The other one I get a lot is people are SHOCKED that I have not read their favorite book. That might fall under the speed reading one in one way or another…

    1. I’ve gotten that one as well! Sorry folks, don’t have unlimited time in the world (an maybe your favorite book sucks and I don’t want to read it anyway)!

  3. Oh, you so hit me with this! I’m an English Major and I always get from people, “Well, how come you made a mistake in your writing?”

    -Gee…do you think it’s because I’m not perfect?

    And my favorite idiotic response, “We need Math and Science teachers more than we need English teachers.”

    -Really? Who will teach your child how to read the text in that Science book? Hmm? If you can’t learn to close-read, how will you learn to read between the lines of a seemingly insignificant behavioral analysis report? Oh, and by the way, some of choose to be English majors because we have a passion for writing (in my case) and have been that way our entire lives. Some of us want to teach while we write and fulfill two needs: Helping younger generations read, comprehend, and bring their own opinions into literature and other areas while writing our own poetry/short stories/plays/novels/songs. Maybe we’re here to help kids feel empowered and like they’ve reached their own personal enlightenment through becoming independent thinkers (sorely needed in today’s society).

    Being an English major is easy?

    -Yeah, so I was a Pre-Nursing major before switching to my passion and you know what’s funny? I literally always heard the Human Anatomy/Biology/etc teachers say, “Well, we’ll skip over this. We’re only requiring you to learn about certain ‘major’ bones of the body– in a school regarded as having one of the best Nuring programs in Georgia! I’m sorry for this little rant but I’ve never heard an English professor say something so…ALL bones are major! That’s why they’re in our bodies! Phew! Sorry, ha ha!

    **And one last note, when people say being and English major equals failure, I would like to point them to the very famous Paul Simon, who graduated with a degree in English and planned to go to law school, as well as the ever popular Paul McCartney, who planned on being and English teacher. Do those names ring failure to anyone?

    Sorry for my rant! Had to get these things off my chest! Great post!

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