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? >:)