New ways of teaching English composition usually come along about as often as Halley's Comet. But there has been a recent whiz across the scholastic horizon. It goes by the name of Debra Shore.
Last year, while teaching at Brown University, Debra developed a method for curing her students of the impulse to use jargon. The results appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Debra gave her class this assignment: take a simple passage and rewrite it into jargon. Or take a jargonized passage and rewrite it into simple English.
"The results were very interesti g," said Debra, who now lives and writes in Dallas. "The students all said they got a lot out of it."
You'll get a few boffs, if nothing else. Herewith, some samples.
Simplicity Sample A, from Herman Melville's "Moby Dick:"
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world."
The same thought in jargon, as written by Vicki Hunter:
"You may identify me by the nomenclature of Ishmael. At a point in time several years previous to the current temporal zone -- the precise number of which is extraneous information -- devoid of sufficient monetary resources and lacking physical and/or psychical stimuli within the confines of my sphere of activity on land, I initiated several thought processes and concluded that I would commandeer a vessel of navigation with which to explore the aquatic component of this planet."
Reads like the finest Commerce Department-ese, doesn't it? Let's turn it around and see how the clumsy can be cleaned up.
From the back of an Amtrak ticket:
"Time shown on timetables or elsewhere and times quoted are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. Time schedules and equipment are subject to change without notice. Amtrak expressly reserves the right to, without notice, substitute alternate means of transportation, and to alter or omit stopping places shown on ticket or timetable. Amtrak assumes no responsibility for inconvenience, expense, or other loss, damage, or injury resulting from error in schedules, delayed trains, failure to make connections, shortage of equipment, or other operating deficiencies."
As rewritten by Dana Cowin:
"Amtrak schedules change and are sometimes wrong. Amtrak is not responsible for any problems resulting from changes in the schedule."
My favorite? An excerpt from "Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis," as delivered by Sigmund Freud.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we will not start with postulates but with an investigation. Let us choose as its subject certain phenomena which are very common and very familiar but which have been very little examined, and which, since they can be observed in any healthy person, have nothing to do with illnesses. They are known as 'parapraxes,' to which everyone is liable. It may happen, for instance, that a person who intends to say something may use another word instead . . . or he may do the same thing in writing, and may or may not notice what he has done."
As rewritten by Marcia Ely:
"Everyone makes slips of the tongue."