Videos on paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism

My last major task before leaving UNC-Chapel Hill was to finish a series of video presentations on paraphrasing and plagiarism that I’ve been promising to make for months! They are finished, and you can watch them here.

I had already done a video on this topic last year, but after hearing some great sessions at TESOL in March, I wanted to revisit this important area for academic writers. In particular, the second-language writing interest section’s colloquium on plagiarism (handouts here) stressed the importance of teaching learners good use of sources and not just threatening them with the consequences of plagiarism.

So, that’s what I’ve tried to do in the video presentations. I start by discussing how to use sources — or rather, I give writers questions to ask about sources in their field — and then go on to show the language tricks and techniques that make for acceptable paraphrases and summaries. The series is written for ESL graduate students, but others might find it useful, too.

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Googling and Bing…ing?

A quick follow-up on my post about  [T/t]weeting, and [X/x]eroxing:

A contemporary example of the verbing of trademarks is Google — so far, at least, when people talk about “googling” something, they seem to mean “searching using Google.” Of course, as with Xerox, there’s always the chance that the verb will become generic so that it would make sense to google someone on Yahoo or Bing (the lawyers in the Googleplex are very aware of this potential problem).

And talking of Bing, Microsoft’s newish search engine, I was reminded this evening of a curious marketing technique that MS is using. Their TV ad ends with this slogan:

Bing  and decide.

(I also found it on their promotional website, shown on the left, but with Decide capitalized.) Since decide is obviously an imperative verb here, by parallelism, so is Bing. (Have you heard anyone saying “Oh, I’ll just Bing it” yet?) Is this an attempt to compete with Google on grammatical grounds? Or is Microsoft playing with linguistic fire? Remember how hard Xerox is trying to kill the verb to xerox and the noun a xerox?

Precedent suggests that attempts to manipulate the spread of language forms in a “top-down” fashion (i.e. governments/corporations telling us what we should or should not say) are unlikely to work, certainly not in English, and certainly not on the Internet. The Associated Press can try to mandate how journalists use language, and the style guides such as the Chicago Manual are influential in publishing and academia, but these are not the places where linguistic innovation occurs. Continue reading “Googling and Bing…ing?”

Twits, Tweets, and Twitter

Today’s Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s rather good student newspaper, ran an interesting article on athletes who post messages on Twitter, the social network for people who have very short things to say.

“When Ed [Davis, UNC men’s basketball star] Tweets at 2:30, there’s more conversation about why Ed Davis is Tweeting at 2:30 in the morning when he’s got a game the next day than what he actually says,” [Associate Athletic Director Steve] Kirschner said.

I have to admit that I’m less interested in Mr Davis’s late-night pearls of wisdom than I am in the capitalization of “Tweets”, “Tweeting” and “Tweet” (the simple present, present participle, and noun forms, respectively). Clearly, the name of the website (Twitter) needs a capital since it is a proper noun — although the official logo is all in lower case. But seeing this extended to the derived verbs and nouns surprises me. In fact, even though the DTH editors have correctly applied the rules of the Associated Press style guide, Twitter’s own website doesn’t!

Indeed, a majority of Twitter’s use comes through third-party applications that lets users tweet and read tweets wherever they choose.

They would be well advised to update their page, though. The precedent is that once a word starts being “verbed” and drops its capital letter, it risks losing its protected trademark and its unique association with a particular brand. The classic example is the verb “xerox” (meaning to photocopy) — you can xerox your handout on a Canon photocopier, although the Xerox company would prefer you not to.

The Xerox trademark should always be used as a proper adjective followed by the generic name of the product: e.g., Xerox printer. The Xerox trademark should never be used as a verb.

So, Twitter is safe, at least in US newspapers, but there remains the question: why is called Tweeting? Especially when there’s a perfectly good verb “to twitter”? Twitter — the verb — of course suggests irrelevant, uninteresting babbling (hmm … sounds about right). But tweeting is what birds do.

One of the postdocs in my writing group, Aleck, brought up a wonderful alternative: the archaic verb to twit (not to be confused with the noun twit, which is a mild British insult), defined in the OED as “To tell tales; to blab.” That is, to gossip.

Ah, now that seems much closer to reality. And no, I neither Tweet nor twit. At least not in public.

Authors and authorship (and citation and plagiarism) in medical writing

The current issue of The Write Stuff (available as open access here) — the journal of the European Medical Writers Association — is all about the complex writing process for medical journals. A sample from the table of contents:

  • A contribution to the authorship debate: Can we trust definitions and declarations?
  • Authorship ethics in Asian cultures
  • Whose citations are they?

Add that to the summer reading list (below)!

Thanks to Mary Ellen Kearens on the TESOL Second-Language Writing IS listserv for this reference.

Summer Reading

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=banned+books&iid=3111873″ src=”b/4/1/1/Coo_c082.jpg?adImageId=12600765&imageId=3111873″ width=”234″ height=”161″ /]The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has just released it’s top 10 list of the most “challenged” books of 2009.

“Challenged” is the charming euphemism that the ALA uses for books that are basically censored from schools and libraries in the U.S.:

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. (source)

Since I usually find that challenged books are well-written, thought-provoking, relevant, and engaging, I like to read as many of them as possible as my own challenge to this form of censorship.

On this year’s list are some perennial favorites (Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which everyone should read at least once; Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, which is gritty, disturbing, and brilliant; Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, an important American classic; Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, still one of the great coming-of-age novels, if a little dated now) and some recent books I don’t know (“The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler has to be good with a title like that).

I’m all in favor of age-appropriate literature, but I dispute anyone’s right to tell me what is or is not age appropriate. And if you really can’t stand a book, for goodness’ sake, just put it down and let someone else try it! My two-year-old has already developed a great strategy for dealing with books that are too old for him: he stops paying attention.

A volcano in Iceland called …

Ekya ... Eyja ... That volcano in Iceland

If you were curious about the name of  the volcano in Iceland that’s causing airline chaos, you probably won’t hear it on many newscasts, for the good reason that it’s quite a tongue-twister:

Eyjafjallajökull

And you thought English was hard to pronounce? Fortunately, the world’s linguists are on hand to explain how to say it (John Wells on his blog, and Mark Liberman on Language Log, and here again). The BBC’s famed pronunciation unit — of course — has its own advice. NPR in the US has largely given up (with the exception of the intrepid Joe Palca), but offers these renditions.

At least it gives you something to do while you’re stuck at Heathrow

“Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay” — now in print!

Yesterday, I was excited to receive my copies of the new TESOL publication, Effective Second Language Writing (in the Classroom Practices series), which opens with my chapter: “Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay: A Content-First Approach.”

In my essay — which is far longer than five paragraphs! — I set out the arguments against teaching (only) the five-paragraph essay/theme form, which I have been making for several years along with my former colleagues Andy McCullough and Ruelaine Stokes at Michigan State’s English Language Center. I then describe the sustained content-based writing course Andy and I developed at MSU for the advanced level of the IEP. (Another article we all wrote together appears in this month’s Second Language Writing Interest Section newsletter.)

The volume was edited with remarkable thoroughness and patience by Susan Kasten, and includes a total of 18 chapters on different aspects of second-language writing from around the world. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it. Come to think of it, it’s so long since I wrote my chapter, I should probably re-read that, too, and see what I said. (This project was launched at TESOL 3 years ago!)

It’s Paddy not Patty!

March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, commemorating the patron saint of Ireland. So, I was rather disappointed to receive this email today from CVS:

The “nickname” for Patrick is Paddy not Patty (St. Patricia?)!

The confusion is uniquely American, and I believe it stems from a pronunciation feature of American English. The “d”s in Paddy are pronounced with a “flap” sound (not a full /d/ as in British and Irish Englishes), which sounds very much like a /t/ — compare “ladder” and “latter”: they sound almost the same in American English. So, it’s not surprising that Paddy might be heard and subsequently misspelled as Patty.

But to turn St. Patrick into a beefburger just doesn’t seem right.