Math or Maths? The Definitive Answer


I say tomato; you say to-mah-to is all well and good, but when I say math and you say maths, it’s going to come to blows.

So why is it that Americans tend to call it math while those from the U.K. insist it’s maths?

The main argument, according to Dr. Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in the UK, is that both words are abbreviations for mathematics, which is plural… or is it?

In an interview with Numberphile, Murphy stated that the problem with that argument is that mathematics isn’t plural. 

“We don’t say, ‘there are two mathematics that I need to look at.’ And when you make maths or mathematics agree with a verb you make it agree with a singular verb and not a plural one. You don’t say ‘mathematics are interesting’ you say ‘maths is interesting’… so there’s plenty of linguistic evidence that it’s singular.” Continue reading “Math or Maths? The Definitive Answer”

English, Literature

Don’t Know Much About Poetry


Of all my shameful English teacher confessions—skipping over Shakespeare, celebrating “non-standard” grammar, and letting students curse in narrative essays (but only twice; make em’ count)—I’m most embarrassed by the fact that, honestly, I’m not that into poetry.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s the hardest genre to write (in academia, economy of words is not our strong suit). But for some reason, to me, a lot of poems sound like they’re working too hard to sound like their genre. It’s odd, but sometimes poems just sound too much like poems.

Which is why I admire Tony Hoagland. I’m not literary enough to put my finger on it, but his poems don’t sound like they’re trying to be poems—they just are.

Recently, in a conversation about the many useful words that simply don’t exist in English, I remembered this particular gem of Hoagland’s.

There Is No Word

There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits. Continue reading “Don’t Know Much About Poetry”

English, Literature

Does “English Class” Mean Reading Only English?

TranslateLast week’s posts were about the continued lack of race and gender diversity in the literary canon (Part I here and Part II here). Some noticed I left out a factor that is usually central to this blog: language. Don’t worry, I figured language could constitute an entire post of its own – so here you have it!

I was once at an AP English training in which the participants questioned the preponderance of British and American authors on the exam. The AP official replied that “an English exam necessitates texts originally written in English.”

For the moment, we will ignore that fact that this reply doesn’t address the issue, as there are tons of brilliant authors who write in English but are from countries outside the US/UK (Chinua Achebe, Arundhati Roy, etc.) because this perspective brings up an even larger question: Is the idea that we should predominantly read, teach, and value texts that were originally written in English a useful perspective for the 21st century?

(Now, of course, it would be fabulous if everyone could read in multiple languages, but as many can’t (e.g. myself), I’m mainly talking about works translating literature from other languages into English.)

In a globalized world, the argument that English class “necessitates texts Continue reading “Does “English Class” Mean Reading Only English?”

English, K-12, Literature

Whose Canon is it Anyway? (Part II)

shakespeare copyLast week, I posted about questioning the literary canon, and got some fabulous responses. This week, we’ll look at two more arguments for/against the canon. As a refresher, the “Top 4” arguments were:

1. These texts are part of our literary heritage. 

2. Great literature must stand the “test of time.” 

3. Some books are truly just better than others.

4. The themes of great works transcend time and culture.

Most taught high school books
Source: The Center for Learning and Teaching of Literature

We discussed the first two arguments last week. Now it’s onto numbers 3 & 4!

3. Some books are truly just better than others. Arthur Krystal discusses embracing a plurality of texts in a recent article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called, “What do we lose if we lose the canon?” 

“While there is nothing wrong (and perhaps something even right) in praising those whom previously we shunned, a law of diminishing returns kicks in once we stop making distinctions between the great and the good. It’s one thing to acknowledge the subjective factors of canon-building and another to obfuscate the aesthetic underpinnings of works created by human beings who invest time, skill, talent, and knowledge into making a novel or poem…. Some books simply reflect a deeper understanding of the world, of history, of human relationships, of literature itself than do other books….”

I do agree with his statement; I am in no way advocating that students read only what’s easy and popular at the time. However, while I agree that Continue reading “Whose Canon is it Anyway? (Part II)”