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Exam Everest

June 19, 2018

As usual at this time of year I am working my way through a veritable Everest of exam scripts that I have to mark (is that a mixed metaphor? Climbing my way up an Everest of exam scripts. Burrowing my way through…) and, as is also usual, I’ve become acutely aware of the same annoying mistakes and mannerisms, popping up with tedious regularity. Here is a selection:

within used consistently instead of in: for instance, The development of children’s literature within the nineteenth century… Presumably this is because within is thought to sound more formal; more of an essay-word.

Simplistic used consistently instead of simple; moralistic instead of moral; same reason as above.

Cleverly as a term of praise, patronisingly bestowed on famous authors: Robert Louis Stevenson cleverly makes Long Silver a morally ambiguous figure.

Subsequently used instead of consequently.

Assert instead of claim or argue – which makes it sound as if eminent critics are aggressively making unsubstantiated claims.

However used instead of but, in the mistaken belief that it is a conjunction (it isn’t; it is of course an adverb).

Incredibly routinely used as an intensifier, where highly or extremely would be more appropriate.

Inaccurate use of Furthermore. Traditionally this word has been used to mean something like “Here’s another point in support of what I’ve just been saying”; but here it’s used to mean “And now I’m totally changing the subject”.

Random apostrophes after authors’ names – eg Louisa May Alcott’s wrote Little Women at the request of her publisher; or Arthur Ransome’s was the author of a new kind of children’s story. I’m at a loss as to the reasoning behind this one.

Another thing I am puzzled about is how or why these errors and solecisms are so widespread – why students all over the country who’ve never met each other are all using them. They can’t have come across them in any of the books or essays they’ve read on the course. It’s as if errors are drifting about in the air, like spores borne by the wind.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    My guess on the apostrophes is that names have appeared that way in the most Googled article on the subject.
    Sesquipedalia was first used by Horace so this isn’t a recent phenom…thing.

  2. You might be right about the googling theory. Although I have just thought of another explanation: the first time they use the name they use it legitimately with an apostrophe (Stevenson’s novel) and thereafter their spellcheck prompts them to spell it that way.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Yes; that does seem likely. Spellchecker is not the most reliable of proof readers.
    On the Everest of papers ,presumably you can only climb it once then as it diminishes you can climb the K2 and so on (don’t know the third highest) until you’re down to Primrose Hill. Still a hike but far more manageable. Good luck with it anyway!

  4. Mark Brafield permalink

    I was recently conducting a court case in which the opening barrister said that there were a ‘vast’ number of reasons why a particular report should be disallowed. In fact, upon careful analysis, there were three possible reasons, none of which stood up to scrutiny. However, she pretty much lost the case in the first minute simply by her reference to a ‘vast’ number. That could only ever be an exaggeration, and if you are asking a court to take your reasoning seriously, that is always a bad starting point. There is only one way to go from then on, and that is down to earth with a bump.

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