Non-political frippery #4

Years and years ago, before I understood what a drab jungle it could be, I considered going into academia — in short, getting a PhD so I could spend the rest of my life helping others get PhD’s with which they would then be able to help others get….

So anyway, for two years I was in the Graduate English department at a respectable university, earning my keep by teaching a couple classes each semester. For reasons known only to the head of some obscure faculty committee, I was assigned to teach, not the Freshman English which most other teaching fellows taught, but English as a Foreign Language (EFL for short).

Mine were students whose native language was not English, and who needed help getting their English up to a functional university level at the university.

  • Aside: This was one of the two best jobs I ever had, in terms of challenge, reward, enjoyment. The other was working as a disc jockey at a classical music radio station. The two best jobs, and by an unhappy coincidence, the two worst-paying — by contemporaneous standards — jobs of my adult life.

Anyway. This EFL was not your basic “Where is the men’s room,” or “I would like a bowl of soup,” kind of instruction. My students had to be able to understand lectures, take part in discussions, write papers — in English, of all ridiculous languages. All of them, of course were intelligent… and thoughtful people, almost all of them already fluent in more than one language.

So the logic — or lack thereof — which permeates English was a constant part of every class. One of the best tools I found to introduce the oddities of our language, and to incorporate some of our very strange idioms, was the daily newspaper. Each student brought a copy of some paper to class, and we’d spend the first ten or fifteen minutes trying to make sense of headlines. Yes, headlines. There is a whole subset of English grammar which has been developed by those poor wretches who sit in the bowels of the newsroom, writing headlines to go with each story.

So every once in a while now, I pick up the daily newspaper, and a headline leaps out at me, a cluster of words which I think immediately would have been a fascinating challenge for my EFL students forty or fifty years ago. And I bother writing all this crap now so I can amuse you with one I noted in this morning’s local paper. Here ’tis, and I ask you to imagine how much trouble a non-native speaker would have interpreting the information presumed to be present in these words, printed here exactly as the appeared on the front page.


In fact, can you, native-English-speaker-type girl/guy, make sense of it?

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