Words fail, & yet–

On December 24, 2012, I posted about a school shooting. So little has changed.

Words fail. And I work in a classroom setting, as do many of my friends and colleagues, and my children’s friends and colleagues (now in their 30s and willing to be teachers–bless them!). These events are not things we can ignore by staying in our own little bubbles of “it can’t happen here.”


Words have failed so profoundly that I’m out in the garden instead, or indoors cleaning my bathrooms or reading books. Books–always my solace when my own words fail.

My latest good read is David Crystal‘s 2004 The Stories of English, already out of date in its last chapter–a fact I’m sure he gleefully acknowledges. I adore his love of how language evolves and find his non-prescriptivist approach refreshing and necessary if we are to keep literacy and communication alive. This book gave me so much information, enriched the knowledge I already have about our language, and made me laugh, too. Granted, it is word-geek humor…but that’s how I roll.

And I needed a few laughs this past week or so. My heart aches; I am sore afflicted for more reasons than I care to explain at present, though the headline news certainly has much to do with my mood. Crystal’s book got me thinking about the course I teach (come fall) and how I’ve already toned down the prescriptiveness in order to convince my students they can write and can be successful with written communication; that they are not “wrong,” just that their audience for written work differs, in college, from high school and from text messaging and other forms of writing. Crystal says we who teach English need to get over the concern about split infinitives and pronoun antecedent agreement and focus on clarity and genuine expression. I have no argument with him there–but many people I know would quibble and complain. And the English lexicon offers us so many options for how to say we disagree!


A book about words–but no, a book about human communication through the mediation of words, spoken and written, and how we got to the forms (plural!) of English we now use to express ourselves. There’s a kind of splendid optimism in Crystal’s thinking about language that somehow made me feel a little less low in spirit. Ah, yes. The solace of books.

2 comments on “Words fail, & yet–

  1. Lou Faber says:

    Words do fail. And then there are those deprived of words in these horrid events. But words also fail the parents left knowing the shooting has happened but not the condition of their child. Those are the slowest moments you will live. My 15 year old son was a student at Simon’s Rock College of Bard when in 1992 he was shot in a campus shooting. I was in Connecticut when I learned of the shooting and jumped in my rental car and drove blindly to Great Barrington. I don’t remember the roads I took, I have no idea which route I took. When I arrived he was coming out of surgery. The surgeon said he would survive but might not walk. I was overjoyed to hear this until later the implication set in. He did walk, he does walk, the garish scars on both legs have faded but are ever present. And every time there is another shooting, I am back in that car hurtling toward Great Barrington praying.


    • I recall your telling me about this horrific experience when we were at Goddard. You and your son are so fortunate–in some respects–but, oh, the feeling of fear, of lasting trauma! Words fail.


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