5 Notes on what English Majors are NOT

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Beginning college, I was actually declared a biology major. For two seconds I believed I wanted to be a doctor.

When I cut myself shaving one morning and nearly passed out alone in the shower stall I realized very quickly that being a doctor just wasn’t for me. My love for literature and culture was far stronger than my fortitude for blood.

As I enrolled in English Literature classes and began to surround myself with my like-minded peers I quickly learned that who English majors are and who people think we are, are two very different things. I’m hoping this blog post helps to sort out some misunderstandings. Be warned: these are generalizations and some English majors fall under the categories I’m about to list. A majority, however, do not.

English Majors are not:

1) Fast Readers– This assumption came as a shock to me when I first started my literature classes. Not only did my fellow students assume that I could read as quickly as Superman, but my professors did as well. My professors were also operating under the belief that I was only taking his or her one class that semester so what else did I have to do with my time besides read all of Henry V in one night?  Time and time again my friends would make the statement ‘oh, you’re an English major so getting this reading done will probably only take you an hour’. An hour? AN HOUR? Apparently, I missed the orientation day where we got our special glasses that enabled us to read at the speed of light. Granted, I believe our attention span to read for hours is much greater than the average student, but we are only human- most of us anyway.

2) A Human Dictionary– Lauren, how do you spell ______? Lauren, is this spelled correctly? Lauren, is it I before E even if the z is pronounced like c? I wish I could insert a picture here of the look on my face as I look into the distance and use my finger to draw the letters in the air like a spelling bee champion. The answer is usually: I don’t know or I’m going to discreetly type this word and let my online dictionary tell me how to spell this word. I know, I know, BAD WRITER! How dare you use an online dictionary! I mean, would it be any better if I pulled out my giant Websters? I didn’t think so. My point is: English majors look up spellings just as much as non-English majors. Now, our words are obviously far more sophisticated and grandiose than yours are but, the point is we can’t spell everything.

3)The Grammar Police or Grammar Nazi– This point is one that I sometimes fall under. I have to pull on my reigns to keep from correcting a person’s grammar at times, but it is usually a glaring error that I am trying to help them through. (Or so I tell myself.) I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about grammar until I took a grammar course. Man, was I ever schooled. But, the craziest thing I learned about grammar (other than the rule in the English language is that there are no rules) was that there is such a thing as descriptive grammar. Basically, grammar is decided and changed by the flux and flows of every day language. If everyone starts saying something one way then that way will become the grammar rule. Most English majors think we know a crap-ton of grammar, but we don’t. Most of the time we’ll just tell you to change something because ‘it sounds good/better’ and not because there’s some secret grammar rule you are missing out on.

4) ‘Well read‘- After I became an English major I went to orientation and the Dean fitted us with microchips behind our ears that downloaded every piece of classical literature into our brains. If only! No, not all English majors are well read. In fact, most of us sort of have our niche. Mine was: every young adult dystopian novel on earth. Most of us do not become well read until we are in a class that forces us to read obscure poetry from the sixties or epic poems written in cunieform. So when people say ‘Oh, I bet you’ve read all of Thomas Hardy’s books because you’re an English major’ I fight the urge to shiver in revulsion and admit that I’ve only had the misfortune of reading two of his most depressing novels. Most English majors have bookcases filled with modern flights of fancy save for that one guy that wears a beanie all year round, takes his coffee black and only out of a french press, and writes his poems on a type writer. Obviously, he is well read.

5) Free Editors– This Public Service Announcement is for your health. If you gain nothing else from this post I want you to take away with this: English majors are no more free editors than Accounting majors are free accountants. If you ask me to proof read or even edit your paper you better have a latte and a batch of cookies in your hand for me. My accepting to edit your paper at midnight the day before it is due better have a life or death favor I can call on you for at a time of my choosing attached to it. Not only do English majors have a ton of their own editing to do, but we’re also not perfect at it. If you get your paper back with red ink on it and you come back complaining to me that I ‘forgot’ to edit something on your paper I’m just going to shrug at it. It happens. We’re not computers. So ask nicely, tread carefully, and if we say no please respect that.

Finally, English majors ARE people with a love for knowledge. We love words and the power invested in them. We believe in the transcendent nature of literature that gives it  the power to reach readers from all stages of life. We are nerdy in our own rights, we could even be called eccentric. We are sometimes writers and sometimes readers, but most of the time we are learners. Most of us are looking to find a living like anyone else, we just wish that living involved a lot more reading for pleasure.

Thanks for reading! If you have an English Major friend be sure to give them a hug today.

Like, follow, and share! I’d also love to hear thoughts from my fellow English majors about situations or assumptions you’ve faced that left you wondering what people think about English majors.

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6 thoughts on “5 Notes on what English Majors are NOT

  1. Great post! Studying film wasn’t 1/100th of the headache that English majors have to deal with, but I still had to deal with a lot of similar assumptions.

    No, I have not seen every single movie ever made.

    More frustrating were the moments in which I had to tell the kids there was no Santa Clause. People would tell me about a movie they saw and thought was great and ask what I thought of it. There were many instances where my honest opinion on a mediocre movie made someone feel dumb and I looked like a pretentious jerk. Now I just say that it was “okay” or “pretty entertaining.” No hurt feelings!

  2. I wasn’t sure at first if I would agree with this post, because I do kind of pride myself on being a Grammar Nazi and a walking dictionary (and I have also been known to do some pro bono editing from time to time). But, when I used the Barnes & Noble gift card that my roommate bought me for Christmas to buy (among other things) an anthology of the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe, and my roommate responded with, “Oh, I thought you would have read all of that already,” I think I kind of felt what you were getting at in #4.

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