Language Note of the Week 34

“Just” is a useful and slippery term.
It can be an intensifier (“Just stop it!”) or a synonym for “fair-minded” (“He’s a just man, but a pain to deal with”).

“Just” can often sound dismissive – as in “It was just one of those things.”

Consider this example:

“Adjudicators are just people and they mark candidates accordingly.”

Two problems:
1) does “just” mean “righteous” or “equitable”?
2) if “just” is an intensifier – which is the more likely possibility here – is there a suggestion that “adjudicators” should be MORE than “people”?
3) (but who’s counting?) …perhaps this is a transfer error from Slovenian.


“Adjudicators are ONLY HUMAN and they mark candidates accordingly.”

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Language Note of the Week 33

The first sentence is crucial for setting the tone (see “Reminder” at

Consider the tone set by these first sentences from real (but slightly changed) motivation letters:

1) “I would like take a chance and participate in study program called Zembla Study Tour – „Thinking Zambla“ in September 2013.”
(TONE: What the heck, why not give it a whirl.)

2) “I wish to apply for the participation in the Zembla Study Tour, because when I noticed advertisement for this tour on my university’s website I already knew this is the program I would like to be part of.”
(NOTE: Know that the adjudicator cares not one whit how you found out about Erasmus, etc. Don’t mention it.)

3) “I, Randy Raoul, currently in my second year of bachelor studies of English Language and Literature at Philosophical Faculty at Trondheim University, and in my first year of diploma studies of English Language and Geography at Pedagogical Faculty at Honolulu University, would like to apply for a spot on the one-month Zembla Study Tour – “Thinking Zembla”.
(COMMENT: Too much information. It also sounds like a legal document.)

4) “Being to the point, what my biggest motivation is, I would use Lawrence Martin’s words: ,,He pondered and suffered a good deal but he lacked the courage to dare – the first requisite of a practitioner.””
(QUESTION: Is this “To the point”?)

5) “You should provide a convincing explanation as to why you wish to participate in the study tour, what particular contribution you feel you might make to the success of the tour, and what you anticipate will be the benefit of taking part in the tour.”
(CLICHE: Little things matter. This candidate clearly uploaded the wrong file.)

6) “I found this quote which maybe show my vision. „The best way to predict the future is to form it.” Pavel Smythe.”
(SPOTLIGHT: This “Pavel Smythe” sounds fascinating – oh, he’s not the candidate! In other words, avoid starting with a quotation. You want the spotlight on yourself.)

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Language Note of the Week 32

Two short ones:

1) “This is because the 13th-century Italy was unusual.”
“This is because 13th-century Italy was unusual.”

Drop the definite article when you use AS A NOUN PHRASE “13th-century Italy” or “19th-century France” or “x-th-century whatever.”

2) “In the 13th century…” – no hyphen.
“In 13th-century Italy…” – hyphen.

In other words, hyphenate “13th-century” if you use it adjectivally (admittedly, not all editors follow this rule. In any case, be consistent. If you hyphenate on page four, also hyphenate on page 31 of your essay).

DO NOT hyphenate “In the 13th century…”

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Language Note of the Week 31

1) You may blithely pile up adverbs when describing an action:

“My sister scampered slowly, clumsily, hungrily, ridiculously towards the cookie jar.”

That example is clear, fine and mean.

Here, the two -ly adverbs are dissonant and mildly confusing:

“Hemingway’s works function realistically primarily when they are autobiographical.”

Because “primarily” and “realistically” are not parallel (i.e. you can’t write “realistically, primarily when…”), there is a fight for the sentence-scope spotlight. That was an awful explanation.

Just look at this example. Its meaning is clear:

“For the most part, Hemingway’s works function realistically when they are autobiographical.”

2) Like flossing, cleaning our bicycle and backing up our system, naming data files is something we know should do… but don’t.

Name your files clearly. It will help you greatly when revising work, finding the file, or even reminding yourself where you’re at.

It need not be pretty – “MUSIC ARTICLE – NOT DONE YET FOR THE TUESDAY CANADIAN CULTURE GROUP” is an ugly but effective title.

Most importantly: if you have second thoughts about an essay and you submit an updated version, label your e-mail as if you’re a drama queen, and your file as if you’re an accountant.

E-mail subject line: “STOP! PLEASE GRADE this VERSION”

Title: “Essay Two Canadian Literature – Version Two – Ahačič.” [N.b. do not label your essay: “Essay – Blake.” I KNOW the essay is for me.]

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Calls for papers for forthcoming issues of EJES

The call for papers for volume 19 is available:

– Mendacity in Early Modern Literature and Culture
– Modern Creatures
– Poetics and Partition

Please note that the deadline for proposals for all of the issues is 31 October 2013, with delivery of completed essays by 31 March 2014.

Volume 19 will appear in 2015.

Please consult the journal’s Aims and Scope and Editorial Policy for general guidelines on proposing a special theme and/or contact the General Editors for specific advice on formulating a CFP.


Language Note of the Week 30

Take three seconds and shorten this sentence:

“What Ralph evokes in Randy is something new.”

“_______ evokes in Randy __ something new.”


“Ralph evokes something new in Randy.”

Unless you need time to think, or unless you want to up the anticipation, chop the needless “what” and “is.”

Time to think:
“May I take your order?”
“Well, what I would really like to order from the menu is…” (vs. “I’ll have a beer.”)

Upping the anticipation:
“What really, truly annoys me about this menu is…”

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Language Note of the Week 29

Some sneaky adjectives look like they should be adverbs because they end in -ly.

“We piled our dishes DISORDERLY” is wrong.
“She passed him a cup of tea MOTHERLY” is equally wrong.

There are a few solutions here:
1) opt for ugly and clumsy phrases like:
“in a disorderly/motherly manner” or a “disorderly/motherly way”

2) search for a synonym, or paraphrase:

“We piled our dishes chaotically.”
“She passed him a cup of tea, as if she were his mother.”

3) Avoid -ly adjectives like the plague – which is of course a repetition of 2 (and impossible to do on a daily basis).

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Language Note of the Week 28

How’s this for a non-informative (and real!) newspaper headline?

“Billionaire investor was keen on investing, fraud trial told”

No kidding. And avid dancers like to dance.

Avoid such repetition in your writing. Admittedly, I have never received such a banal title from a student.

This, however, is common:

“Last week I came across a thrilling new Swedish mystery novel. The novel’s story is well-written and packed with suspense. The novel’s story is not a typical mystery because there is no obvious culprit.”

Never start two sentences in a row with the same word or phrase. (Parallel structures are another matter, of course.)

Figura etymologica – i.e. when you use derivations of the same root – is also common:

“The questioning of the suspect included questions like, ‘Where were you last night?'”

This is plain ugly. This, however, is lovely and intentional: “Sing a Song of Sixpence”

My battery is dying… Time to post!

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Calls Events

ESSE 2014 KOSICE Conference

Dear Colleagues, The 1 May 2013 deadline for Seminars and Round Tables (proposals from prospective convenors) for ESSE 2014 KOSICE Conference is approaching fast. You are invited to submit proposals for seminars and round tables on topics related to our fields of study: English Language, Literatures in English, and Cultural Studies (broadly defined). Proposals for seminars and round tables should be submitted directly to the Academic Programme Committee (APC) at The details are described below and at


Proposals for seminars on specialised topics within our field should be submitted jointly by two ESSE members, preferably from two different National Associations. The degree of international appeal will be one of the selection criteria used by the APC. Proposals will not be entertained if they come from two people in the same institution. In exceptional cases the APC may permit one of the two convenors not to be an ESSE member (e.g. because they come from outside Europe), if it is argued that their presence is especially important for the seminar. Seminar proposals must include the names, affiliations and e-mail addresses of the convenors and a 100-word description of the topic. Unlike round tables, seminars are not pre-constituted events and will therefore be included within the APC’s future call for papers, although convenors may take an active role in approaching potential participants. The seminar format is intended to encourage lively participation on the part both of speakers and of members of the audience. For this reason, papers will be orally presented in no longer than 15 minutes rather than read. Reduced versions of the papers will be circulated beforehand among participants. Further directions will follow in the call for papers. NB: proposals for individual papers should NOT be submitted at this stage. The deadline for individual papers will be the 31 January 2014.


The aim of round tables is to present topics and problems currently seen as shaping the nature of the discipline. At a round table a pre-constituted panel discusses issues of fairly general scholarly or professional interest in front of (and subsequently with) an audience. In other words, round tables are not sequences of papers but debate sessions. Proposals should include a 100-word description of the topic and the names and affiliations of at least three participants (including the convenor), who must be drawn from more than one national association. The maximum number of speakers will be five.


Language Note of the Week 27

Some typographical niceties today:

1) Don’t use two apostrophes (‘’…’’) instead of quotation marks (“…”).

2) Make sure your quotations marks face in the right direction – i.e. that they are looking at the quoted text.
This is wrong: ”quoted text.”
This is not: “quoted text.”

3) Use the tab key to indent; do not hit the space-bar eight times.

4) Keep your spacing standardized. If you use a single space after a period, do it all the time. If you use two spaces after a period, use…

5) Put the footnote/endnote AFTER the period, not before. (Click the link below for a better visual indication of this tip.)

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