In his multi-part documentary Planet Word, British humorist, actor and all-around Renaissance Man Stephen Fry explains that people often prefer to speak to one another in gentle euphemisms rather than bald-faced truths. He notes that the English have a particular gift for sugar-coating harsh realities.
This gift is of particular value to those in education. Professors must wade through any number of run-on sentences, literary non-sequiturs, and head-scratching turns-of-phrase in order to assign fair grades. It must take a heroic level of restraint to offer constructive criticism to students who deserve more of the latter than the former. But restraint may make it easier for deeply incompetent students to rationalize their own capabilities.
Essay grading is a sensitive science. It isn’t always easy to find commentary that is forthright and direct but which doesn’t destroy your student’s fragile psyche. Below, and in the spirit of the great Stephen Fry, we offer a handy translator for professorial remarks as a service to everyone in education.
Use it either to decode the notes a professor gives you or to soften the comments you are sending to your own pupils.
|What Professors Say||What Professors Mean||What Students Hear|
|Go back and give this a second look.||This is drivel.||I’m pretty close.|
|Good use of imagery.||Superficial and otherwise unreadable.||I’ve painted a vivid picture with my words.|
|Are you sure about this?||This is wrong,||The website I borrowed this from is probably wrong.|
|Much improved from the original draft.||This is bad but the original was so much worse.||This is good enough.|
|Organization could be improved.||I couldn’t make heads or tails of your argument.||I just need to shuffle some things around.|
|Rephrase more clearly.||Were you drunk when you wrote this?||At least I got the basic premise right.|
|Be sure that your support statements back your thesis.||This argument doesn’t hang together.||At least my thesis is good.|
|This is a good start.||You have a long way to go.||I totally nailed it.|
|Good point, needs more support.||I know what you were trying to say. Do you?||I’ve made a compelling case.|
|Does not seem relevant to your argument.||You made me read all this extra fluff for no good reason.||I wrote all this extra fluff for no good reason.|
|This word is used incorrectly.||Do you even own a dictionary?||This word doesn’t make me sound as smart as I thought it would.|
|Passive voice.||Flimsy and indirect sentence structure.||Grammar rule I don’t fully understand. Ignore this comment.|
|Misplaced modifier.||This sentence doesn’t convey its intended descriptive meaning.||I should just delete all the adjectives in this sentence and move on.|
|Citation?||Did you steal this idea?||It’s obvious that I stole this idea.|
|Explain in greater detail.||Try harder.||I should find new ways to say the same thing over and over again.|
|Please see me.||You really blew it.||I really blew it.|