A Word for 2017: A First Week Activity

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A piece in Inside Higher Ed caught my eye this morning: "What's Your Word for 2017?" Shakti Sutriasa gives advice on how to select such a word in an article in the Huffington Post. There’s even an online community for people who want to choose a word for this year and share it through blogging. And on this Community, Andrea Lunsford has reviewed dictionary picks for Word of the Year.

As a self-designated logophile, I couldn’t help but give this some thought. I’ve got three options, each of which hover around the theme of slowing down: margin, deliberate, and savor.

With a calendar full of back-to-back appointments, classes, and meetings, I have reduced and narrowed the white spaces of my time. I know better: I know that a lack of margin leads to clutter, to texts that are difficult to read, with cramped and pinched letters. Decisions are rushed; reflection is set aside. At the end of the day, without adequate margin, I teach less effectively. I respond to writing less thoughtfully. I read less critically.

Margin is never haphazard or accidental; it must be set and maintained by deliberate choice.  And it has to be valued. After all, margin is not just white space. Important thinking happens in the margins of the texts I read – and in the marginal minutes I create for myself.  Margin allows for possibilities otherwise lost.  Amazing people exist in the margins, too. I must make a deliberate decision to see them there, to linger there with them and learn from them.

And when there is margin, there is an invitation not merely to see or taste, but to savor. Yesterday, I set aside the myriad tasks of the new semester, and I read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence.”  Then I read it again. I read parts out loud, playing with sounds and rhythms. I made enough margin in my evening to savor a poem; I do not do this often enough.

In my writing classes this spring, I will once again be framing my courses as “Writing about Language,” my variation on writing about writing. As part of introductory activities designed to build a community of writers, I think I will ask my students to choose their own words for the upcoming semester.  And I will create some margin, deliberately, to read and savor—not just grade—their choices.

About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.