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When New Dorp discovered that students didn't know how to use such words as "although" or "despite," the school consciously set out to teach them, and the kids began to write better.
Yet the writing textbooks on the whole say nothing about abstractitis, mentioning it at most only in passing.
And instructors do not focus on over-abstraction, even though that's the major problem young writers have.
Show me a stock exchange floor where bids are shouted and answered.""What is a concrete noun?
" a student might ask."It's something you can drop on your foot," I always answer.
Henry Fowler coined the term "abstractitis" for this multiplication of abstractions, about which he said: A writer uses abstract words because his thoughts are cloudy; the habit of using them clouds his thoughts still further; he may end by concealing his meaning not only from his readers but also from himself.
Essays Through The Eyes Of An Object
When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit.
One is the skill of giving specific concrete examples in an essay. Put physical objects in your essay."As I recounted in a recent article for the National Association of Scholars, when I try to talk to other freshman comp teachers about object-based writing, I usually see their eyes glaze over.
One might naturally assume that giving good concrete examples is unteachable, that it's just an aspect of a student's thinking, and that a student with good mind will use good examples in his or her essays. I'm obsessed with the importance of writing with objects, and know it works, but it's hard to get the idea across.
But it's much more useful to regard the giving of examples as a skill, because then you can find ways to train for it. How should one train students to give good, vivid examples in their writing? I used to do that but I don't any more, because it's too vague, not operational. It goes against the conventional teacher wisdom that says students have to handle abstract ideas, and what the heck does writing physically have to do with that?
One fellow instructor, Bernadette--and she's a very good teacher--said as much one time when I was trying to talk about the topic of writing with objects in freshman comp.