I'd like to offer a bit of defense for the harshly reviewed writing skills of the American student. For years now, we have denounced our young composers as trite of thought, simple in syntax, and pathetically poor in punctuation. All this may well be true, but there just might be something worth salvaging: the rebirth of the idiomatic expression.
Like soda pop, a cliche flattens with age. It's simply no good gone stale. We have before us now a generation of writers who have rejuvenated the English language by refusing to adhere to that cardinal rule of style: Avoid cliches. In their failure to heed this admonition, they have managed to create a new expressive form, one that Mrs. Malaprop herself would be proud of.
The following examples, garnered over many years of cliche collecting, are offered as proof that some intelligence, however subliminal, still resides in our composition courses.
Many writers were aware that they had, in their enviably brief lives, taken too much for granite. I especially appreciate this turn of phrase because it is so vivid.
These students have learned their diction lessons well, and for this they deserve a pounding ovation. Students prosper, I've found, from occasional bolsters to their self-steam.
It is, as we know, a doggy-dog world, but students do recognize that the ability to write well makes them exceptable to certain social strata. (Politicians might make note of this startling usage: The confusion between exceptions and acceptability is more widespread than our students realize.)
Myself, I don't reddish the thought of graduating college seniors who characterize themselves as very god writers when they can't distinguish a deity from a description. But I'm willing to go to any extinct to spark some imagination and make the learning experience worth wild, even if it means recoining some tarnished phrases.
One student, a girl who revealed that she'd written a single paper, an essay on Sylvia Plath's ''Daddy Dearest,'' for her high school lit. class, put force so much effort that I was able to grant her a passing grade, despite her lack of experience. Another girl, who did not fare so well, litterly defamed my character and class because, she felt, my standards were not afflicable to a student of her background. One of us was afflicted, I'm certain; by exactly what , I can't be sure.
One of the sweetest phrases that surfaced in my research occurs in the following scene. The narrator looks into a small house from a garden window. A red and white gingham tablecloth is set for a breakfast of muffins and milk. A mother with a heart as big as gold sits waiting for her young daughter to come and eat. The scent of chuckleberry blossoms makes the narrator heady as she writes, as she recalls. I can't help but smell the chuckleberry blossoms myself, and wonder where American literature would be today had it been Chuck Finn who sailed down the Mississippi with Jim.
To summon it up, the modern student writer offers daily proof of the dynamic vitality of our language.