Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One for the English Major Team

One sunny day in the Fall of my sophomore year of college I was on my way to declare a practical major when I got an unexpected call from my father. A few minutes later I got off the phone and started walking in the opposite direction towards a different building. I had been given this advice (which, at the time, seemed more like an order): "Major in something you enjoy, rather than something practical. Then, when you go to graduate school, you take the practical road." And that is how I became an English major.

I was not prepared for the hundreds of people who would later scoff and mock my decision. As soon as the phrase "English major" comes out of my mouth, doubt of my survival in the 'real world' creeps into their eyes, and they either say, or think, "English??!! What are you going to do with that?!" Well, oh ignorant one, let me tell you.

For a college student, there is nothing more frightening than scanning an exam and realizing you have no idea what any of the answers are. Not only that, but there is no multiple choice. A big, blank, blue book practically burns a hole in your eyeballs as you squirm in your seat, this close to a full blown panic attack. What to do, what to dooo...Oh! I know! Develop a coherent essay with fully backed up points and examples from the text to illustrate your meaning!

How? That's for the English major to know, and for you to never find out. We're brilliant. We can be put on the spot and come out smelling like roses. We can answer a question we don't know the answer to, back up our claim, marvel at the genius we just pulled out of nowhere, and leave the professor dumbfounded by our intelligence. Especially since he thought we were either unprepared, daydreaming, or just plain idiotic (Now imagine what it's like when we actually do know the answer).

Confused? Why not wander over to your bookshelf and pull out Shakespeare or Chaucer. What? (feign surprise) You don't have any of those? You only have Confessions of a Shopaholic and other similar chick novels?? I suppose they are a bit difficult to understand.... Pity. Well, let's just say that Shakespeare and Chaucer are remembered and widely read (at least by other people) for a reason.

If you can actually understand what Chaucer is saying while reading it, then hats off to you, but I really don't believe you. Unless you are a Chaucer extraordinaire, aka ,professor who will remain nameless from second semester sophomore year. Who, while we're on the subject, made me speak Middle English for a mortifying ten minutes in front of the entire class. Don't know what Middle English is either? Sigh. Google it. Then speak it around other people and note their reaction.

Anyway, English majors are taught to decipher, describe, dissect, determine, declare (oh, why hello alliteration), analyze, and interpret everything put in front of them. That skill cannot be left at the door. In fact, when you're talking to me, just know, from here on out, that while I'm nodding my head and nonchalantly sipping my coffee, I am putting you through a "what's he/she really trying to say" detector while jotting down notes in my head, and coming up with plan a, b, and c of possible answers, ideas...plans of action, if you will.

Now, transfer these impeccable skills that have been tweaked and perfected over 4 years into any professional environment (ahem, I stress any environment) and the true English major will succeed and excel.

Beg to differ? Well, unsuccessful flaw finder, in true English major style I've already mapped out possible questions, arguments, and back up arguments to your unsatisfied mind. So I'm all ears. ;-)

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  1. Now I wish I had been an English major... I want to join the ranks of the witty and brilliant!

  2. See, this is exactly why I should have been an English major. It would be totally fitting with my ability to pull an answer to anything out of my butt.

  3. Where were you when I chickened out of an English major and went with double Journalism/Business in order to be "marketable?"

    Oh yeah, elementary school.

    Your Dad is a very smart man.

  4. I'm with you. Want to hear something funny?
    I chose music as my bachelor's area of study for exactly the same reason- to do what I thought was fun. When I graduated and realized how impractical that was, I went back to school for a "more practical" MA in English. People didn't believe me that it would be more practical, but I've found it exceedingly useful. I work from home writing and I've found that having that degree under my belt seems to demand quite a bit of respect in general. Both impractical degrees taught me to be creative and analytical at the same time.