Phrase of the Week: SMH (and why I’m doing just that)

Student texting during class

Student texting during class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of us who were not born with our thumbs already programmed to text, internet slang is an easy target for derisive comments.  Still, I received a lot of positive feedback for our explanation of  “TIL,” so I  thought I’d push my luck with this one:  “SMH” means “shaking my head,” as in “can you believe this?”  Alternatives included SMHID (“shaking my head in despair”) and /O\ (frustrated, hands on head).  So why am I /O\?

I’m a huge fan of Gawker‘s Caity Weaver (full disclosure: she’s also a friend), and I chuckled my way through “America’s Dumb 4th Graders Don’t Know What ‘Puzzled’ Means (Don’t Worry, They Can’t Read This).”  [WARNING: Strong language, typical of Gawker posts.  Do not click link if you have tender ears…er…eyes!  You will, however, miss a good laugh.] The study that Ms. Weaver references is yet another in the Chicken-Little-ish series of proofs that we may not be doing quite as well as we should with the whole education thing.  For those college instructors who have mastered the sigh-and-move-on technique for dealing with these harsh realities, this study did not qualify as big news.

Gawker Media Big Board

Gawker Media Big Board (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

The deeply unsettling part of the post proved to be the “comments” section, where readers offered a plethora (use of prissy word is intentional) of vignettes (oops) recounting demands from mentors and administrators to “dumb down” their vocabularies.  Apparently words like “erudite,” “misconstrue,” and “glacially” are just too rich for students and colleagues to digest.  /O\

Here at HCC, we are literally posting the Word of the Day on the inside of restroom stall doors in an effort to improve our students’ vocabularies.  (OK, we put the Word on the LED display at the entry to the college, too; but that’s not as vivid an image, is it?) How disappointing to hear that there are insurgents, to use a recent Word of the Day, within our own ranks. Lexophiles, arise!

Vocabulary - Words Are Important

Vocabulary – Words Are Important (Photo credit: Dr Noah Lott)

Having a broad vocabulary covers many of the pleasureinlearning bases.  My anatomy students are surprised (1) by the sensual pleasure (2) that they derive from being able to rattle off a phrase like “pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium.”  Being able to do that is an achievable challenge (3) that lets them feel part of a special group (4) which possesses valuable knowledge (5).  And it’s a lot more fun than saying “tall cells with hair on top that line stuff,” which is what it means in words of four letters or less…five letters, if you count “cells.”

Friends, there’s a reason that you start with seven tiles in Scrabble.  Let’s use them all.


2 comments on “Phrase of the Week: SMH (and why I’m doing just that)

  1. Brian says:

    “pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium” is also very melodic sounding, poetic. I get intense pleasure from hearing the beauty of the words, and they use the tongue and lips in pleasurable ways. I am not one for pretense with language, and often direct and clear language that is simple, trumps stuffy sounding highbrow vocabulary; however, variety is richness too, and an expanded vocabulary and freedom to use it without censure as if to do so is uppity, bring the pleasure of nuances and different sounds and shades of expression. Often, we hear of the “big picture” and getting that picture. This can be done by skimming in reading or skimming, as it were, in short text messages that don’t require art. But it’s just as true that a really great big picture is probably made up of many tiny details — each with the potential for a touch of art, maybe not every time, but certainly more often than interminable flurries of only generic text symbol-ology and wording. B

    • Thanks, Brian. We share a love of words. My husband’s favorite word in medical school was “oligodendroglioma”…a very bad thing to have, but a melodic, if I may borrow your well-chosen word, to say.

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