The Elements of Clunk

The grammar/punctuation flames from not-all-that-well-informed posters at the end of this article are quite interesting for he or she who likes such things.

The Elements of Clunk 1Four years ago, I wrote an essay for The Chronicle Review cataloging “The Seven Deadly Sins of Student Writers“–the
errors and infelicities that cropped up most frequently in my students’
work. Since then a whole new strain of bad writing has come to the
fore, not only in student work but also on the Internet, that
unparalleled source for assessing the state of the language.


Are you surprised by the absence of smiley faces, LOL-type abbreviations, and slang terms like “diss” or “phat”? A reading of the typical lament about student writing would lead you to think all are rampant. However, I have yet to encounter a single example in all my years of grading. Students realize that this kind of thing is in the wrong register for a college assignment (even an assignment for my classes, which for the most part cover journalism, broadly defined–that is, writing for publication in newspapers and magazines, in print or online). Maybe students are being too careful. Slang can streamline or lend poetry to language, or both. The new errors and changes, on the other hand, make it longer and more prosaic. They give a new sound to prose. I call it clunk. —Ben Yagoda