I’ve Got the Keys

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Growing up, I heard Haitian Creole and English spoken interchangeably at home. My knowledge of Creole started off as a collection of simple words and phrases pertaining to cuisine, the household, and hygiene. Unfortunately, I soon developed the regrettable habit of hearing a question or statement in Haitian Creole and responding in English. As a result, I’ve always understood more Creole than I can actually speak.

Taking up French in sixth grade drastically increased my Creole vocabulary. Many people I’ve come across expected it to be the other way around–in other words, that knowing Creole first would have helped me learn French. (My eighth grade French teacher used to exclude me from competitive games during class because she thought I had an unfair advantage.) In truth, my analytical mind started to make connections between the original French terms and the cognates that derived from these. For example, du riz in French means “[some/of] rice” and I realized that this was where the Creole diri came from. (If you’re interested in more on this, consider reading  An Nou Palé – Let’s Talk.)

By the end of high school, I had taken French for six years and Spanish for about two (just for fun, since I loved it so much), so that means I have four languages under my belt. However, I’d be lying if I said I could speak each one (aside from English) 100% fluently! This fact embarrasses me, and I often ask myself, Is it the flawed education system? Is it me? Did I ever really learn?

The answer is simple: PRACTICE. For all my theory and knowledge and textbook smarts, I have not always taken advantage of real-life opportunities to practice–and by this I mean live, on-the-spot, spoken communication. I figure that if I’m not speaking Creole as fluently as I’d like to, it’s because of my own timidity, but most heritage speakers have the same struggle. I was always afraid that I would be mocked for pronouncing something wrong or fumbling a sentence, which kept me from trying. (Being condescending is somewhat ingrained in Haitian culture, so my fears were well-grounded.)

It bothers me that I am familiar, yet not fluent, with these three languages other than English (LOTEs); but what I need is to get bothered enough to actually do something about it. Plus, nothing pushes you more than having a sense of “need” rather than just “want.” I’ve been considering multiple measures: getting language-learning apps like DuoLingo; finding friends who speak the desired language and striking up a conversation; and replying in Creole to my family’s questions (which, of course, would take a whole lot of guts).

For French and Creole, especially, I know that most of the words are stored up in my brain somewhere, so it’s just a matter of excavating them. My worst nightmare would be to lose what it took so many years to learn, especially since it’s harder to learn new things as you get older. In the future, I hope to travel to communities that speak any of the three LOTEs, and be able to communicate comfortably. Languages are like keys that open the doors to other worlds, and I wish to hold onto those keys as tightly as I can.

Peering into the Perfect Melancholy Mind

By Robine Jean-Pierre

a man blurred in the background looking at a chessboard in focus in the foreground

provided by Pixnio


In
my previous post, I talked about the concept of the Four Temperaments, which is discussed in depth in Florence Littauer’s book, Personality Plus. After taking the personality profile included in the book, I discovered that I am primarily a Perfect Melancholy. I would love to share some of my exciting and challenging realizations with you. Maybe this will help you if you have the same temperament, or if you know someone who does.

My Strengths
For one thing, my intellectual, analytical nature has contributed to my success at school. I won’t say it’s been easy or effortless to get high grades; what I will say is that I’ve had more of a desire and an aptitude to excel in academic pursuits. It helps that I love to learn for the sake of learning.

Creativity and artistic ability are also strengths of mine. I sing, compose, write, play piano and guitar, and draw pretty well (at least in my opinion!). It’s easy for me to catch the melody of a song I’ve only heard once, draw realistic cartoons, or write haikus on the spot, for example.

My Weaknesses
Being the analytical, planning type can also be a setback. Sometimes I get so stuck in my mind that it’s hard to turn thoughts into actions. I gave my fiancé Angel a hard time when he taught me how to play chess, because I felt as if every move I made had to be the “right” one. You can imagine how long our games went on for.

The need to do things the “right” way leads into the bigger issue of perfectionism. I’ve often set unrealistically high expectations for those closest to me. With my sister, I’ve been too critical, practically looming over her shoulder and correcting her every move. As you can imagine, this has often annoyed her. (It doesn’t help that both my mom and aunt are also Perfect Melancholies.) With my fiancé Angel, my reserved, introverted tendencies make me self-conscious and easily embarrassed. As a Popular Sanguine, he can be very over the top in expressing himself–loud declarations of his love for me, singing on the train, dancing in the streets–and I can be harsh in the way I express my disdain, with jabs or death stares.

My Outlook
The way I see it, knowing my strengths and weaknesses can set the tone for all areas of my life, from my relationships to my career path. Understanding my temperament means avoiding situations that I am not well-suited to handle (unless there is room for growth or other gain). For example, being a planned and orderly person, I would not take on a job that seems to be too chaotic and spontaneous; teaching a kindergarten class could potentially lead to an emotional breakdown.

Conversely, understanding my temperament means making choices that will highlight and reinforce my strengths. To give one example, I often take the initiative in planning dates with Angel because we both agree that I do this well.

I hope this helped you get a better understanding of what Perfect Melancholy people are like. Chances are you or someone you know has a personality that aligns with this temperament. What are some takeaways that might change how to interact with them, or how you view yourself? Please feel free to share your thoughts with me below.

Personality Plus: An Ancient Idea with a Modern Flair

by Robine Jean-Pierre

My fiancé Angel and I can say that our initial friendship deepened as a result of some important exchanges. To name one, I introduced him to the world of contemporary Christian music, and he unlocked the door to the library of positive mental attitude (PMA) books. One of the first books I saw him read was Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. I made it very clear to him that I was curious about it, and he made it clear that it would change my life. Once I got a hold of it, I dove right in.

In short, the book did change my life. It introduced to me the idea that while there are plenty of things that make people unique and distinct, we all naturally tend to fall into certain identifiable patterns and habits. It becomes way easier to understand ourselves and communicate with others when we take these patterns and habits into account.

Throughout history, there have been various studies that expound upon these distinct sets of patterns and habits. This book specifically addresses and builds upon the ancient Greek idea of the Four Temperaments. Littauer describes them as Popular Sanguine, Powerful Choleric, Perfect Melancholy, and Peaceful Phlegmatic. I’ll offer a simplified summary of each below.

Popular Sanguine
People with this temperament tend to be bubbly, talkative, friendly, and outgoing. They are often considered “the life of the party” and “the center of attention.” They often struggle with forgetfulness, following through on a commitment, and can swing between emotional highs and lows pretty quickly.

Powerful Choleric
These people are often considered “natural leaders” because they have a bold, straightforward demeanor and a strong will. If a task needs to get done, they most likely will take the initiative. At the same time, they can be bossy, stubborn, and, as the name implies, they can have a bad temper.

Perfect Melancholy
Those who fall under this category are “the thinkers.” They can be quiet and reserved at times, but their minds are brimming with intellect and creative talent. On the negative side, they can be too hard on themselves and others because of their perfectionist mindset. Their emotional cycle of highs and lows tends to be more intense and slower paced (it may take longer to recover from an offense).

Peaceful Phlegmatic
These individuals are very mellow and “chill.” They make great listeners because of their passive nature, and they do not waste time making decisions because their answer will usually be “either one” or “I don’t care.” At the same time, they are more likely to procrastinate because they sometimes lack self-motivation to make more important decisions. They can also come off as indifferent because they do not express their emotions easily.

Similarities and Differences
The temperaments within themselves share certain similarities. For instance, Perfect Melancholy and Powerful Choleric tend to be more intense, independent, “task-oriented.” As a result, they may at times come off as emotionally detached, or too serious, but their determination and resolve can definitely be beneficial. Someone of either temperament might isolate herself in her room until she is finished with her homework, for example. On the flip side, Popular Sanguine and Peaceful Phlegmatic are more “people-or
iented.” Either one would be willing to drop whatever they are doing to help a friend. They are more likely to let emotions influence their decisions, which can be helpful or harmful.

These relationships are further explored in a similar theory, the Disc Model, developed by Harvard psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston in the 1920’s (learn more in the Disc Personality Testing Blog).

a diagram comparing and contrasting personalities within the DISC model

taken from Discovery Report

 

Keep Calm and Read On
Now, I know some of us are skeptical and do not like the idea of putting people into boxes. Rest assured, the summaries above have certainly been oversimplified, and the truth is that most of us exhibit characteristics that fall under all of the temperaments (or perhaps, at the very least, two). I can’t say whether the temperaments are the best personality model, or why they exist (if only in our minds), but I can say that this knowledge has improved my understanding of myself and others. For example, knowing that Angel is primarily a Popular Sanguine, I’ll be more understanding if he forgets to bring me something because he was wrapped up in conversation along the way. (As for me, I’m predominantly a Perfect Melancholy. I may elaborate on my experience more in a future post.)

If you are interested in taking these theories into consideration, I would advise you to use them as a guideline, rather than a standard. If you know of any promising personality quizzes, please feel free to comment the links (and/or results) below!

Lost in Transit–and Translation

by Robine Jean-Pierre

a subway station filled with commuters

provided by PREP blog

Have you ever been approached by someone who does not speak much English, asking for help or directions? Have you ever felt flustered as you searched for the right words to convey your response clearly, looking desperately into that person’s eyes for a glint of recognition and understanding?

This occurs rather often for me; living in New York City, I frequently come across people from all over the world, especially in the subway. As my fiancé Angel loves to say, “The MTA brings people together.” I enjoy helping others in general, particularly travelers wanting to know MTA-related information; I figure that if I’ve lived here all my life, I owe them at least that much! However, when language becomes a hindrance in reaching that goal, it can certainly be a challenge, but I do not give up easily.

One night, Angel and I were returning to Brooklyn after babysitting for my sister in Harlem. After some late night service changes complicated our initial plans, we found an alternative route to the nearest train station. I had just finished adding money to my MetroCard when I noticed a man accompanied by two women standing at the adjacent ATM machine. He held out a MetroCard and five dollar bill to me, asking, “Can put money on card?” He had already failed a few attempts at doing it himself, having tried to dip the MetroCard rather than sliding it in and letting the machine grab it.

I took both from him, but the next problem was unexpected: when I inserted his card, the screen read, “Card invalid. Please remove your card.” I was puzzled; it had not expired yet, and it did not have any apparent distinctions from a regular card.

“It’s not working,” I said, partly to myself, partly to Angel who was watching over my shoulder, and partly to my guests. Swiping it at the nearby card reader machine did not make the problem any clearer. Angel and I searched our personal belongings for an extra MetroCard but could not come up with one. Unfortunately, they would have to buy a new one.

“This card is not working… do you have one more dollar?” I gestured, but they cluelessly responded, “No… English.” I knew some French and Spanish but I could only guess that they spoke neither, so I didn’t offer a “Parlez-vous français?” or “Hablan ustedes español?” I likely would have been too nervous to speak coherently anyway.

Determined to help them get on their way, I quickly got my wallet out. Once more I tapped away at the touch screen, chose the “New Card” option and manually typed in $5.00, but we hit yet another roadblock: apparently, $5.00 was not a valid option. Really, MTA? I thought. What’s wrong with five dollars? Haven’t you troubled us enough? I went back to the selection menu and chose the cheapest preset option, $5.50, and now the grand total was $6.50.

Finally, I inserted the money due and handed the gentleman his card. One of the women immediately handed me back two dollar bills, to my surprise. I had given the $1.50 freely, not expecting them to give it back to me; but I did not want to appear rude or cause any further delay by refusing. He took his card, still hesitant and nervous, and they left the station (grateful, I’m sure, even if though they did not say so).

I felt a lot of compassion for them, imagining what it must be like in a new area, not knowing the language well and trying to navigate a complex and unfamiliar system. I’m grateful they knew just enough English to make their request known. Plus, it may have been indirect and delayed, but they did come to the understanding that $1.50 more was required of them. After all, who can go wrong with numbers? They saw me pull out the money and I’m sure they saw the big “$6.50” that appeared on the screen of the ATM machine.

I find the situation memorable in that, despite the language barrier, the task at hand was successfully completed. Because of this experience, I have an increased appreciation for all the ways we can communicate–not just with words but with images, objects, sounds, body language, etc. It’s wonderful to know that when one method is limited or unavailable, there is always another option; hope is never lost.

Did You Get My Message?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

You send a message to a friend, eagerly awaiting a reply. Hours go by and you don’t hear any word from him, until later in the day when you see him in person. He doesn’t bring it up, and this forces you to ask, “Did you get my message?” to which he responds, “What message?”

With instant messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, a message typically goes through three stages while traveling from sender to recipient: sent, delivered, and read. In this scenario, the problem could have occurred at any of these stages. Maybe you were in a tunnel on the train and the message never sent because you lost signal. Maybe it was never delivered because your friend’s phone was on airplane mode. Or maybe it was never read because he overlooked a notification, or did not have his phone close by.

Communication, whether inside or outside the digital world, is complicated. The more steps there are between you and your recipient, the more garbled your message can become—just like a classic game of “Telephone.” It starts with a thought, and depending on your articulation skills (or the lack thereof, as many of us would readily admit), your own mouth might betray you. How many times have you said, “In my head it sounded right, but it didn’t come out how I wanted it to”? Furthermore, the words you deliver have to go through the eyes or ears of your recipient, and they will often be interpreted according to that person’s bias, preconceived notions, hearing, mood, etc.  

I have learned the hard way that intention is not enough when it comes to effective communication. “Meaning well” does not always guarantee that the person you are talking to will understand you. I doubt technology will ever equip us with the means to read each other’s minds, but we can take measures to prevent painful or awkward errors in communication. What are some things you can do before expressing a thought, or responding to someone else’s?

One step that works 99% of the time is to pause. (It’s interesting how people tend to use the word “pause” only in the humorous way, to bring attention to provocative innuendo or double entendre.) Pausing is an important part of any conversation, not just for dramatic or comedic effect. Pause before you say something (so you can think it through first), after you say something (so you can consider the gravity or validity of what you just said), and definitely before responding to someone else. If it’s a text message, proofread before you send your own, and reread the other person’s message a few times.

Pausing before responding to someone else is one way you can ensure you are using logic, rather than emotion or whim, to formulate an answer. My fiancé Angel’s brother, Andre, said something once that stuck with me. To paraphrase: “When someone says something to you that triggers your emotions, the closer to home it hits, the longer you should wait before responding.” In the same vein, Angel likes to remind me that “emotions are indicators, not dictators.” They can make you aware of how something has affected you, but they do not have to influence or determine your decisions. Letting them air out for even a few seconds can keep you from lashing out or saying things you don’t really mean. In this way you can “respond” rather than “react” (another point Angel likes to make).

Another important thing to go along with pausing is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you know someone well enough, you can read a text message in his/her tone of voice, and this might help you contextualize whatever he/she said. The words “I can’t stand you” in a text message might initially be a slap in the face, unless you recall that your friend tends to say this all the time in a joking manner towards the people he/she loves. On the other hand, your friend might have genuinely meant it in a serious, irritated tone; if so, instead of flaring up and getting offended, ask yourself, “What might he be going through right now?” or “What did I do to make her upset?” If the answer is “nothing,” then “don’t take it personally” is valid advice because, nine times out of ten, you are not the problem; the person has acted out for reasons that have very little to do with you. You do not have to excuse or justify the person’s behavior, but you can choose not to make it about you; be gentle, understanding, and proceed with caution.

Here are some other tips which I hope you find helpful, especially when it comes to texting:

  • Study how someone uses or reacts to certain words; one word can have a totally different meaning to you than it does to someone else
  • Take advantage of punctuation, abbreviations, emojis, GIFs, or stickers to add a tone to otherwise bland, vague or harsh sentences (“We can talk about this later” vs. “LOL, we can talk about this later :P”)
  • If you cannot meet in person, send video clips, voice notes, or make a phone/video call if this will get your tone across better than just text
  • Be very unassuming, even if it means being redundant; ask questions like “What did you mean by that?” “Can you elaborate?” or “Do you understand what I mean?”

Overall, weigh your words because they hold a lot of power, whether they are spoken, written, or typed. If disposing of words as freely as the air you breathe has never gotten you into conflict, then by all means, do what works for you; but for those of us who have been on either end of a misunderstanding, being more careful about how we verbalize our views can save a lot of trouble.

A Passion for Poetry

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Throughout my years in school, I have come across students who have found poetry boring or difficult. They were not intrigued by Shakespeare’s sonnets as his contemporaries may have been, nor could they wrap their head around metaphors. It was a challenge for me at some point too, having to excavate the meaning of a piece by digging deep down between the lines. It was a skill that we had to be taught. However, I quickly realized that I enjoyed using words to paint pictures of my own; it was exciting to use devices like rhyme and alliteration, and to say more with less (in comparison to typical prose).  

Poetry has been a passion of mine since elementary school. One of the earliest poems I remember writing was for Poem In Your Pocket Day; it told a touching story about my pet guinea pig Jeannie. Jeannie was totally imaginary, and I created her on a whim through my poem, but it must have been convincing enough to get some sympathy and attention from classmates and teachers. Other memorable poems around this time included an ode to teachers, and a vivid description of a “storm” which was later revealed to be the clothes cycling in a washing machine.

When I got to middle school and the “love bug” bit me, my poetry became very romanticized and emotional. I obsessed over a crush and my poetry tracked everything from the initial infatuation to the devastating heartbreak of seeing him end up with a close friend of mine at the time.

In high school, my work broadened and deepened to reflect my growing self-discovery, romantic desire, and belief in God. My creative expression was at its peak, and I went to open mics, attended Poetry Club occasionally, and stayed after school to review submissions to The Magnet, our school’s literary magazine (to which I also submitted my own work). During this time, poetry was my primary outlet, and I am happy that most of my work are still intact; I compiled scraps of paper and pages from other notebooks, and consolidated the poems I found into one composition notebook.

I find it understandable, yet surprising, when people say they do not like poetry; it’s similar to when someone tells me they don’t really like music. To me, poetry and music are simply media of expression; no one ever really dislikes the medium itself, but they may have certain preferences within it. The great thing is that poetry has so many different formats and styles that there is probably something for everyone. You have extravagant Shakespearian sonnets written in a style of English that we no longer speak, but then you have rap which is basically poetry fixed to an audible beat; you also have the smooth, sophisticated spoken word with an irregular rhythm and possibly no rhyme scheme, often depicted on TV being performed in dimly lit cafés and bars, punctuated by snapping and bongo drums. But then there are also lovable, laughable rhyming poems filled with whimsical stories, carefully crafted by writers like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. There are bite-sized haikus loaned from the Japanese, following a five-seven-five syllable rule and often depicting nature. The list goes on and on, and the subject matter is infinite.

I have experimented with all of the genres I listed above, and at its core, I see poetry as the art of arranging words, either according to their sound or meaning (but most of the time, both) in order to create an impression or share an idea. The reason we enjoy aphorisms and sayings like “black don’t crack” or “live, love, laugh” is because the words were intentionally grouped together, and their commonality makes them easier to remember.

I have not been writing as much as I did during high school, but I am grateful for the joy that comes to me from reading, listening to, or writing an impactful piece. I hope you enjoy the poem that I wrote below called “Photosynthesis.” It is about the power of persistence in spite of adverse circumstances. This can be considered an allegory because I used plants as symbols for human beings. Give it a try and see what you can gather from it. Read it a few times over if necessary, and please feel free to comment with any questions or remarks.

Photosynthesis
by Robine Jean-Pierre

You’re a product of your environment, some sage once presumed
Perhaps while gazing upon a garden freshly pruned.
Fertile soil, hydration, ample sunlight,
and any flower will flourish if the conditions are just right.
A simple equation, a quaint demonstration.
However,
What’s to say for the weeds that creep through concrete? How do they grow?
Does a seed trapped beneath the cinder block street somehow just know
that its temporary shelter in the ground below
is only a foundation, a platform for elevation?
Is photosynthesis some unstoppable force,
and can sunrays like X-rays penetrate the most dense materials to complete its course?
It’s clear then that traditional conditions are simply not enough
to determine the destiny of a seed, no matter how rough.
It’s something supernatural for a creature with no sense of sight
To press past hardness and darkness and burst forth into marvelous light.
We could take a page from one of these persistent plants–
Albeit rooted in the soil, it is not bound by circumstance.
Regardless of the climate of one’s environment,
Divine alignment ultimately triumphs over confinement.

Racism or Racism?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

The other night, during my week away for Thanksgiving, I sat down with my two sisters and cousin to watch a brief BBC documentary on Netflix called “KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy.” When my cousin first recommended it, I had felt a bit hesitant and reluctant, not wanting to go to bed with angry, uneasy thoughts swimming around in my head. Seeing as it was only fifty something minutes long, and the only complaint anyone else had was “it probably won’t teach us anything we don’t already know,” I gave it my mostly undivided attention.

The interviewer, Dan Murdoch, spoke to active members of the Ku Klux Klan, namely the Loyal White Knights chapter. (To be honest, every time I write “KKK” I feel like I’m writing a curse word or “666” or something. I almost expect the Internet to report me or highlight it.) There is a lot I could say about the interesting remarks they made. What stood out to me the most were the blatant contradictions the interviewees made. All of their comments revolved around a central theme of preserving their heritage and expressing pride in their white identity. This sounds so innocent, at first; after all, other races are allowed to do this without being questioned. No one has a problem with Latino Pride or Black Pride. However, this changes once you hear their outrageous claims about Black people being savage and uneducated, bringing drugs to the community and increasing the crime rate. The interviewer asked different members whether they considered themselves to be racist, and nearly everyone said no, even after making explicitly racist comments. It makes me wonder what they believe racism is.

The textbook definition for racism is:

“A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement,usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” (Dictionary.com)

With increased travel, globalization, and education, racism is something we are becoming more socially aware of, and it is becoming more publicly condemned. Most people, even those who are unwittingly racist, identify racism as something negative, something undesirable. “Racists are bad people, and I am not a bad person,” they think to themselves. Very rarely do people want to admit that they are racist, even when it is clear that they are. That is why you can have some members of the KKK say that they are not racist, when we know that the KKK is entirely race-fueled. Part of the problem is a heavy, surreal ignorance clouding many of the secluded towns where the KKK thrives. In these communities, White people could go most of their lives without ever seeing a Black person, let alone talk to one. It’s extremely easy to make an enemy of the unknown. 

People in general have this self-preservation instinct that is not just physical, but psychological as well. We will do just about anything to defend our opinion, behavior, emotions, etc. One defense mechanism we use all the time is wordplay. We begin to scrutinize words, change the definitions to suit our standing, create all these technicalities and nuances in order to weasel our way out of responsibility. Many of the members of the KKK justified themselves by doing just that. One person said of a ritual they practice, “We don’t burn crosses, we light them, to represent that Jesus is the light of the world.” (I could go on a whole sidebar as to why this statement is so problematic. To keep it simple, Jesus Christ is supposed to be a pure, righteous figure, so of course, putting his name into anything would supposedly validate their actions.) Making that distinction between “burning” and “lighting” is also a way of making what they do sound less threatening.

The climax of the documentary was a KKK parade, where a Black-power group was also determined to make their presence and cause known. The KKK members were alright with using racial slurs against Blacks since even before the parade, earlier in the interview. Their excuse was a common case of “fight fire with fire”: “If they can call us ‘cracker,’ then we can call them ‘n***er.’” One of the Loyal White Knight leaders explained how he had been called many harsh names in a mostly Black school growing up.

By no means do I have the cure for racism, but what I can say is that we need to take some responsibility on a local level. Stop blaming the other side, whoever that “other” may be; stop focusing on the past; stop playing word games and beating around the bush. To coin Shakespeare, racism by any other name would smell just as rotten. We need to be honest with each other, facing head-on those residual, stale beliefs passed down by experience and our ancestors, if we could ever even hope to change our world.

“Let them be just that, our ancestors beliefs, not ours. Let them be something we read about in textbooks and not what we see in the news.”
                                                                              –Samantha P., blogger for The Buzz

Reviving Grammar II: Distinguishing Real Words from Made-up Ones

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Last week, I wrote a blog post summarizing the eight parts of speech in an effort to revive knowledge of grammar. Grammar is something we tend to take for granted, especially in the texting, tweeting and “meming” cyber-world of today. So many posts go viral without having ever been proofread or spell-checked, and it makes me wonder how much thought people put into writing, especially before sharing something that the entire world will potentially see.

Given the limitations on time and space, there is no way I could make a comprehensive list of grammatical mistakes to avoid in a simple blog post. Also, I don’t claim to be a grammar expert by any means. There might be errors buried in this post that my eyes, Microsoft Word and Google Docs have not even picked up on, even after several revisions. My objective here is to point out those basic corrections that we could all benefit from making.

Made-Up Idea-Nouns

In my previous post, I explained how a noun can be a person, place, thing or idea. A lot of times, you can turn an adjective (a word that describes a noun) into an idea-noun by adding –ness­ to the end of it. For example, foolish becomes foolishness, happy becomes happiness. However, this is not always the rule. Sometimes the adjective takes on a different suffix, such as ­-ity or -tion, and other spelling and pronunciation changes must occur. A common mistake is to tack on –ness­ to the end of an adjective, making up a word instead of using the proper suffix. Some hypothetical made-up words, and their preferred forms, are listed below:

  • Stupid becomes stupidity, not stupidness
  • Wise becomes wisdom, not wiseness
  • Dedicated becomes dedication, not dedicatedness
  • Brief becomes brevity, not briefness

If I ever get stuck, I say the word out loud, trying on different suffixes until it sounds like the right one.

Made-Up Verbs

I have noticed that a similar error is often made when going from idea-noun to verb. This is especially true with nouns ending in -ation.

  • Conversation becomes converse, not conversate
  • Interpretation becomes interpret, not interpretate
  • Metamorphosis becomes metamorphose, not metamorphosize
  • Analyze becomes analysis, not analyzation

An Unnecessary Prefix

Another word I’ve heard people make up is in a category of its own: overexaggerate. This verb does not exactly make sense because of its redundancy. According to Dictionary.com, the word “exaggerate” already means “to magnify beyond the limits of truth; overstate; represent disproportionately.” Saying “overexaggerate” is like saying to “over-overdo” something. Maybe you could even say that the word “overexaggeration” is an exaggeration. (Clever, right?)

Don’t Be Shy–Verify

If you are ever in doubt, do not be afraid to look it up online. There are plenty of websites and resources that elaborate on these types of grammatical issues in depth. It is probably more trustworthy if the website is affiliated with a college or other professional organization. In particular, I’ve heard a lot of positive buzz surrounding Grammarly, which recommends corrections in real time. Apparently it’s free for Chrome browser. Aside from that, Microsoft Word has also gotten better about finding nitty-gritty errors of this sort. Dictionaries will often have various forms of a word for just this purpose.

Reading Is Fundamental

But best of all, nothing beats good old reading. Reading quality literature at the appropriate grade level will allow you to come across plenty of new words and contextualize older ones. My mental trick about trying on different suffixes only really works if you have read and heard certain words enough. Frequent exposure will allow certain words to lodge in your mind. Even if you do not know what they mean yet, you will know that you have heard or seen them.

So please, save yourself the embarrassment of putting up another misspelled status update. (Facebook gives you the option to edit, but only one time.) Take the time to proofread your work, and in general, READ.

Reviving Grammar: A Summary of the Eight Parts of Speech

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Many of my peers would agree that we rarely studied grammar throughout most of our years of primary education. Grammar was a ghost that introduced itself somewhere between kindergarten and third grade, only to never be seen again–and yet our teachers would expect us to remember all that it entailed through high school, and maybe even into college.

My eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Snyder, took it upon himself to teach us all that we had missed out on, knowing that our previous teachers had done us a disservice. Before we got into building our vocabulary and writing analytical essays, we started with the basic building blocks: parts of speech. To help visual, synesthetic learners like me, he associated colors and shapes with each one. I will walk you through what I remember from his class.

Nouns

I always knew a noun to be a person, place or thing, but it wasn’t until this class that a fourth option was added to this iconic phrase: a person, place, thing or idea (also known as an abstract thought). Our teacher circled nouns in red marker. In a sentence like “Joe tried to hide his disappointment as he waited on a bench in the park,” Joe is a person, the park is a place, the bench is a thing and disappointment is an idea; these are all examples of nouns. When it’s not so obvious, you can generally identify something as a noun if you can count it, if you can put “a/an” or “the” in front of it (these are called articles), or if it ends in something like -tion, -ness, or -ity, for example, action, sadness, and unity.

Pronouns

These take the place of nouns. Imagine how clunky and awkward it would be if every time you talked about someone, you had to use that person’s name: “Angel said Angel is on Angel’s way, so wait up for Angel.” This next sentence is a lot more concise: “Angel said he is on his way, so wait up for him.” He, his, and him are all pronouns which are replacing, and referring to, Angel. We have a good number of pronouns in English: I, me, my, mine, myself; you, your, yours, yourself; he, him, his, himself; she, her, hers, herself; it, itself; one, oneself; we, us, our, ourselves; they, them, their, theirs, themselves; this, that, these, those. This may sound like a lot to remember, but we use them all the time without even realizing it.

Verbs

Next are verbs, which Mr. Snyder underlined in green. Verbs are usually referred to as action words, such as “eat,” “sleep,” and “breathe.” Since something or someone (the subject) has to perform the action, verbs tend to follow right after nouns. If you have ever taken a foreign language class, you have had to learn all about verb conjugations; depending on the subject, some changes would be made to the verb. In English, the change is simple for regular verbs: just add -s at the end if the subject uses the pronoun he, she, it or one (i.e. second person singular). For example: I jump, you jump, he jumps, etc. Our most irregular but most common verb, “to be,” does not follow this pattern at all: I am, you are, he/she/it/one is, we are, they are. (This holds true in many Latin-based languages like French and Spanish.)

Adjectives

These words, which he boxed in purple, describe nouns, giving you more information about them. If your friend is telling you about a new crush, the conversation will be oozing with adjectives: she’s so smart, funny, talented; he’s handsome, dreamy, confident. Adjectives include colors, numbers, size, quality, and other attributes. You might find these anywhere in a sentence but they can also come directly before the noun they belong to: the cool breeze or the delicious pizza.  

Adverbs

Our teacher made an orange triangle around these. Whereas adjectives describe or modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs. They tend to answer the question  “how?” and they often end in -ly. In the sentence “She entered timidly, quickly taking a seat by the door,” timidly and quickly are the adverbs, and they are describing the way she entered and the way she took a seat. Other adverbs not ending in -ly include often, just, much, and so. We use these all the time, if you haven’t noticed.

I don’t remember the color coding for the next three, and they are also not as frequently talked about, but they are good to know:

Prepositions

These include some of the smallest, most frequently used words in our language: to, at, in, on, by, for, out, from, etc. Longer ones include under, between, through, and alongside. Their name, made up of “pre-” and “position,” give a hint as to how they are used: they tend to indicate direction or placement, and can easily answer the question “where?” when grouped with a noun: “I’m at the park on West 4th street by the pizzeria.” 

Conjunctions

These connect words or parts of sentences to each other. They include and, or, but, because, whereas. Conjunctions establish a relationship between two or more elements. Or tells you that one out of several options is to be selected, not all of them: “Either I will be babysitting that night or doing my homework.”Another example: “You can only choose one color: red, green, or blue.” And may indicate that several things have something in common: “Nick, Joe and Kevin have black hair.” But tends to highlight a contrast: “It’s raining outside but I don’t have my umbrella.” Because has the word cause in it, and indeed links two clauses to create a cause-and-effect relationship. “I didn’t knock because I thought you were sleeping.”

Interjections

These words express emotion and for this reason tend to be exclaimed, for example: “Wow!” “Whoa!” “Gee whiz!” “Ouch!” It is interesting to note how these change from generation to generation within the same language (no one really says “gee whiz” anymore, unless it’s with a touch of sarcasm), and also vary from culture to culture.

I hope you found this helpful in learning (or relearning) the eight parts of speech, and that it wasn’t too difficult to follow. We shouldn’t take English for granted just because it’s our native language. The better we understand it, the better we can communicate.

Speak Life: An Introduction to Self Talk

By Robine Jean-Pierre

My fiancé Angel is an avid reader. He carries around books the way a child would a blanket or a stuffed animal. Reading is his prescription for any affliction. He doesn’t read just any book though–no graphic novels or sci-fi or mysteries. He reads the kind of books which, at their core, teach you how to be a better person and live a better life. They are often referred to as positive mental attitude (PMA) books, or even self-help books. One of the most recent books he’s read is What to Say When You Talk to Yourself  by Dr. Shad Helmstetter. Now I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t give much of a summary. I can only share what I have gathered from conversations with Angel: self-talk is one of the most powerful forces in your life. It will be a determining force in everything you do.

I’ve had very low moments in my life when even the smallest sources of stress sent me on a downward spiral because I magnified the issue in my mind. I have rarely ever been driven to physically harm myself, but I have engaged in very harmful self-talk, which is just as bad, if not worse. To bring up an example I used in a previous post (The Right to Speak Up), trouble would start with me running late to school; this anxiety would become embarrassment from knowing I would disrupt the class and disappoint the teacher; then, frustration at myself for not having woken up earlier; then, anger for letting this happen too often and not learning my lesson, and finally, bitter self-loathing for being such a constant “failure.” I put this word in quotes because my friends and family would consider me the farthest thing from a failure. Even if it takes a few tries, most of my academic and personal endeavors end in great success and I’m not the quitting type. Yet when I’m in those really deep, dark moments in my mind, somehow I automatically end up saying these absurd statements: “I’m such an idiot. I’m so stupid. I feel like a failure. There’s something wrong with me.”

Angel would probably cringe if he read those words right now. He’s the biggest proponent for positive self-talk in my life, and without him, I might not have discovered soon enough that there is an alternative to these disastrous self-loathing cycles. Angel’s natural inclination is to compliment. He raves about food, movies and people, always finding something positive to promote. Since we are engaged, I have a front row seat of this spectacle; he tells me a variety of affirming statements like “I love you,” “you’re so beautiful,” “you’re a genius” and “I like your face” every single day, a dozen times a day each, and I’ll admit that even I get annoyed by the repetition sometimes, ironically. But then those priceless moments come when he reminds me, “Your subconscious mind can’t decipher between right and wrong. It just takes anything you give it and creates a new mental pathway for it. If I tell you something long enough, you’re going to start to believe it for yourself. Why do you think I call you beautiful all the time?” This is very true; sometimes I look in the mirror and I can hear Angel’s voice in my memory saying something sweet about every feature.

That might seem like a glib, redundant example, but honestly, people’s abilities and characteristics do not always line up with their perceptions. (This is why it’s still possible for me to call myself a failure–somewhere deep down I believe this is true and I need to change that.) I remember watching an episode of Say Yes to the Dress in which a woman who was, for all intents and purposes, gorgeous, struggled to feel beautiful in any of the dresses she tried on (and she had tried on some number in the higher double digits). She would put on a dress and look at herself in the mirror–tall, slender, and blonde with delicate features–and start to tear up; somewhere in her head a voice that sounded like her own had to be saying, “You look terrible. Just face it–you’re ugly. You should really just stop trying since none of these dresses can make you look how you want to look.” I am not one hundred percent sure, but it may have been revealed that she had struggled with some form of body dysmorphic disorder before. This is the power that the mind has over us, and the damage that can be done if we do not harness that power.

a girl in underclothes looking at her distorted reflection in the mirror

A perfect illustration of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, by Travis Millard (Pinterest)

I am not yet at the point of fluently and actively using positive self-talk (which is changing very soon), but I have increasing awareness of my negative use of it and I plan to stop entirely. I am grateful that, until I reach the point where I can do it myself, I have Angel constantly speaking life into me whether I want to hear it or not. If I text him, “I’m struggling to get all my assignments done on time,” he replies, “Don’t worry, you got this. You always get your work done on time.” Sometimes I ask myself, “Wait, do I?” but then I realize that he is speaking in advance the reality that I am striving to attain.

The beautiful thing is that positive self-talk is not lying or simply wishful thinking. It actually works. If you think of your mind as a computer, then saying these statements is just like writing out a program or a command. Last year, when I took CST 1101 (problem solving with computer programming) Professor Siegel liked to use the saying, “Computers do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.” (He stressed this whenever he made a mistake in a program and an error occurred.) It is the same way with our minds. We need to tell them what to do, and in turn, they dictate what we think and how we perform, as weird and circular as that might seem.

I encourage you to give it a try. Speak positive things to yourself in the mirror. Write an affirming speech to recite to yourself daily. There is nothing cowardly about standing up to those negative thoughts in your head. You have the power to change your thoughts, which means that you also have power over your words, actions, habits, and overall self-view.

As a follow up, please check out my fellow blogger Neffi’s post, “ ‘You is Kind. You is Smart. You is Important.’ Affirmations 101.”