Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Exactly the Same, but Completely Different

One of my friends recently posted this status update on Facebook:

"(Insert name) has met with 50 students or so in conference so far this week and is becoming increasingly terse in her criticisms of sentences like this: 'The articles are similar and different for many reasons.'"

Roger, that.  This friend and I both teach undergrads, and our goal is to help them advance clear claims with well-supported, precise, and stylistic language.

But anyone who's ever struggled to put the right words down on a blank page or to utter coherent sentences (myself included) knows that it can be challenging to figure out what you're actually trying to say.  Even if you're a five-year-old.

Case in point:

Yesterday evening I glanced out our sliding glass door and saw a hot air balloon in the distance.  I automatically called the girls over.  Reese, who, unbeknownst to me, became an authority on all things pertaining to hot air balloons, took the opportunity to educate her younger sister.

"You know, Brooke, you have to be sixteen to ride in a hot air balloon.  That's because you have to be sixteen to drive a car, and cars are kind of like hot air balloons."

I braced myself for her comparison.

"You see, cars have wheels and drive on roads.  Hot air balloons don't have wheels so they can't really go on roads, I guess, but they do go in the sky -- and they have have baskets." 

She leaned her forehead against the window and slowly continued, "And cars don't have baskets, but they do have seats, and seats are kind of like baskets." 

Then she paused, and I wondered if she was having a hard time keeping up with her own reasoning, but she stepped away from the window and concluded her argument, "And that is why you have to be sixteen to ride a hot air balloon:  It has a basket and it moves in the sky like a car.  Unless you have to be eighteen."

Brooke seemed perfectly convinced.

Just like I thought.  Cars and hot air balloons: they're similar and different for many reasons.

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