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Uptaught: A Professor Discovers His Students on the Way to a New University, by Ken Macrorie (Hayden, 1970)


Dull, stilted, and lifeless prose.

The term Engfish was introduced by composition specialist Ken Macrorie to characterize the "bloated, pretentious language . . . in the students' themes, in the textbooks on writing, in the professors' and administrators' communications to each other. A feel-nothing, say-nothing language, dead like Latin, devoid of the rhythms of contemporary speech" (Uptaught, 1970).

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  • "The now universally familiar technique of freewriting arose from [Ken] Macrorie's frustration. By 1964, he had become so exasperated with the stilted Engfish of student papers that he told his students to 'go home and write anything that comes to your mind. Don't stop. Write for ten minutes or till you've filled a whole page' (Uptaught 20). He began experimenting with the method he called 'writing freely.' Gradually, the students' papers began to improve and flashes of life started to appear in their prose. He believed he had found a teaching method that helped students bypass Engfish and find their authentic voices."
    (Irene Ward, Literacy, Ideology, and Dialogue: Towards a Dialogic Pedagogy. State Univ. of New York Press, 1994)

  • "The typical example of Engfish is standard academic writing in which students attempt to replicate the style and form of their professors. By contrast, writing with voice has life because it's ostensibly connected to a real speaker--the student writer herself. Here's what [Ken] Macrorie said about a particular student paper that has voice:
    In that paper, a truthtelling voice speaks, and its rhythms rush and build like the human mind traveling at high speed. Rhythm, rhythm, the best writing depends so much upon it. But as in dancing, you can't get rhythm by giving yourself directions. You must feel the music and let your body take its instructions. Classrooms aren't usually rhythmic places.
    The 'truthtelling voice' is the authentic one."
    (Irene L. Clark, Concepts in Composition: Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003)

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