by: Armand St. Pierre, Undergraduate Tutor
You may be wondering: “Body shame a muffin? What the hell?” Let me clarify. The age old adage goes “muffins are just ugly cupcakes”. The sinister assumption here is that the muffin’s lifelong aspiration is to be the best cupcake it can be, with the brightest and sugariest cupcake icing you’ve ever tasted. But that’s not what a muffin is—nor is it what you should be. You’re a human being, dammit, and you don’t need to be a cupcake. That’s not to say that you can’t want to be a cupcake, but the point is that you don’t have to be a cupcake.
At this point you’re certainly wondering why I’ve spent a whole paragraph telling you about cupcakes and muffins, and how this would ever relate to the writing center. Think of the way you were taught to write, and the sort of language that you’re supposed to use when writing your assignments. If your high school education was like mine, you were probably taught that grammar and spelling were the most important part of editing an assignment. You may have also been encouraged to imitate the styles of other “good” writers, so that you produce the same immaculately fluffy and perfectly frosted cupcake writing that the “greats” produce. But you can make a muffin. You can make a giant, pistachio-flavored muffin topped with crystalline sugar and warm melted butter. Or you can make a biscuit. You can make any sort of baked good you want. If the rise of Internet and social media has taught us anything, it’s that writing is changing; the way we write, what we write about, and most importantly, the writer him/herself is in a state of change.
Vershawn Young’s Should Writers Use They Own English is, in a way, a response to the cupcake idea of writing as the only proper form of writing. Young’s counterargument is that because language evolves and branches, there is more than one “real” variety of any given language, and that lofty, decorated and academic forms of english–the types of english that are typically more accessible to privileged, educated elites–are not the only ones deserving of recognition and respect. In a very direct way, Young refutes the assertion that there is, and can be, only one form of “correct” english, and every other kind is deficient or incorrect.
This “correct” form, of course, is the kind that you might see in a dissertation on the socio-political climate of post-classical Denmark and how that climate is or isn’t properly reflected in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Can you imagine the kind of language in that paper? It’s the sort of language that’s dense and slow to digest, like a double-fudge brownie. The English that appears in buzzfeed? Think chocolate chip cookies: everyone’s familiar with it and it’s perfect for almost any informal occasion. It’s certainly not academic—by almost every standard. It is, however, still an authentic product born from someone’s reality. To say that someone’s writing is inherently wrong because of its style or language is almost tantamount to saying that the writer him/herself is wrong.
That is not to say that writing cannot be contextually inappropriate or counterproductive. Poetry, for example, can be light, fluffy, and immaculately decorated, but Engineering design and analysis is best served simply and concisely, without decorum or distraction. The purpose and context of either piece dictates the most appropriate style, and so the writer is left with the responsibility of matching the correct style and rhetorical features to the function of the writing.
One of the primary functions of the writing center is to help writers match their style of writing to the needs and requirements of their assignment or project. Is the assignment to write a blog post? We can help you make sure that your writing is appropriately accessible to your audience and that you don’t get too bogged down with the formalities of academic writing. Is it a lab report or a case study? We can help you keep your language clear, concise, and correct as possible. A resume or a cover letter? We can help you put your best foot forward.