Ode to the value of English majors


“Being an English major prepares you for impersonating authority.” —Garrison Keillor

I recently made the mistake of going into a Wal-Mart. This is something I tend to avoid, because Wal-Mart is filled with millions of items that are marked at “Everyday Low Prices,” and despite the fact that I don’t particularly need anything, I feel obligated to buy something anyway.

For example, last winter I bought a Mr. Coffee coffee maker, which I have used about twice.

But coffee makers are not why going to Wal-Mart was a mistake; it was the school supplies.

When I saw all of the school supplies, I suddenly became aware that, yes, school is almost here again. But the real kicker came when I received an envelope in the mail from Tabor College; it contained a copy of my class schedule for this next semester.

The contents of this envelope reminded me that I am an English major.

I had sort of forgotten what my intended area of study was until that point, because—and we can all be honest here—an English major really doesn’t prepare one for anything other than to teach English or use the word “one” instead of “you” even though, as far as one is concerned, “you” sounds much more natural than “one.”

That’s when I realized very few things that I learned were actually applicable to the real world.

This is because studying English is mostly reading. “Literature” is the technical term for it, but in all seriousness, “literature” can be rearranged to spell “a trite rule,” which just happens to be that “Thy must readeth 100,000,000 pages of old fiction and poetry if thy ever wanteth of graduateth with a digreeeth in English.”

I believe this is the 11th commandment.

And yet, reflecting back on all literature I’ve read since high school, not one bit of it is applicable to the modern world, let alone future employment.

Yet, I can tell you why you should never kill a mockingbird.

I could also describe to you all 1,027 metaphors that the Mississippi River stands for in Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Shakespeare, of course, is well-known for the passage in “Romeo and Juliet” in which hark is breaking through lite, fat-free windows, as well as for his foresight into the future of technology with the line from “Orange Julius Caesar” which asks, “YouTube, Brutus?”

Of course, who can forget about Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which—in a rough first draft—was originally passed off as “The Tell-Tale Fart”?

Then there is poetry, which is filled with lots of literary goodies.

For example, William Carlos Williams wrote an entire poem to describe why he ate the plums in the icebox next to the white chickens that were depending upon the red wheelbarrow.

Plus, John Keats continued to “ode on a Grecian urn” despite multiple charges of indecent exposure.

But, whatever you do, don’t get me started on the Ernest “How Much Does A” Hemingway book, “A Farewell to Arms,” which is a semi-autobiographical novel about an American soldier serving in the Italian army during World War I, mainly because the C-rations were tastier there.

Attempting to capitalize on the success of “A Farewell to Arms,” Hemingway wrote the lesser-known sequel “A Farewell to Legs,” which was followed by the box office-flop motion picture, “A Farewell to Nose Hairs.”

(For those readers out there who happen to be my English professor, please be advised that I am aware that I am making most of this up. I think.)

But what is one to do with information like that? (If one keeps saying “one,” one is going to punch one in one’s nose.)

I briefly entertained the thought of changing majors. But then I realized that being an English major is actually teaching me a wide variety of curriculum from several other major areas of study—things that might actually become useful in later life.

Math, for example, plays a very major roll in studying English: “There is an average of 803 words per page in this 215-page book. Therefore, if I read 593 words per minute I could probably have finished reading the first chapter by the time I completed this algebraic problem.”

Physics also comes into play when trying to figure out how many thick textbooks the college-provided shelving will hold before it collapses onto my Mr. Coffee coffee maker.

Plus, English majors take care of all physical fitness training while hurdling stacks of books in the library.

Studying the dream sequence in Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” pretty much takes care of any inklings of interest in psychology.

And Poe explains anatomy in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and zoology in “The Raven.”

Finally, George Orwell covers past and future politics in his novels “Animal Farm” and “1984.”

So really, I’m getting several educations for the price of one by studying English. It isn’t such a bad deal, when one thinks about it. But then again, one must take into consideration what else I have to deal with because of it.


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