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The grammar detective

By Margaret Ann Williams - posted Thursday, 5 January 2006

It was the missing “S” that aroused my first suspicions. Not so much missing, as supplanted by that exotic and feral “Z”. I wondered what self-respecting Australian entity would spell its name American-style - organiZation - rather than with the “s” that is the proud remnant of this country’s British origins.

Recently, I’ve had some casual work marking assignments for a tertiary-level professional writing course. Students were asked to find a suitable scholarship to apply for, and to complete and hand up the result. It was a “real world” task.

Some of the students had located a scholarship program that required applicants to write only a short essay on a general topic. They had written their essays and e-mailed them in, but without any accompanying information. Thinking the assignments were incomplete, I went to my old friend Google and keyed in the name of the scholarship granting body.


I was lucky. There it was, first hit. The site itself was a vision of loveliness in shades of green with gold and white text. The home page was illustrated by a large photograph conjuring up the ideal university lifestyle. A couple of student types with backpacks in the foreground were headed for the front entrance of a stately red brick Georgian-style building. Engraved above the entrance was the building’s name: “BAKER”.

What campus might this be, I wondered. Reading on, I winced. “Hundreds of scholarships have been awarded to date. You Can Be Next”. This promiscuous use of upper case is painful to the trained eye.

On and on it babbled. “We will be giving out $42,000 in scholarships to Australian residents to study in Australia or outside Australia - our largest sum of scholarship awards to date!”

Now, exclamation marks should be used with restraint. This example was bad form, I thought. As for “largest sum of scholarship awards”, it just didn’t sound right. Was “sum” the collective noun for awards? Application essays could be submitted by “postal mail”. I shuddered at the tautology.

Then I clicked on the “Essays” link. Another page adorned with images of students - this time all gowned up and celebrating their graduation.

“Write an essay of 500 words minimum, and 1000 maximum using one of the three subject choices below. Discuss your viewpoints, and give examples as applicable.”


“As applicable”… ugly.

“We are looking for a student's ability to be creative, analytical, and original; there is no right or wrong response.”

Surprisingly loose criteria, these.

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First published in the Independent Weekly on December 4, 2005.

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About the Author

Margaret Ann Williams has a Masters in journalism. She is presently living in the United States.

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All articles by Margaret Ann Williams

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