“Achilleus is pist.”

This statement antedates spellcheck, or at least the spellcheck feature that underlines dubious words. The writer is clearly oblivious not only to his spelling error but also to his error of diction, or tone.

With great energy, simplicity, and confidence, my student is writing about The Iliad, that stately epic poem about war, glory, and loss. Together with The Odyssey, it defines the epic—not only its form and subject but also its stature. Heroic, that’s what an epic is supposed to be, in every dimension.

So my student reads about the rage of Achilleus that follows on Agamemnon’s autocratic and self-centered distribution of the spoils of war—and of Achilleus’ “prize” woman in particular. This anger is so great that despite his hunger for glory in battle, and despite his supposed loyalty to the Greek confederation that has come to Troy to take back Helen, the kidnapped wife of Menelaus, Achilleus sits stubborn in his tent and refuses to join the battle even when the tide turns against the Greeks and everyone pleads with him.

Admirers of Achilleus and those sympathetic with his need for respect would say he’s in high dudgeon, or in a towering rage. Those readers who prefer Hektor’s brand of heroism (of which I am one) would say Achilleus is throwing an heroic temper tantrum, or having a big sulk.

My student makes a different choice. Is it some perverse delicacy of mind that keeps him from spelling out “pissed,” or does he think there are two different words depending on whether there is urine involved or only spleen—or does he actually think that’s how the (single) word is spelled?

At any rate, even “royally pissed” would have more dignity than my student has allowed this “hero”: he has managed to trivialize Achilleus, or infantilize him, or unclass him, in a single stroke. All that might be epic is piddled away.

Next time you’re feeling pissed, picture my student’s word. Tell yourself you’re pist. It will probably tickle you so that you cheer right up.

On this amphora, posted at http://www.miscellanies.org/eng3993/weeknine/bookone.html, you can see the pist Achilleus at center, next to the hanging helmet.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

49 responses to ““Achilleus is pist.”

  • yearstricken

    “All that might be epic is piddled away.” Classic.

  • tranquilspace

    Where is the your button? Does its absence make me pist or pissed?

    • RAB

      When I first designed the site I decided not to include a Like button because I was afraid nobody would click it. I am now feeling sufficiently encouraged to put one on!

      • Isabella

        Dear “College-Level” English instructor,

        Please do note that I loved your Achilleus run, but was quite miffed at your inability to properly de-cap the “Like,” second line. Come now sirrah! Surely you cannot be as “college-level” as thou thinkest.

        Thine,
        Isabella
        (High-School-Level-AP-Lang-English-Maiden-And-More)

        P.S.
        I was also quite pist there was no actual “like” button.

      • RAB

        The capping of “Like” seems to be a matter of taste, as various comments suggest. I have been trying to place a “Like” button since last night but can’t seem to find the right menu item. At the beginning of this adventure I had decided against including one because I was afraid no one would click it.
        Glad you’re enjoying Achilleus et al.
        p.s. NOT a “sirrah.”

  • Mikalee Byerman

    I would be pist off if my student wrote that! ;)

    Actually, I once had a student in a college journalism course write an entire paper about opera. I was confused, as the assignment called for her to write about an influential person in the media. At the end of the 10-page paper, there was one line that clarified everything: “This is why opera Winfrey is the most influential person in the media.”

    She had pulled a spell check find-and-replace epic fail…

    • RAB

      Oh god I’ll bet Oprah would love to hear that. I had a student write a paper about his favorite composer, a gentleman evidently named Bay Toven. The most amazing thing was his presumptuous use of the composer’s first name: all through the paper he talked about “Bay’s First Symphony,” Bay’s deafness, Bay’s genius. And he couldn’t blame spell-check, which hadn’t been invented yet. Thanks for sharing!

  • kitchenmudge

    Perhaps not to be confused with the British term for “drunk”?

  • manuelinor

    I can’t find a ‘Like’ button, but I felt a little piece of jigsaw in my soul slot into place when I found this blog…Thank you!

    • RAB

      When I set up the blog I didn’t put a “Like” button because I was afraid no one would like it. I will put one there now. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Sarah

    Histericul! Rather different, but I had a friend in childhood who couldn’t remember the phrase “hog wild” and always said “pig crazy.” It certainly made the listener pay attention!

    I like your blog and will come back to it when I have more time. Glad I got to see it Freshly Pressed — congratulations on the honor!

  • shadowoperator

    How about this flat-footed if well-intentioned remark? “During times of war, things tend to get blown all out of proportion”? I’m torn between gusts of giggles, and feeling appalled at a former colleague who collected her students’ malapropisms and made them into poems of her own which she then read on stage at a poetry reading (and she was published, too). I have collected a few (see the one above), but frankly there’s so much in the press and in the public arena today which has been published as supposedly good quality writing that students can at least be partially excused for what they pick up. If what they are taught to revere as standard isn’t good, how can we entirely blame them? They read around more than we think they do, and the damage is done in part before they get to college. Still, I’m tickled to think of the great Achilleus approached as if he were a spoiled teenager not being allowed to go to the prom with the girl of his choice. (You know, maybe there’s something in that, from a feminist point of view. He! he!).

    • RAB

      I’ve been saving student sentences for decades, and when I read them over I’m always overcome with laughter…but also with a kind of tenderness. They do try. They deserve attention. I decided to try a blog, to see if I could share both. English is HARD. Writing is HARD. Thanks for your comments!

  • Tending Weeds

    C. “he actually think that’s how the (single) word is spelled”
    If I may…
    Royally Pissed is a clever essay title. “Achilleus is Pist” may have been too if the student focused on a Hecktor-ian thesis on Achilleus infantile and underclass behavior. Achilleus certainly didn’t act as the hero as he sulked. But I have a suspicion this student didn’t approach that topic.

    • RAB

      Alas, no. Frequently with these errors the reader can see a little doorway into quirky brilliance or novel perception, but the doorway is invisible to the writer.

  • fromaz2or

    Hilarious! I’m going to have to check back with your blog more often!

  • scyn7

    Oooh…I think they think they’re being…true to their generation?? Or…trying to add their own dimension to a timeless piece of literature. It COULD be construed as…gross. I wouldn’t deny anyone that point of view. It IS actually kind of gross. Especially in a class such as this. I would have rolled my eyes at receiving such a paper? But I might’ve giggled too. It’s hard to be the one that’s like “HERE!! This is an amazing and very old work!!! Appreciate it!” But unfortunately you are in an excellent position to have it lost on the people you’re teaching. I hope that it still might’ve left a mark. Or..at least you can personally mark them. :p

    • RAB

      I think it’s a combination of being tone-deaf to language and sound-dependent for spelling. Some irony. The heartening part is that my student is right, at least, about how Achilleus is feeling, and in retelling the story to friends (could happen!) would give the point great energy!

      • scyn7

        You bring up an interesting point! My own children were encouraged to write in journals phonetically when they were small. Must’ve been kindergarten or first grade. Probably first grade. Anyways! None of them can spell now. Heh. How about that?

  • Amanda

    Sadly I myself had thought that was the correct way of spelling the word pissed till you had shown me (which I really thank you for).
    Now though I probably will never take anyone seriously when they say it just because of this post. Thanks for bringing my life to a happier place because of my irritation of swear words. I also thank you for the small English lesson, which I feel like I should read a few more of your posts so I don’t end up being one of these students that has a blog being written on how badly I written something.

    • RAB

      I was working with a student on an essay draft and started to laugh….I said “excuse me just a sec” and started to copy a sentence into the back of my grade book. “Oh NOOOOO,” she wailed; “I’m going to be in your BLOG!” I said “Yes you are!” And then we had a really interesting discussion about what she had meant to say and what she had actually written. I want my students to be critical readers of their own work, not just of other people’s. The day I actually did put this student’s sentence in my blog she told all her friends to read it!
      Thanks for your comments….

    • Sarah

      Good for you for both learning the lesson and taking the time to thank the teacher. I think you’ll do fine with written English.

      Thanks for your example, too.

  • Tess

    A classic – fig. and lit. :)

  • whatstheformulablog

    Hilarious. To be kind, maybe your student was trying to write in old English. Nonetheless, you’re a great teacher: the right combination of wryness, chagrin, amuse- and bemuse-ment at the foibles of your students. I’ll be back.

  • NiinaMaria

    Pist. I’m pist. I think this should be in the dictionary. Very posh way of saying pissed. I like it.

  • Delft

    I always thought Achilles needed taking down a peg or two.
    And speling is dumed, as any fule kno. Down with skool!

  • Lagolden2

    English is hard. The language is changing faster than ever- people are dissed, now they are pissed, workers who work hard are hard workers, the list goes on. I believe media and technology contribute greatly to spreading the corruption of American English. Sometimes it is amusing to read texting which is coded for space and secrecy but what I find scary is today’s texting maybe tomorrow’s standard.

    • RAB

      Some time ago the Academie Francaise attempted to keep the French language “pure” from foreign incursions and influences…but they have largely failed. You’re right: technology enables or calls into being new jargon, new spellings, new shortcuts, and the media spread them faster even than the kids do. IMHO: OMG, LOL. (These remind me of International House of Pancakes and diner menu items like BLTs, but I know they started out as shortcuts and now are spoken aloud as words, especially LOL.) In combination with the inability of today’s students to read, let alone produce, cursive writing, this trend will I’m afraid make a lot of literature and learning totally unaccessible to the readers (will there be any?) of the future. My truelove and I read Hoban’s novel Riddley Walker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riddley_Walker) some years ago and were impressed with his creation of a version of English (far in the future) that had evolved in a post-literate society. We may be headed there faster than Hoban thought!

    • shadowoperator

      Maybe you can help me out with some texting lingo, being as you seem to have a handle on some of the texting coding. What does IMO stand for? “I’m out?” “I move over?” Neither of these makes much sense, but I don’t want to make any assumptions. The last time I ran across the texting demon, it was my brother’s girfriend who said “TTYL.” I assumed it meant something like “Take me To Your Leader” (which seemed fitting, since I’m rapidly feeling like an alien speaking an unfamiliar Earth-speak), but she assured me that it only meant “Talk To You Later.” I’m ingenious enough, but IMO has me stumped.

      • RAB

        IMO is “In My Opinion.” IMHO is “In My Humble Opinion.” I used to get TTYL from an acquaintance and initially thought it was something to do with tits (pardon my dirty mind!). The basic ones are more and more elaborated: FOTFLMFAO, for instance, is an expansion of LOL: Falling On The Floor Laughing My F****** A** Off. Much texting lingo remains opaque to me (as Lagolden2 mentions above, the “secrecy” dimension). Maybe if all non-kids started using it habitually, the kids would decide it’s really not cool and go back to full words?

      • shadowoperator

        Great idea! I’ve just gotten used to the idea that things are “rad” if they’re cool, or swell, or nifty, or keen, or the newer “phat,” but now apparently all of these are out of date. What’s next, I wonder?

      • kitchenmudge

        urbandictionary.com

        Amusing light reading, containing all those irritating abbreviations, and many words that only small subcultures use.

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