“Psychology is when you (the person) are psychotic.”

First off, here’s the “is when” error. I’m afraid it’s as hard to explain to a freshman, and as hopeless to correct in the general population, as the use of “hopefully” to mean “we hope” (e.g., “Hopefully we won’t make any more mistakes”; “Hopefully, it won’t rain”).

Second (don’t you hate writers who enumerate where no ranking or necessary sequence is implied, and when the points will never again be referred to by their numbers?), here’s another student who thinks “define your terms” means “tell the reader the dictionary definitions of ordinary words.” Speculation on why certain “rules” stick in students’ brains and others absolutely never do, and why some rules that stick do so without explanations, or with faulty ones, would take me into unchartable regions and limitless space, so I will leave the dear reader to do that pondering.

And, speaking of “pondering,” I can’t resist including a favorite “wrong word” choice, the result of learning a vocabulary word but not how to use it: “One question that ponders me is the reason why someone could kill his brother.” Warning: that “question…is the reason” will probably appear in a future post with other examples.

Third (back to our shopping list), we have the unexplained shift from second-person pronoun to third-person noun. Person is another concept difficult to explain to students who didn’t have, or weren’t paying attention to, formal grammar instruction in their previous English classes—back in the days when educationally they had plenty of time ahead of them to learn things one by one.  I’m glad, though, that this writer thought to clarify that she wasn’t actually attaching the term “psychotic” to me specifically, but to any person.

That’s what’s glorious about the sentence, though: that definition. Maybe she is using the term “psychology” in a special way and so actually does need to define the term.

I do hope that’s what she meant. Otherwise—if she’s assuming that words beginning with the same string of letters have the same meaning—I worry about how she’s going to react when she meets a psychology major in her dorm hallway, or whether she’ll think that someone having a psychotic break is just a psych student going for a soda.

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

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