“The essay was really fun to write and very easy to relate to because it was something fun to write about.”

Here’s one of those circular sentences again! There is some sort of distributive middle, I suppose, or else it’s a rubber wall off which the sentence rebounds to revisit itself….

The essay was really fun to write.

The essay was very easy to relate to because it was something fun to write…

…about?

Surely the student didn’t go on to write about the sentence. (I’m the one doing that.)

Maybe it’s not a circular sentence after all. I have to be careful of these hasty assumptions.

Perhaps my student meant the “it” to refer to something other than the obvious antecedent, “sentence.” Maybe he meant “it” to refer to the topic of the essay? The topic was “‘reality’ television.” Yes, this can be something fun to write about, although how much fun and what kind of fun would depend on which version of “reality” the writer chose: Top Chef? Bridezillas? Dirty Jobs? Lockup? The Jersey Shore? Alas, most of my students chose The Jersey Shore, which they said was a terrible, stereotyping, disgusting show that should be taken off the air BUT which most of them said they watch “frequently.” (This may be why they’re baffled by Beowulf…)

So, the essay was very easy to relate to because “reality television” was fun to write about. This means the student needed to relate to the essay in order to find it fun to write? There’s no possibility in the sentence that the student finds the topic easy to relate to, thank goodness: the topic is only, perhaps, fun to write about. But generally, essays are more fun to write if the topics themselves are engaging, entertaining, open to fancy. I don’t know, though, that I have ever related to an essay of mine.

Actually, I’m not sure what relating to something means. It’s one of those generalized terms that sweep up a lot of nice, specific ones into a huge but vague embrace and never let them go. If I were to take a few minutes I could come up with at least a dozen specific relationships that might be implied in “relate to,” depending on the subject and the context. The trouble with these generalized terms is that students (and other lazy or wary writers) glom onto them and use them all the time, and pretty soon those are the only terms out there and they leap to mind for all of us. I’m ashamed to say that I would need a few minutes to come up with the list of specific relationships: those are the terms that should leap to mind, not “relate to.” I look at the big, beautiful OED, remember what it looked like in normal-size type on regular paper (a whole library shelf!), and mourn the rich lexicon we are trying our damnedest to reduce to a slim volume.

But this morning, having turned in all my grades (and having begun to receive the inevitable e-mails of dissatisfaction), I am going to count my blessings. Blessing #1 on this sunny morning: the sunny morning. Blessing #2: this student wrote “easy to relate to” instead of “relatable,” which is now the much more popular term. “Hamlet isn’t relatable because he speaks in Old English.” “I find Sarah Palin very relatable.” “The course was relatable for me because I had something like it in high school.” I’m waiting to be told that it’s easy to relate to relatable people because you can relate to them.

On New Year’s Eve we’ll have dinner with some relatives. We’re already related to them; we’re just going to enjoy their company.

But first I have to do some major house-cleaning. Right now my house is definitely not relatable.

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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

3 responses to ““The essay was really fun to write and very easy to relate to because it was something fun to write about.”

  • Sterling Silva

    This post was fun to read because I could relate to it because it was fun to read.

    I think you’re right that this sentence can be interpreted as non-circular. The essay was fun to write, and since it was fun to write, they could relate to it. Which, I guess implies that they, too, are fun to write. That’s kind of an odd thing to say about one’s self. “I’m very fun to write.” “I like you, friend, you’re very fun to write.” Perhaps all their actions and speech are dictated by their very own screenwriters who just love their jobs. In that case, it is not very relatable to reality television. Or maybe it is.

    Well, thank you for making my head hurt.

  • yearstricken

    This post was fun to read and very easy to relate to, but please promise me you will write an essay or a novel or a play about this new generation and that you will call it “Baffled by Beowulf.”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    This blog is so easy to relate to. Thank you for relating so many excellent literary and verbal adventures in this, your generous, relatable format. As the saying goes, “God gives us friends to make up for the relatives He stuck us with.” In the case of our dear author, editor, and compilator (word?), it appears that she is happy in both. AND that she’s gotten all her GRADES in. Congratulations! To you–you’re off the hook for a while. And to your students, the lucky ducks. If they don’t know now, they’ll realize years from now, that they had a very special teacher. May they relate to that!

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