5 Things A Graduated English Major Doesn’t Want To Hear

Even five years after graduating with my English degree, I still describe myself as an “English major.” Do non-English majors do that? or do they all switch from “art major,” “accounting major,” or “biology major” to artist, accountant, and biologist? Maybe it’s because the English major can go so many different directions. Writer, teacher, editor, lawyer, journalist … the list goes on. So if you want to connect with other former English majors, you need to describe yourself as an English major.

Whatever the reason, I still think of myself as an English major. And apparently, people I meet do as well. New acquaintances, and even people I’ve known for a while, make certain assumptions when they hear I’m a writer and my degree is in English. With those assumptions comes a few predictable questions and comments that I’m sure other graduated English majors are all too familiar with as well.

“Can you edit my __?”

I need to preface this section by telling all the friends who I have edited things for, “No, I’m not mad at you.” I’m perfectly happy to look over the new about page for your blog or proof-read your extremely important email. What I’m talking about is the larger editing projects.

I am a professional writer. That’s how I make money. Just because I like writing doesn’t mean I can do it for free all the time. If someone wants me to read every post on their blog before it goes live, or proof-read their new e-book, or edit a story or novel, we need to talk about compensating my time. Maybe we trade critiques, or you use your website to market my e-book, or maybe it’s a per-post editing fee.

You wouldn’t ask your friend who’s a dentist to clean your teeth for free, or your friend who runs a farm to give away their produce because you’re buddies, or an accountant to do your taxes in their spare time. Ask us for an occasional favor, but don’t put your English major friend in the uncomfortable position of explaining they don’t work for free.

“I’ll probably write a book one day”

Yes, tell me how you’ll just pop out a book some day when you have a little extra time. Go ahead and imply writing is easy or something anyone can do if they cared to bother. I dare you. Because the next person who catches me in a bad mood when they say this is going to get a lecture on how much work it actually involves to draft, edit and re-edit a manuscript, then find good beta readers, edit again, and finally decide it’s ready to publish. And then if they haven’t run off yet they’ll get to hear about how the publishing industry actually works.

“I know you’re judging my grammar”

In-person, on Facebook, here in the comments section …. people are constantly apologizing for their grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. (Strangely enough, it’s not usually the people whose comments are actually hard to read.)

I do think people should make an effort to use good grammar, especially in something they publish, and I am a word nerd. But I don’t just sit around judging and resenting my friends for not proof-reading their Facebook message dozens of times before having the audacity to send it. Am I really such a scary grammar Nazi that you feel the need to make jokes about your terrible writing before communicating with me? That just seems weird.

“How do you spell __/What does __ mean?”

I love words. But I’m not a walking dictionary. This question feels good when I know the answer, but when I don’t it’s usually followed up by some variation of, “So what’s your English degree good for?” *facepalm* Apparently I have failed in my life calling. Here, why don’t I Google  the answer for you using a mobile device like the one you’re currently holding in your hand?

“I hate writing/English/reading”

… and we have nothing in common. I spent four years of my life reading and writing things in the English language, and most graduated English majors are still doing that at least to a certain extent. But the main reason I don’t like hearing this comment is because it instantly shuts-down avenues of connection. I don’t care so much about the fact that you don’t enjoy these things. What I care about is that you’re basically telling me not to talk about my career because you didn’t like that subject in school.

Nobody likes to be told their passions have no value. Regardless of what your conversation partner majored in or does for a living, it’s generally not a good idea to tell them you hate it. Much better to say something like, “Wow, that’s cool. I have no talent for it. Can you tell me more about why you enjoy it so much?” Now we’re having a conversation.

Bonus: “Are you making any money?”

Or any related questions including “Do you still live with your parents?” or “Do you have a real yet job?” That’s just not any of your business, especially from new acquaintances. I’ll tell you about my living situation and finances if and when I want.

My fellow English majors, what are your other pre- or post-graduation pet peeves? Any questions or comments you’re tired of hearing?

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4 thoughts on “5 Things A Graduated English Major Doesn’t Want To Hear

    • No, I haven’t heard any of these comments from INFJs (at least, not that I know of).
      I’m not sure if it’s an extrovert thing or just a, “You didn’t think that through very well before speaking, did you?” thing

      Like

  1. As a person who got a BA in linguistics, I have seen *similar* stuff. I have in-laws who are/were involved in education at just about all levels, and they believe they are experts in language because they a) speak *a* language and b) they teach/taught. They assume I’m going to rubber stamp their rude correction of people mid-sentence… and expect me to participate. I am only willing to correct my kids’ grammar if it seems they are building a really bad habit that will affect them in trying to interact and communicate. People learn grammar mostly by example, not pedagogy.

    The “funny” thing about the way you describe people asking you “dictionary” questions, is that they are by default admitting that they don’t know something about the language. Then, when it comes out that you didn’t take the “Memorizing OED 101” class, all of a sudden *you* are the failure.

    I’ve been to family gatherings where someone’s grammar was getting “corrected” about every 5-10 minutes for a space of about an hour… No, I’m not exaggerating. They correct my grammar anymore because, after about the third incident, I give them an earful. A) I’m not your student. B) Your grammatical correction was rude.

    On top of it all, they are almost always wrong. They will correct me for saying “name and me” (instead of “and I”) regardless of grammatical context. They will correct me, and contort their own sentences just to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition ( I confess, I sometimes do that just for fun 🙂 )

    Oh those poor kids they taught!

    I do not give people grief for the fact that they don’t use the subjunctive case, but I will miss it. Fiddler on the Roof would just not be the same if the song were sung as: “If I *was* a rich man…”

    Oh… and *PLEASE* don’t ask me how many languages I speak! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh, they would drive me crazy too. Even if they were accurate in their corrections, that’s just plain rude. And to get grammar rules wrong on top of that … I’d have given them an earful too!

      Now I’ve got Fiddler on the Roof songs running through my head 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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