Wow, the ego’s getting thick in here.

My graduate-level “grammar” class was taught by a professor who was rather full of himself. (We’ve discussed the type before.) He liked confusing his students. If you asked a question, his answer would be less clear than his initial explanation.

Our final paper was to write a ten-page analysis of our own writing according to the grammar rubrics he’d given us during the semester. I found a nice passage and got to work.

And then I had an idea. A wonderful-awful idea.

I bounced the idea out to my online writers group (which yes, existed even in the Dark Ages). I would invent a student and I would turn in his paper. Anyone who wanted could contribute a paragraph in which they ruthlessly praised their own writing, giving no specifics and no analysis except for things like “The clever use of nouns to indicate specific persons, places or things helped give the manuscript a specificity rarely seen when the writer relies on pronouns.” 

The “student’s” name was Bob Frapples. As the sample of his writing, I used the final paragraph of James Joyce’s The Dead. 

(If my Kiddos ever read this, they’re going to exclaim, “Mom! You didn’t!” Of course I did.)

I compiled the paper, all 2,000 words of it, and I gave it the title

Literary Mastery and Rhetorical Purpose In A Short Selection of My Prose

and I opened with:

In the selection printed directly beneath, I have shown only mere glimmerings of my true talent.  Were I able to post the whole of my work, even that would fail to sufficiently show how fully I have mastered the minor points of rhetorical excellence.  Again and again, I stun even myself as I exercise my total grammatical perfection through the many transformational devices the other students needed to have taught to them during this semester of English 555.

In the analysis, I systematically misused every technical term he taught us, or else I made the sentence an identity sentence (ie, 2 = 2). I used one reference per paragraph: exactly the same reference. And at every turn I emphasized the awesomeness that was me. (Well, was Bob.)

If I were a critic examining my own work from a perspective of twenty years, I would have to say I was one of the most brilliant people of our time.

After eight pages, I jumped the page number up to 12 and wrote a paragraph concluding that I rocked the house. I turned it in ten days early and then went back to work on my own paper, decidedly less self-congratulatory.

The next day, the professor looked stern. “Some of you are already turning in your final papers,” and he read it out loud to the class while I struggled not to die laughing. The student behind me moaned, “I could never do that!” I think the professor loved it: he didn’t read anyone else’s.

My own paper got an A. I wasn’t as proud.

Through this grammatical analysis, I have learned even more reasons why my superlative writing will make a stunning impact not only on this generation, but on generations to follow.  The experience of this class has enabled me to understand better how it is that I can move my readers to laughter or to tears, and how better to promote my rhetorical perfection in the years to come.


  1. Pat

    I’d love to hear your professor’s take on this incident. I’d like to think that he knew exactly what you were doing, and even had a pretty good idea who had done it – and was thrilled. Anyway, that’s what a good teacher’s reaction should be!

    And whatever your kids think, I totally believe you did that!

    1. philangelus

      He probably didn’t know which of us had done it. I spent most of my time in class not speaking, and to be honest, he didn’t really interact with the students. He had that great-guy persona, but I don’t know of any students who hung out with him after class the way we did with all our other professors.

      I’m half-convinced he read it aloud to see if anyone blew the game. If he was truly curious, all he’d have had to do was pass it around the English department, though. I’m pretty sure one of my other professors would have recognized my fingerprints all over the thing. (I was Teh Sneekeez, though. I used **a different font** and changed the margins and formatted the header differently than I always did. Ooh, those early word processors!)