Each year at around this time, the folks at Beloit College put out the “Mindset List,” a half-serious, half-facetious accounting of what incoming first-year students do and do not know. It is ostensibly designed for professors, but it’s always picked up by news media and Web sites, not only because it’s often funny and eye-opening, but because August is usually a very slow news month.
As I write, this year’s edition hasn’t come out, but to give you the flavor, here’s a little of last year’s:
For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.
- Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
- Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
- They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”
I think you know where I’m going with this. That’s right, we need a language mindset list, a tip-sheet telling professors where incoming freshmen are coming from in terms of vocabulary and usage. And here it is, put together with some assistance from my Lingua Franca colleagues.
To the Class of 2017:
- As a modifying adjective, “awesome” means “reasonably good.” As a one-word sentence, it means, “I have heard and comprehended what you just said and do not necessarily disagree with it.”
- The thing you do when you stretch out on a bed or the ground is “lay down,” unless you did it yesterday, in which case you “laid down.” The past tense forms of “shrink,” “stink,” and “sink” are “shrunk,” “stunk,” and “sunk.” The past tense of the verb “to lead” is “lead.”
- One refers to a person “that” does something, not a person “who” does it.
- Paragraphs should always have a little extra space between them because that’s how Microsoft Word defaults.
- The way to express gratitude is “Thank you so much.” (The number of “o”s at the end of “so” indicate the amount of gratitude.) The proper responses to “Thank you so much” are “Not a problem,” “No worries,” or “Of course!”
- The expression “I’m good” does not refer to virtue or ability. Rather, it means, “I do not desire any additional beer at this time.”
- “Alot” and “alright” are each one word.
- ”However” is a conjunction.
- When “And,” “But,” or “Yet” starts a sentence, it is followed by a comma.
- Commas are superfluous in greetings: that is, one properly writes, “Hi Professor” or (preferably) “Hey Professor!”
- Semicolons and colons are interchangeable.
- “They” is the way you refer to an individual business, organization, or rock band (even one whose name is singular, such as Coldplay), and to formerly singular indefinite pronouns, such as “anyone.”
- There has never been such a word as “whom.” However, there is such a word as “whomever” and it should be used whenever possible.
- “Oftentimes,” “amongst,” and “amidst” are preferable to “often,” “among,” and “amid.” When saying either “oftentimes” or “often,” the “t” should be pronounced.
- The “t”s in “Manhattan,” “button,” and “important” are not pronounced.
- The term for the commemoration of n years of something is not “nth anniversary” but “n-year anniversary.”
- “Cliché,” “genius,” “chill,” “melty,” and “fun” are adjectives. Forms of the last include “funner,” “funnest,” and “so fun.”
- In electronic communication, ending a sentence with no punctuation indicates neutrality; with one exclamation point, a general positive feeling; with two or more, varying levels of enthusiasm; and with a period, sarcasm.
- A female parent is exclusively a “mom,” and never a “mother.”
- Female students are “girls.” Male students are “guys.” A “dude” is a male, except in direct address, in which case anyone can be a dude, including a pet. A “bro” is always a male, except sometimes in facetious use.
- A female friend of a girl is referred to as “my girlfriend” and a male friend of a guy is referred to as “my buddy.”
- To indicate approval, girls say “Awww,” raising their voices by roughly a major third at the end of the word.
- Guys do not speak in class. They occasionally snort.
- Commas and periods properly go outside quotation marks, like “this”.
- Whether to write “its” and “your,” on the one hand, or “it’s” and “you’re,” on the other, depends on the way you feel at that particular moment.
- “On line” has never referred to waiting in a queue, “random” does not mean “by chance,” and “hooking up” is not something you do to a stereo system. In addition, what’s a stereo system?