True stories with a twist!

Gobbledegook

Dr. Patrick was my first college English teacher. He had a reputation of being a bit “Weird,” but what others said about him didn’t frighten me one bit. In all my twelve years of being a student, from kindergarten to high school graduation I never met a teacher I couldn’t get along with. Maybe some of them were a little unusual and maybe some of them were tough, but they all appreciated a student making an honest attempt at learning.images-4

English was always my favorite subject. I loved creative writing, even if the only opportunity to practice and develop my writing skills was writing letters to my friends who were at summer camp. I quickly ignored my mother’s advice about how to begin a letter. She thought the proper way to start was to first ask your friend how they were feeling, followed by assuring her that you were alright. I thought that was a boring and expected way to start. It was simply not my style to start my letter with, “Dear Bobby, how are you? I am feeling fine.”

No, not me. I had to begin with an attention getting statement like “Have you ever seen a grizzly bear asleep on your front lawn?” You could go in any number of directions with an opening question like that. The story probably has nothing to do with grizzly bears on your front lawn. But a good attention getter creates interested readers.

My English teachers always encouraged me to write in my own style. I remember in fourth grade writing an assignment about “What we did on winter vacation.” Our family didn’t go anywhere or do anything special that winter, so couldn’t think of what I could write about.

After some thought about some things I did do, I finally I wrote a story about it. I baked my first cake by myself, used the mix-master for the first time, followed by scraping cake batter off the kitchen wall. The teacher read my story to the class, not the stories of students who skied in Aspen or snorkeled in Eleuthra during vacation. My classmates laughed as she read it; they liked it! So I learned that it isn’t the subject matter that is important; it’s the way the story is told.

Dr. Patrick was a different breed of teacher. He was a huge man with bright red hair, thick eyeglasses and a roaring voice. His favorite word was “Gobbledegook,” and he used it frequently to indicate his displeasure. He disliked insignificant details that didn’t further the story line. He hated anything sentimental. He sneered at corny. He despised flowery language.

He was a no-frills guy.

Today, when I am writing a story, I think about Dr. Patrick. As I read and edit it I think to myself,  “Gobbledegook!” as I erase some parts and improve others. I renew phrases and sharpen the writing. I finally learned the meaning of his word. There must have been a more genteel way to say the same thing as he did with the single word, “Gobbledegook,” but it couldn’t have given as much of a punch as that word did for him. Dr. Patrick and his special silly word made him unforgettable.

 

Comments on: "Gobbledegook" (23)

  1. You never forget a good teacher. I was in awe of my Spanish Literature teacher for the duration of my high baccalaureate and I’ve never forgotten his methods or his passion about what we read and learned. I eventually became a Spanish teacher myself too and I know I owe it to him.

  2. Enjoyed your post Ronnie, entertaining look at your recollections of Dr Patrick, a very astute teacher, he is right, it is not so much about the story, but how you tell it, this is particularly so with the written word. Comedians have the art down to a fine form.
    Kindest regards my Friend.

    • Thank you for your comment, Ian. Yes, he was right about the importance of how you tell the story. The most mundane happening can be made to sound fascinating with the right words. I hope you are well and preparing your next trip to Chili.

  3. Adrianne Bendich said:

    no gobbledegook in your story!! Looking forward to reading your next piece and again smiling as I read. Thanks, Adrianne

  4. My favorite high school teacher was in History. He instilled an interest that I still have to this day.

  5. harvey hammer said:

    Ronnie
    your short term and long term memory stands you in good stead and invites all of us to try to remember stories like “Gobbledegook” although that terminology is not in my memory bank

  6. We all had memorable teachers and then some not so memorable. Thanks for helping remember mine.

    • It always surprises me that when I “put my brain ” on a subject, I remember things I thought I forgot a long time ago.

      • True. I do the same. Like thinking of Mr. Scrimger in Physics. We used to whip the electrostatc machine into a frenzy and then he would walk in for a lecture. He had a habit of leaning on the machine so when he did, his hair would stand on end. We peed our pants laughing. We could do this once a week cause he always forgot.

  7. jnlmurphy said:

    Ronnie it is amazing the impact a teacher has on our psyche thru our entire life.  I haven’t come in contact with Gobbledegook in centuriesBUT i very much enjoy it resurrection into my youthful lexicon.i think i may have whined about this instance to you before, yetit still rankles me.Early in the freshman year of college we were assigned to compose an essay.when i got my composition back, i was crushed.  the Dear NUNstunted my inclination to write for a very long time.she took a RED pen and crossed every paragraph into a besmirched attempt to please her, i prayed every nightfor something wicked to cross her path. I never learned if my Prayers were answered

    • That red pen was the bane of many young writers’ work. Teachers should be more careful with their handling of criticism; their hurtful comments have injured many a young person’s effort at self expression.

  8. Jerry Warshaw said:

    I may be one of the few people who remember the story you wrote about Thanksgiving from the turkey’s point of view. Your use of irony and sarcasm at age 10 was really good. And it even had a happy ending. The turkey felt proud that he would be the star at the table.

  9. I, too, had some inspirational teachers – none more so than my A level English teacher. A good post

  10. When I think about old English teachers, I remember Mr. Brown, who constantly spelled things incorrectly on the blackboard and used incorrect grammar. An English teacher! I just had to correct him. He said I should get a job as a proofreader.

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