Three Apologies (not amigos) & Garbled Garp

As I write, it’s nearly noon on Thursday. I have spent the morning realizing that I have overestimated the accuracy of the MacSpeech Dictate process. For those of you who have been reading The Book of Seasons or “Mantorville,” I owe you some apologies. Both of those texts have received periodic garbling (misunderstanding of my dictation)—just as the software just garbled the word “garbling.” (I quietly corrected the error, obviously.) I haven’t worked over The Book of Seasons yet, but but after my morning run, I have been revising the real NeoOffice wordprocessing file and the “Mantorville” page here on the blog, trying to resurrect the original in one case and correct in quite a few other cases the peculiar word choices MacSpeech Dictate has misheard me say. (And I thought I had pretty good diction. Oh, how we delude ourselves. —Or  MacSpeech Dictate doesn’t work as well as the company thinks.)

Then before working on today’s blog, I wrote a letter to my Aunt Alaire, sending her the submission version of “Details, Details.” Now I realize that I was so preoccupied about trying to calculate on Janet’s ancient postal scale the weight and therefore postage for my aunt’s letter-and-story that I neglected to closely proofread her letter, which (as I am trying to make my normal practice) I dictated rather than type. The letter is already sealed and in the mail, so it’s too late to fix it. I hope it’s not too nonsensical.

Perhaps I should also apologize at least somewhat for yesterday’s post. I am not quite sure how that one turned into such a rant, but it did. On the other hand, I am right. You can run the experiment yourself. It seems to me that up until right now the average lifespan of an educational fad has been just about five years. The hastening rate of change in our culture might abbreviate that length somewhat, but that factor will only make the experiment easier to test. All we have to do is wait. I am sure that within five years the Core Curriculum and its attendant standards and benchmarks will be out of fashion.

Either way, did anyone check out the Department of Education’s information on the Core Curriculum? They have the wormiest benchmarks I’ve ever seen. One of the things we learned intensively in our sessions with the AEA was that although standards were to be general principles or levels of learning, a good benchmark had to be specific and measurable. “Measurable” means precise, observable and quantifiable. The Department of Ed’s benchmarks are not much different from their corresponding standard, and therefore vague, generalized (not clearly observable) and uncertain (yep, not measurable). Pathetic. Or maybe the fashion for distinguishing benchmarks from standards has already passed.

Here’s a sample for literacy (that’s what we call my former specialization, English, these days) for tenth grade from the website (please notice the uncertainty of the “grade level indicator”):

Students can comprehend what they read in a variety of literary and informational texts.
Benchmark : Students can understand stated information they have read.
Grade Level Indicator : Understand stated information
Benchmark : Students can determine the meaning of new words from their context.
Grade Level Indicator : Determine the literal meaning of specific words
Benchmark : Students can draw conclusions, make inferences, and deduce meaning.
Grade Level Indicator : Draw conclusions, make inferences, and generalizations
Benchmark : Students can infer traits, feelings, and motives of characters.
Grade Level Indicator : Infer traits, feelings, and motives of characters or individuals
Benchmark : Students can interpret information in new contexts.
Grade Level Indicator : Make predictions based on stated information
Benchmark : Students can interpret nonliteral language used in a text.
Grade Level Indicator : Interpret nonliteral language used in a text
Benchmark : Students can determine the main idea of a text.
Grade Level Indicator : Determine the main idea, topic, or theme
Benchmark : Students can identify the writer’s views or purpose.
Grade Level Indicator : Identify the author’s views or purpose
Benchmark : Students can analyze style or structure.
Grade Level Indicator : Distinguish among facts, opinions, and assumptions
Benchmark : Students can recognize aspects of a passage’s style and structure and can recognize literary techniques.
Grade Level Indicator : Recognize aspects of a passage’s style and structure, and recognize literary techniques

Maybe I’m being too picky. I know how difficult it is to come up with this stuff, but this isn’t one group of teachers from one school’s goofiness: these are the state mandates. (Of course, we know these were created by committee, and we all know what kind of garp committees come up with, and they sure did this time.)

In truth, for yesterday’s post I wanted to discuss that word, “garp.” It’s a word my sister has used for a long time; it seems I can remember hearing it from my childhood. I was always pretty clear that garp was some kind of generalized nonsense, in Margaret’s opinion pretty close to crap, but obviously worded more appropriately. However, if you follow the link I provided for garp the first time above—or the one I just created in this sentence, you’ll find as I did lots of GARP references (and I wonder how many of them are garp in Margaret’s use and how many acronyms became GARP because of that same usage—clever hidden messages from behind the scenes) but not my sister’s meaning. I had always been of the impression that John Irving’s book was The World According to Garp and Garp may have gotten his name—from Irving, not in the way it says in the book—from Margaret’s definition. But that definition is nowhere to be found—at least on the Internet. Or is it? Margaret’s usage was essentially slang, however much she may seek to avoid being so casual and faddish.

There are plenty of slang dictionaries online—well, at least one or two. The Slang Dictionary online did not know the word “garp.” So I went to urbandictionary.com. You can too: just click the link. They had “garp,” obviously, but not exactly in Margaret’s sense—unless she was generalizing from its fart-related use. More likely, her mathematical mind was generalizing in a slightly different way from urban dictionary.com’s number 4 definition: “A word used in any situation to take place of anything. It can mean anything, can be anything. Originated as points on a line.” However, I am unsure. Margaret’s “garp” is distinctly negative—not just anything but bad stuff, poor thinking, stupid ideas, garp…

Now I don’t know what to do—or if I even remember what Margaret was saying correctly, and I guess I need to apologize a third time for using that word yesterday (and thereby probably confusing all my dozens of readers). However, I still think it’s a fine word and with all the many GARP acronyms out there (and for many of them what they are associated with), the irony of my sister’s meaning is profound and wonderful.

So let’s declare a new word with which to baffle the public (isn’t that, after all, what slang is for?). When you hear nonsense, just let everyone know it’s “garp.”

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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