Allen’s personal comments

Student Abstract Language

People complain about college freshman English papers—both teacher and student share these complaints:

All of this seems to come from a terrible fear of saying anything specific or concrete. Students are totally in love with abstractions. Because of this obsession with abstraction (and allergy toward specifics) we get a lot of writing like this:

My girlfriend, Hermione Granger, is really great. When I first met her, she was kind of funny-looking, but as the years went by she became better looking. She’s really smart too.

Nobody, including Ron Weasley, would remember that for more than about two minutes. How about this?

When I first met Hermione Granger, I thought she looked like a beaver that had a bad hair day. Her enormous front teeth and frizzy brown hair that stuck out almost straight from her head certainly didn’t help me to warm up to her, nor did her bossy attitude when she opened with a criticism of my attempt to turn my rat a different color and even pointed out that I had dirt on my nose. As time went by, she figured out how to deal with her hair and got her teeth fixed—and even ended up so good-looking that Victor Krum, a professional athlete, asked her to the school dance. One thing that didn’t change, though, was her love of learning. Before she got to Hogwart’s, she had read several books about the place, and she was always happiest in the library with a huge, musty old book about the history of magic. I got over being edged out by Krum, and eventually realized that her loyalty, to the point of risking death, showed the real depth of her spirit.

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Revised 11/7/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: