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Persuasion in Ancient Greece

Andrew Scholtz, Instructor

Informational Pages. . .

Selected Issues in Writing: Thought, Style, Grammar, etc.

Overview: Expository Prose (expos)

Alas, this is a class not in creative but in expository writing. To quote the Purdue Owl,

The expository essay is a genre of essay that requires the student to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on the idea, and set forth an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. (link)

This is one type of writing that everyone who'll ever have to write will likely have to write. If you like, think of the limitations of this genre — its frankly formulaic and often seemingly pedantic character — as a user-friendly feature. If done right, an expository essay should in many ways write itself.

More importantly, the expository essays assigned for this class offer you the chance to practice professional, persuasive writing aiming at:

While the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th ed.) will serve as final authority on all aspects of paper-writing for this course, we shall treat the Purdue Owl as our standard go-to reference for style, citation, and so on.

But note as well a very important resource we have on campus: the Writing Center. PLEASE make use of it, as students have found it very helpful. Note, finally, the help I seek to provide in the present document and in others like it.


Related Links


Issues in Clarity, Reasoning, Structure

See Owl for a nice compendium of common errors in reasoning and the like. On your papers, I'll be referring to that, though I'll also be referring to the following list of "do"s and "don't"s I've compiled:


Aim for. . .

Critical Thinking (CT), discussion informed by. One goal this course shares with the University is the cultivation of critical-thinking skills.

So, what is critical thinking? It is the art of formulating well-reasoned and well-supported arguments, and of analyzing and evaluating arguments, whether those of others or your own.

As such, it is a skill that ought to be transferable, i.e., one that can be taught through, and applied to, a variety of disciplines and fields of endeavor. MUCH in demand on the job market, IT'S A GOOD REASON TO TAKE A COURSE LIKE THIS, EVEN IF YOU DON'T PLAN TO BECOME AN ANCIENT GREEK POLITICIAN!

Its basic elements, . . .

Analysis of arguments:

Identification of key arguments (others', your own) and elements thereof (premises, reasoning, conclusions). Ability to to distinguish substantive argument from rhetoric, filler, etc.; to assess validity of arguments (others', your own).

Development of arguments:

Development of clearly articulated, well-supported (well-documented, well-reasoned) arguments. Anticipation of, response to, reasonable objections. Articulation of broader relevance.

More at the SUNY Critical Thinking Rubric, from which the foregoing has been distilled. . . .


What, then, does CT (critical thinking) entail? The following:

  1. Basic knowledge: i.e., sufficient (enough to do the job) mastery of relevant facts, data, etc.
  2. Sufficient mastery of relevant analytical-theoretical models, the "lenses" (Dahl's democracy criteria, for instance) through which to view and reflect on № 1.
  3. A point of view conducive to both objectivity and insight.
  4. Sympathetic engagement with others' arguments, i.e., giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  5. Willingness to reflect critically on your own arguments.
  6. Attention paid to:
    • Premises, guiding assumptions, definitions, biases
    • Conclusions reached, and the logical steps followed to get there
    • Use and/or abuse of sources, evidence, etc.
    • Key statements versus filler, fluff, etc.
    • Likely objections to an argument
    • Larger implications of an argument

We'll discuss and practice critical thinking in the classroom a lot; you should aim for it in your journal entries (readings journal entries) as well as in larger papers and in group oral reports. Note that the University's "Rubric" is really quite good on this; see Critical Thinking Rubric.


An "outlineable" structure (structure). "Say what you're going to say, then say it, then say what you've said" — though an oversimplification, that familiar saw isn't so far off where expository prose is concerned. Restated, the longer essays you'll be writing for this course will benefit from just such a three-part structure to supply proper framing, clarity, and documentation.

Put differently, it should always be possible to fit these sorts of essays into a pre-set outline like the following:
  1. Introduction.
    1. Topic area.
    2. Question / problem.
    3. Thesis statement.
    4. Approach.
  2. Main body.
    1. Argumentation.
    2. Evidence.
  3. Conclusions.
    1. Main-points (brief recapitulation).
    2. Further reflections.

Indeed, it is always advisable to make an outline when starting out, for which see Owl, "Developing an Outline."

Conversely, it should be possible to "backwards-engineer" (retro-fit) an outline to go with any well-written expository essay you've written or read — to demonstrate, in other words, that it is just as well structured as it's supposed to be. Owl calls that "reverse outlining."


Here follows a detailed breakdown of such outlines, plus how to flesh them out when drafting papers:
  1. INTRODUCTION. Papers should start with an introduction of no more than a paragraph or two; it should provide a summary preview of the main body of your essay. As to its content, that should include all or most of the the following, though not necessarily in the order presented:
    • TOPIC STATEMENT, language alerting the reader to your subject matter, the "what," "when," and "where" you're addressing. It can include the fact that your topic, because important yet neglected, deserves attention. This section of the introduction also helps us understand how far your topic extends, i.e., where it cuts off, its scope. (It is important not to bite off more than you can chew.)
    • QUESTION / PROBLEM. This is the "why" of your essay, the question, problem, or issue that you'd like to explore.
    • THESIS AND/OR AIMS. Crucial!
      • If you have a thesis, that is, your answer or solution to the question or problem you address, the point you'd like to prove, it's here that you state it briefly for all to see. See further Owl, "Creating a Thesis Statement."
      • But it's also possible your paper won't have a thesis, exactly, especially if you're doing a critical review of evidence. Still, try to alert your readers to your aims.
    • APPROACH. Your approach is the "how" of your essay: its theoretical assumptions ("I shall apply the ideas of of So-and-So" . . .), the kinds of evidence you'll be adducing (". . . to surviving political oratory from the classical Athenian democracy") — that kind of thing.


(TOPIC) It is striking how often Athenian orators accuse others of claiming to love the audience being addressed, which in most cases either was, or represented, the citizenry of Athens. Yet it is equally striking how seldom orators actually make such claims in surviving evidence. (QUESTION) Why, then, that disparity in the evidence? (APPROACH) Applying the theories of Valentin Vološinov to the evidence offered by fifth- and fourth-century BCE sources, (THESIS) I shall argue for what I call the "demophilia topos," a ploy whereby orators focused suspicion on opponents by imputing to them a willingness to express an emotionally charged relationship with the Athenian body politic (the demos).


  1. (MAIN) BODY. The body (aka "main body") of your essay will be devoted to proving — arguing and documenting — your main point, your thesis. Or if no thesis, it's still here that you carry out the tasks you've set yourself in your intro.

So, the main body consists of:


(EVIDENCE) Let us begin with a passage from one of Demosthenes' Exordia (sample speech prefaces): "Though they say they love you, it is not you they love, but themselves" (53.3). That kind of warning not to trust a speaker's alleged love talk is in fact matched by virtually no example of an orator's actually engaging in such talk. (ARGUMENTATION) Why, then, allegations such as that? By making out that his opponent's rhetoric featured just those sorts of oratorical valentines, a speaker could make an audience uncomfortable with his opponent's real-life attempts to establish a good rapport with listeners — could "spin" it, in other words, as insincere, even dangerous, manipulation. [etc. etc.]


  1. CONCLUSIONS. This part caps off your essay. In it you will typically recapitulate your principal points and findings — your take-away message.


To sum up, the demophilia topos represented a strategy to control the discourse, an example of what Hesk would term anti-rhetorical rhetoric. Just as it could raise red flags to appear too emotionally connected to one's audience, so could it pay off rhetorically to make one's opponent appear just that way.

You may also wih to reflect on the larger implications of your findings: further questions they might raise, implications for today's world. It is even permitted to answer, however tentatively, some of those big questions that are not appropriate to answer in the main body of your essay. . .

What light do these findings shed on present-day practice, for instance, the commonplace jibe that "So-and-So is in bed with X," or, to cite an actual example from recent events, Barack Obama's 2008 train-ride, during the course of which he would shout, "I love you back" to adoring crowds. On the one hand, [etc. etc.]. On the other hand, the evidence reviewed here, though insufficient to support definitive answers, does rather suggest that Athenians really could have expected their leaders to advise them prudently, that they may not have been so tolerant of demagogic flim-flam as certain theoretical perspectives might lead one to expect. [Etc. etc.]


MLA styling, formatting, citing, etc. All papers for this class, except in cases where you've specifically been advised otherwise, should in every way conform to MLA styling, formatting, citing, etc.

For more on MLA and related, click on the following links:


Solid argumentation (arg). For more on how to make your papers more convincing through effective argumentation and use of evidence, see the "Documentation" page; also above, "(MAIN) BODY"; below, "Unwarranted assumption."


Respectful, courteous tone; editorial distance (courtesy, ED). Maintain a courteous tone. Treat the opposition, i.e., those scholars, readers, etc. with whom you disagree or who you think will likely disagree with you — treat them with respect. Acknowledge counter-arguments, even possible counter-arguments. Do not "diss" them or those holding them. Rather, produce a reasoned response to them. At all times, maintain, or at least try to project, editorial distance, i.e., a coolly detached and impartial perspective on your topic and all things pertaining to it. AVOID SNARK!!

This is one area where, frankly, student writers often go wrong. Encouraged to feel passionately about what they write and to project that in their writing, they can, at times, feel they have the license to vent. Yet nothing could be less persuasive in expository writing than venting. At best, it speaks to a biased perspective. At worst, it demonstrates an inability to think critically.

How about, then, a golden rule of writing? In your writing, treat others, their arguments, and ideas as you would want others to treat you and your ideas in their writing.


Signposting (sign). To quote the Purdue Owl, essays need "clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion" (link). I call those transitions signposting, defined as statements alerting readers to the structure of, or transitions in, argument, treatment, etc., also, anticipations of points about to be made / reminders of points already made. You can think of it as the author's effort to help the reader navigate her / his ideas, to construct a mental map of the author's argument. That has to do with. . .


Nuance. Defined as "a subtle or slight variation or difference in meaning, expression, feeling, etc." (OED), for our purposes, "nuance" will refer to the practice of noting fine distinctions, of exploring complexity, of seeking a more precise or sensitive understanding of things, in short, of avoiding oversimplification and sweeping generalization. A nuanced treatment will not ignore those all-important "gray areas." Nuance is one area where our critical thinking skills come into play.

Avoid. . .

Overwrought openings (OO), padding (pad). By "overwrought openings," I mean the kind of opening paragraph that, with too much fanfare and too little accuracy makes exaggerated or irrelevant claims. By padding, I mean content, sometimes (not always) of a doubtful character, that adds too little information pertinent to the argument. The two often go together:

Overwrought opening:

"Pericles, a statesman whose fame has penetrated to all corners of the globe, a speaker whose name has become a byword for eloquence, has left his indelible mark on world history."

OK, I sort of gather the essay is about Pericles, but besides the overwrought expression, the ideas expressed are doubtful at best, and meaningless at worst. Much better in an opening paragraph to get to the point with minimal fanfare: topic area, problem, thesis, approach; see above.

Closely related is padding:

"Many scholars have commented on Pericles' eloquence. Their opinions are varied and are very interesting. Some have been highly influential in shaping modern thinking. Some have published books, others have published articles." I'm not sure what useful knowledge that conveys. All it seems to do is make someone's paper longer.


Sweeping generalization (SG). Avoid unsubstantiated, blanket characterizations, as in, "Euripides never shows a positive outlook on life." But has the writer read all Euripides' plays, including the lost ones?

Another term for that is categorical claims, things claimed to be true for an entire class (category) of thing: "All humans have two eyes." Do they? "The Greeks aways sought to live by the maxim, 'Nothing to excess.' " Did they? Can you prove that? Do you have a reference?

If not, please try to avoid such exaggerations. We often have to generalize; that is, indeed, the point of these papers, at least in part. But we have to do so validly, which requires nuance, which see. Often the fix is easy: words like, "often," many," "typically," rather than, "always," "every," "inevitably." Still, be sure you know what you are talking about.

See also Unwarranted assumption.


Exaggerated assertion (exag). Exaggerated assertion is overstating a more or less reasonable fact to give it more rhetorical power.

EXAGGERATED: "Since time immemorial, humanity has been struggling with the problem of balancing the need for enlightened leadership with democratic decision-making as a political imperative." (Yes, an often encountered dilemma in democracy. But do democracy and its problematics date back to the beginning of time? I don't think so. . .)

BETTER: "Time and again, wherever and whenever democracy has taken hold, the need for enlightened leadership has had to be balanced with democratic decision-making as a political imperative"


Argument by assertion (AA). Trying to convince your reader that such-and-such is so simply by stating, often with emphasis, often through repetition, but without any proof, that it is indeed so, as in, "In what follows I shall argue that Pericles, leader of the democracy, ruled as if a tyrant. Let us start by noticing that Pericles most emphatically ruled as if a tyrant. Indeed, Pericles might as well have born the title 'king' or 'tyrant.' End of story."

Yet that is hardly the end of the story, for we are missing all sorts of evidence and argumentation.


Unwarranted assumption (UA). Virtually the same as argument by assertion (above), an unwarranted assumption is a statement or assertion presenting as if self-evident fact (or at least as if adequately proved) something that in fact requires proof. Be especially careful when writing the introduction, where writers can be tempted to parade "facts" often as doubtful as they are irrelevant.

More generally, while some facts stand easily on their own, whether because common knowledge or for other reasons (e.g., "Pericles died in 429 BCE"), there are all sorts of facts that require substantiation. If you ever find yourself guessing, DON'T! Check, document, cite, SHOW.


Speculative argument (spec). Sometimes our ideas can exercise great appeal, but if we're to argue them, we have to ask, Can we prove them, or show they're at least plausible? If we can't, yet we persist in pushing the idea, we're speculating, not much better than guessing. Example:

"Cleon is presented by our sources as thoroughly contemptible. Indeed, one can easily imagine him as the type of leader who would foam at the mouth when giving a speech. And just such manifestations of physical rage surely explain why writers despised him so."

However compelling this idea of a Cleon foaming at the mouth, it is wholly untenable. It represents an imaginative flight based on too little evidence.

Speculative argument has, in short, no place in expository writing.

Circular argument (circ), tautology (taut), etc, that is, argument premised (whether explicitly or implicitly) on something it sets out to prove — a treacherous fallacy indeed, and one that can sneak up on the best of writers and thinkers unawares. The Latin term is petitio principii, usually translated as "begging the question": the fallacy "begs" (petere), better, "seeks to establish," one of its principia, its "premises." (Hence the phrase, "to beg the question" is used incorrectly when used to mean, "to raise the question," something very different.) As Aristotle noted, argument must always progress from the more certain to the less. Circular argument or question-begging proceeds from the less certain to the less certain.


Take, for instance:

  1. "Snow is white because of its pure and colorless essence." That's like saying "Snow is white 'cause it's white," a circular or tautological statement.
  2. "As (a) it is never right to kill anyone, (b) the plot to kill Hitler was immoral from the outset." If (a) is in fact indisputably true, then sure, so is (b). But is (a) indisputably true? Isn't the debate regarding such things as the plot to kill Hitler, the death penalty, etc. about the whole idea of justifiable homicide anyway? Isn't it possible the speaker is trying to support a doubtful or discomforting thesis (viz., that Hitler shouldn't have been killed) with a specious (attractive but questionable) premise? We can't, in other words, afford to ignore that (A), taken for granted in our example, is, in fact, controversial. (In the example, it seeks to draw attention away from an even more controversial assertion, [B].)
  3. "Just as philosophy is the queen of sciences, so must we who aspire to wisdom (and I hope that's everyone!) bow down before her and obey her dictates." Basically, that sets out to guilt people into acknowledging the authority of philosophy on the basis of its (implicitly self-evident) authority. I call that "frontloading." Much the same argument is used by Socrates in Plato's Gorgias, where Socrates sets out to impress upon Callicles, an Athenian demagogue, the superiority of his (Socrates') philosophy to Callicles' willingness to coddle the Athenian people. It assumes its conclusion (philosophy as authoritative) as premise (philosophy as authoritative).

Compare a priori argument.


A priori (aprioristic) argument (AP). Arguing a priori is arguing from a premise taken to be self-evidently true. Now, aprioristic reasoning isn't all bad. On the contrary, it is, among other things, the basis of (virtually?) all mathematics, for instance, the geometrical proofs students do in high school. (In Euclidean geometry, it is taken as self-evidently true that two parallel lines never intersect. Those are called axioms.)

Outside of math and abstract logic, however, apriorstic reasoning needs to be handled with special care because it tends to ignore or overlook evidence. Take, for instance, the statement, "To kill one's children being unthinkable in any society, we are meant to loath Medea for what she has done." That statement takes infanticide (the killing of one's child) as self-evidently evil. Well, OK, but just how unthinkable is it/was it, necessarily, in all human culture? What about the practice, seemingly quite frequent in ancient Greece, of exposing unwanted newborn children — a practice that in many cases must have led to the death of newborns? That's unthinkable for us, maybe, but if it's thinkable for anyone (e.g., ancient Greeks), then it's not unthinkable in the way suggested in the statement above.

Which is not to say that aprioristic argument can't ever be allowed, just that it needs to be handled with care or else avoided: "As it is all but inconceivable to kill one's own child, we may be forgiven for wondering how Euripides' audience would have reacted to that particular twist in the plot."


Argument from probability (prob). Nearly the same as a priori argument, it is the basis of a great deal of the argumentation taught, evidently, by sophists like Gorgias and Antiphon, and employed in Athenian courtrooms. See "Terms" page.

In modern expository writing, however, argument from probability won't hold water. Generic examples: "I think that this is so because the alternative just does not seem likely." Or, "When does one ever see such-and-such?" Well, maybe, but watch out! It may inconveniently prove contrary to expectation. . . .


Equivocation (equiv). To put it simply, equivocation is the use of a word or phrase to mean two or more logically inconsistent things, all within a single argument or claim. The ambiguity that results does more than cloud meaning; it invalidates argument.

Take, for instance, the use of "rake" in the following:

"Rake" is a word used for a man given to self-indulgence and dissipation. But we also use rakes to collect and remove leaves on the ground. So I guess I'll be using a boozer-womanizer to rake leaves this fall.

Of course, the danger isn't that we're going to be producing atrocious puns like the above, but that we'll be using a single term in similar ways, yet different enough to matter. I think the best example has to do with Plato's Gorgias. Many would admit that in that dialogue, Socrates uses rhetoric to attack rhetoric. But unless we're clear about what we mean by rhetoric, we could be producing a meaningless argument. "Rhetoric" can, on the one hand, be understood as an ever-present aspect of communication (rhetoric as those elements of discourse shaping its reception), and is so treated by those who do discourse analysis. Thus to say that Socrates uses rhetoric could mean very little if that's what we mean by the word. (Who doesn't use rhetoric?) But "rhetoric" is also a technical discipline. In the latter sense, it can represent a kind of ornamental additive, a way of "accessorizing" discourse, and as such, probably needs to be learned and practiced. Don't, in other words, assume it as an inevitable feature of all speaking or writing. So which "rhetoric" are we talking about? And how does Socrates' "rhetoric" in the Gorgias resemble the notoriously ornate rhetoric of Gorgias the rhetorician, if it does at all?

In short, be clear about your use of terms. If need be, define them, as in, "By rhetoric I mean. . . ."


Oversimplification (simpl). Be careful not to paint with overbold shades of black and white what are in fact gray areas. This will apply to virtually everything we study. As an example of oversimplification, look at the Spartans-are-not-be-feared-because-not-willing-to-take-risks bit in Pericles' first speech in Thucydides' History (1.141). Sure, good rhetoric, but would it pass muster as scholarship? In some ways, that's what got the Athenians in trouble: that they underestimated their enemies — oversimplification.

See more under nuance.


Special pleading (specPlead). By "special pleading" is meant argument that tries to defend a weak or difficult case by exempting it from normal, reasonable objections. Example:

But the law doesn't make that kind of distinction or exemption.

Likewise, Alcibiades' arguments seeking to absolve him from treason for cooperating with the Spartans are special pleading. (In book 6 of Thucydides, Alcibiades basically tells the Spartans that he's excused from betraying his country, now that his country has betrayed him.)

Note, however, that not every "uphill" or counterintuitive argument is special pleading, provided it does not seek to duck reasonable objections.


Tendentious assertion (tendentious, tend). "Tendentious" means "having a purposed tendency; composed or written with such a tendency or aim" (OED). By "tendentious assertion," I mean a statement whose meaning or expression (rhetoric) "strains" (Latin tendere) too hard to impose itself on a reader. It may take the form of unnecessary verbal emphasis or of argument "pushing" a particular point of view harder than necessary or than the evidence warrants. Or it may be a statement that brooks no disagreement: "Agree with me or be wrong!" As such, tendentious assertion resembles sweeping generalization and a priori argument. It always betrays a lack of nuance. You should be writing not a manifesto but a critical-reflective paper.


You should also mostly try to avoid words/phrases like:


Argument from silence (AS). Proof based on the lack of evidence for the contrary of what you want to demonstrate. Argument from silence is usually understood as invalid, or rather, as no substitute for positive demonstration. So, for instance, if I argue against flying saucers based purely on a lack of evidence, I am making an argument from silence. That is, the evidence is "silent" as to — we lack evidence demonstrating — the existence of such things. Which doesn't prove anything but the following: that a strong case for flying saucers does not yet exist. However sensible it may therefore be not to believe in such things, we have fallen short of disproving them.

But we're not always dealing with flying saucers; maybe we're dealing with issues of responsibility or guilt. Note, then, that in a criminal trial, a verdict of not guilty doesn't mean So-and-So didn't do it; it just means the evidence isn't good enough to throw the person in jail.

So, too, when dealing with the really spotty evidence classical antiquity affords, though we shouldn't be arguing from silence willy-nilly, such arguments may be unavoidable, as in "Archaeology shows little evidence for gender-segregated households quite like those some scholars understand Xenophon to imply as the norm." I.e., since we have little evidence for it, we'd do well not to assume it. But we haven't refuted it.


Arguments from authority. You might be surprised to learn that arguments from authority are considered a form of fallacy. Now, that mostly doesn't apply to matters of fact as stated by standard research or reference resources. If any such say that the Peloponnesian War lasted from 431 to 404 BCE, well, believe it. Rather, it applies to expert opinion, judgment, or interpretation, which, however expert, is still fallible. EXAMPLE: "If for no other reason than that Ober says so, where the classical Athenian democracy is concerned, we can safely assume that this mass-elite dialect was indeed just as democratic as Ober claims." Ober may argue something like that, but his arguing it doesn't make it so. BETTER: "In my paper, I shall work within the theoretical model convincingly set forth by Ober as to the fundamentally democratic character of the mass-elite dialectic where the classical Athenian democracy was concerned." The foregoing, even if it uses Ober's idea as a kind of postulate, doesn't take Ober as if self-evidently true. In effect, it refers you to Ober's book if you want to see the proof.


Issues in Word Usage, Grammar, Punctuation, Style, etc.

In alphabetical order. . .

Academic honesty issues (AH). See syllabus and other, pertinent pages for issues in academic honesty.

Accurate reading (AR). Always be sure that you are reading your sources accurately. Yes, meaning can be open to interpretation, but not everything goes. It's often tempting to read meanings we want to see into our texts, so be sure you aren't doing that. Also be sure you're in control of the vocabulary and concepts. Incorrect readings of textual evidence can lead to more serious errors in papers.

Agreement (agr). I.e., subject-verb agreement, noun-pronoun agreement.

First, subject-verb agreement. A verb, a word attributing an action or state of being to a person or thing called a subject, must always agree with that subject in number (singular or plural, i.e., how many of the subject there is or are) and person (i.e., whether or not the subject is or includes speaker/writer [first person], addressee [second person], or someone else altogether [third person]).

Thus "I am, you are, it is" show forms of the verb "to be" matched correctly with their respective subjects ("I," "you," "it"). Incorrect would be "I are, you is, it am."

Now, that may seem obvious. Yet subject-verb disagreement is actually a very common error (everyone does it!) where singulars (one) and plurals (more than one) are concerned. When a lot of other words separate subject from verb, be careful that your verb doesn't forget who or what its subject is, and whether that subject is singular (just one) or plural (more than one):

Noun-pronoun agreement. Another aspect of agreement is noun-pronoun agreement. Usually, singular nouns are matched with singular pronouns, plural with plural:


Anachronistic argument, anachronism. By "anachronistic argument" I mean argument that inappropriately projects modern realities or concepts onto the past or vice versa. "Ancient Greek law forbade metics from speaking in the Areaopagus court" is anachronistic. Ancient Greece, a collection of city states (poleis) and ethnic entities, each (mostly) indepedent from the other, each with its own laws and/or customs, didn't constitute a single political unit. (Greece wouldn't be constitited as an independent state until 1832 CE.) Ancient Greece therefore had no shared body of statutary law. The Areopagus was uniquely Athenian.

Awkward wording or phrasing (awk). By awkward wording, I mean usage or phrasing that, while technically correct, is non-standard or off-kilter in ways unfavorable to ease of comprehension.

Note also awkward repetition of a word or phrase: "Alcibiades was not good at keeping his affairs in order. His affairs were quite complicated." Try to mix the vocabulary up if you find that happening.


Case (UC = upper case, LC = lower case), Capitalization (case, caps). As a term of typography, "case" refers to letter-styling categorized as either capitals, also known as "upper-case" (UC = big letters), or as lower-case (LC = small letters).



When hooking a quotation into the syntax of your sentence, please begin the quotation with lower case, even if what you're quoting was originally a capitalized sentence-beginning:

Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, said that "four score and. . . ."


Case of pronouns. Hypercorrection (hyp). It's becoming an increasingly common error to match subject-case pronouns ("I," "she," "he," "who," "they") with prepositions ("to," "from," "for," etc.), which properly take pronouns in the object case: "me," "her," whom," "them," and so on.

The error is called hypercorrection, i.e., trying to be too correct. It's very common in the speaking and writing of professors (yes, professors!), executives, generals, leaders, and other official personages. Consequently, everyone else thinks it's OK. But it's not OK!


Citation, punctuating (citing). Use author-page-style parenthetic citation, as per MLA. That usually involves parentheses bracketing the author's name followed by page number (no "p.," no comma). For plays/poems/ancient works generally, really try to cite by your edition's page numbers if possible, versus line numbers, section-subsection, etc.

PUNCTUATING AND RELATED. For parenthetical references, the parentheses should come before articulating or terminal punctuation; a space intervenes between close-quote and citation.
citation, punctuation

Additional examples of how to punctuate citations, both with and without quoting:

The author argues that Athens, because it prized both consensus and free speech, by and large escaped stasis (Ober 299). [Same as preceding, except paraphrase instead of quotation.]

Ober argues that Athens, because it prized both consensus and free speech, by and large escaped stasis (299). [With Ober's name explicitly cited in text, no need to repeat in parentheses.]

Ober argues that "the Athenians' willingness to maintain both principles . . . allowed them to avoid . . . conflict" (299). [Ditto on Ober's name. The word "that" hooks quotation syntax into the framing syntax, so no comma after "that."]

Asks Ober, "How did rich men in Athens make their money?" (26). [When you quote a question or exclamation, keep the question/exclamation mark.]


Commas. Also, "oxford" commas (see below). Use them — students under-use commas far more than they over-use them. Commas indicate a pause in the thought; they ordinarily should not be used to break up a coherent phrase ("the, big car"), but to separate phrases, clauses, or other elements where a pause is felt ("the big car, the small bus, the immense truck"), also, to set a sentence modifier ("Indeed,. . ."; ". . ., however, . . .") off from the rest of a sentence. Ordinarily, commas do not articulate the end of a complete thought, though see further under comma splice, quoting, and this entry, below, for relative clauses.


Now, don't overuse commas. You can tell if you're overusing commas if you're breaking up the thought (segmenting clauses: "Euripides was not, a misogynist.") Commas plus conjunctions should, for instance, separate elements when there is a change of subject and verb: "Ben drove the car, and Bill slept like a log."

Certain kinds of formulations (for instance, non-defining relative clauses) need to be set off with commas, others don't:

Commas are often used to separate other sorts of clauses, too. Thus if two clauses connected by "and" share a subject, DON'T include a comma before and:

"Ober writes books and teaches courses."

If the subject changes, or if the subject is repeated, a comma goes before the "and":

"Ober writes books, and Unter teaches the courses."

Please use the oxford comma.


Comma splice (CS). Unless you're dealing with very short clauses ("Went home, had lunch"), never end a complete thought JUST WITH A COMMA. Example of comma splice: "I went home to see my family and friends, she stayed at the office to finish the project." Replace the comma with full-stop punctuation (period or semicolon) or else follow the comma with a conjunction:


Contractions (contr) and abbreviations (abbr). Avoid them: "do not" rather than "don't"; "it is" rather than "it's"; "and so on" rather than "etc."

Abbreviations are permitted inside parentheses (etc., etc., etc.) or in footnotes.¹

¹ Etc., etc., etc.


Dangling or misplaced modifiers (DM, MM). The English language relies on word-order to be comprehensible. Modifiers (adjectives, adverbs, participles, prepositional phrases) need to be positioned right so we know what they go with: "The dog bit the man barking" — the man was barking?! Better: "The barking dog bit the man."


Dashes (dash) and related: M-dashes (—) versus hyphens (-). Make sure I can tell when you're using dashes, aka m-dashes ("The snow — wondrous white — fell all day"), and hyphens ("water-cooler"). Code in the actual m-dash character (ASCII 0151 in Windows). Or else use a hyphen surrounded by spaces in its place ("The snow - wondrous white - fell all day.")

See also entry for hyphen.


Demonstratives, use of (dem). Demonstrative pronouns, adverbs, and phrases point or draw attention to something or someone: "this car," "that child," "do it like so," etc.

These are obviously very useful words and expressions, but can be overused. Thus we're often told not to over-use "this": "There was this guy, see, and he had this funny way of talking."

No one in my classes writes quite like that, but we still have to watch out not to overuse the demonstrative, as in, "Socrates has this way of arguing; Callicles finds it annoying." Which way of arguing? The writer doesn't say. Better: "Socrates has a certain way of arguing that Callicles finds annoying."


Dropped quotations (dropped). A direct quotation almost always has to be set off with a cue-in or similar phrase, else it's a "dropped quote," as in the following:

Foucault argues for social-sexual isomorphism in relations between husband and wife, master and slave, john and prostitute. "What this means is that sexual relations . . . were seen as being of the same type as the relationship between a superior and a subordinate. . ." (214).

That quotation ("What this means is that" etc.) lacks a cue-in phrase; it just "drops in" unannounced.

One of the main problems with dropped quotations is that the failure to introduce the quotation often also represents a failure to account for the quotation, to think through why it's there in the first place, what it's supposed to support. Thus dropped quotations are often superfluous or less than ideally chosen, and the lack of framing language, a lack of clear signposting.

For how to insert quotations into your work, see below under "Quotation marks."


Ellipsis marks, aka "dot dot dot. . . ." Ellipsis marks show where text has been left out of a quotation to shorten it. Within a sentence, ellipses should be surrounded by spaces ( . . . ); at the end, not. A sentence-ending ellipsis consists of four dots (. . . .).


"What this means is that sexual relations . . . were seen as being of the same type as the relationship between a superior and a subordinate. . . . Pleasure practices were conceptualized using the same categories as those in the field of social rivalries and hierarchies . . ." (Foucault 214).


Fix sentence (fix). Wherever you see "fix sentence" ("fix"), it means that there are issues of grammar, usage, or similar requiring your attention, but too complicated to be described with some other label. If you see that notation in your paper, but are having trouble figuring out how to address it, you may E-mail me or perhaps may want to take the paper to the Writing Center.

False dichotomy (FD). A false dichotomy contrasts two things as if each of those things had only the other thing as its opposite, when in fact that's not the case. ("This is apples versus oranges." But there are bananas on the table, too. What about those?) Sometimes, false dichotomies set up an opposition of things that really aren't opposites, that can sometimes go together: "Bullies terrorize the weak; they don't befriend them." Actually, bullying can be a weird combination of terrorizing and befriending.

Florid. I.e., overly florid use of modifiers (adjectives, adverbs) or of other language. Avoid the use of gratuitously florid modifiers simply to give your nouns, verbs, or other words more panache or vividness. Sometimes in k-12, teachers encourage that sort of thing to liven up writing. But it detracts from precision and can introduce an unwelcome element of tendentiousness, i.e., it can betray a lack of objectivity or editorial distance.

When using modifiers (adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, etc.), ask yourself: Do they convey information or are they there for show?

Also avoid over-fancy or archaic vocabulary, e.g., Grecian (better Greek).


Hanging indents or lack thereof in "Works Cited" (hang). Each entry on your "Works Cited" page should have a hanging indent, just like this paragraph, i.e., with the first line flush and the following lines indented. In Microsoft Word, that's done by hitting control-T (or the equivalent on Mac) — simple!

In general, do not use your word processor as if a type writer — do not use the space bar, hard returns (the "Enter" key), or tabs to mimic indented paragraphs, etc., as it often results in unintended formatting problems. Learn to use your word processor correctly!

Hyphens (hyph). Many verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and some nouns, are formed by joining together two or more words (especially when it's a non-standard or newly coined word) with a hyphen (-) or hyphens (Greek for "weaving"):

See also entry for dash.


Inconcinnity (incon). Inconcinnity refers to, among other things, problems in the logical flow of a sentence, as when a sentence starts out describing a state, and then unexpectedly transitions into actions, just as if it's been describing actions all along:

"Agamemnon is an arrogant, disagreeable man, and then rides in on a chariot."

That needs to be rewritten: "Agamemnon is an arrogant, disagreeable man. To return to our story, after some fanfare, he rides in on a chariot."

But there is also grammatical or syntactical inconncinity, where one grammatical construction is followed by another that doesn't quite fit, as in:

"Cleon, as a leader, sought to flatter the demos rather he didn't speak frankly to them." That breaks syntactical parallelism; better is, "Cleon, as a leader, sought to flatter the demos rather than speak frankly to them."

One common form of inconcinnity is to begin a clause with a gerundive (an "-ing" adjective, e.g., "swimming") that doesn't properly modify the subject of the sentence: "Swimming really fast and beating all the other times, it showed how the use of high-tech fabrics changed the sport." That sentence is ungrammatical, or, if grammatical, nonsense. Change to: "Swimming really fast and beating all the other times, the winner of the 100-meter free-style showed. . ."


"I," use of (first person). I, unlike many professors, like the word "I." Go ahead and use it, as I really care that these will be your ideas.


Invalid source (IS). By invalid source I mean a book, article, book chapter, but most probably, a web site that is being cited as a source but does not pass the validity test:

Virtually any scholarly book or journal article you get from our library will pass the test. But web sites can be a problem. My Bingweb "resources" pages will lead you to approved sites; for more on valid sites see Web Page Evaluation at the Binghamton University Libraries site.

It's versus "its." "It's is a contraction for "it is." "Its" is the possessive form of "it." See also Possessives.

Jargon. For our purposes, "jargon" will refer to unnecessarily technical vocabulary or terminology: big, fancy words words meant more to impress than to clarify meaning.

Now, technical vocabulary is unavoidable in this course; that includes a lot of words drawn directly from the Greek (demos, logos, etc.). But the rule of thumb is to use technical vocabulary because one has to, not because one wants to — see more at "wordiness."

Level of discourse, tone (level, tone). The level of discourse is essentially formal. The personal perspective is, on the one hand, okay, even desirable ("I think that . . ."). But try to maintain a dignified tone as to word choice and overall expression. Slang, profanity, etc. ARE TO BE AVOIDED, unless they actually help make your point, which they sometimes do. There are other formulations that aren't really standard for formal writing, e.g., "being that" to introduce an explanation (better, "given the fact that").


"Like," misuse of (like). "Like" is a preposition, "as" an adverb. Not "Winston tastes good, LIKE a cigarette should," but "Winston tastes good, AS a cigarette should."

Also a problem can be the use of "like" in place of "as if": "It is like a great storm fell upon Athens." That should be, "It is as if a great storm fell upon Athens."


Malapropism (mal). Malapropism (from French mal à-propos, "inept" or "incorrect") is the substitution of the wrong word for another that sounds like it; it is, alas, an error all too common in student writing. It usually stems from a desire to show off one's vocabulary without quite having that vocabulary under control. As such, it is akin to jargon and wordiness.

Number (num), plurals. By "number" I mean the use of singular (meaning one) and plural (meaning more than one) nouns and the proper forms for same. Since we'll be working with a lot of words adapted from Greek into English, this can become tricky. So, some pointers:

See further terms page for the proper singular and plural forms of a lot of these Greek-derived words.

Obscure. By "obscure," I mean language whose meaning is difficult to determine. Where a passage is marked obscure, ask how the meaning can be clarified, perhaps by providing explanations where needed, or with clearer language.

Out of context, quotations/paraphrases taken (OOC). Quoting/paraphrasing out of context (QOC). Taking a quotation out of context, or paraphrasing out of context, is when one writer quotes or paraphrases the words of another, but ignores the ideas or intention of the person being quoted/paraphrased. It's a form of misreading.

Example: Writer A writes:

" 'Two plus two equals five' is false. It equals four."

Writer B then quotes A out of context as follows:

"Writer A wrote, 'Two plus two equals five.' Writer A is stupid."

Well, yes, Writer A wrote, "Two plus two equals five," but in a context seeking to illustrate bad arithmetic. By ignoring the larger intent of what's being quoted, Writer B perverts Writer A's meaning — Writer A is far from stupid.

Quoting or paraphrasing out of context often happens when one does internet searches to hunt for quotables in place of doing real research. The paper writer seems to have found some golden nugget to quote, but neglects to read the whole article/chapter/book, and so distorts the meaning of the author she or he cites; maybe the original author of the piece that one is quoting/paraphrasing actually aims to criticize the statement being quoted/paraphrased.

Over-reading, fallacy of (OR). The fallacy of over-reading occurs when one reads more into an image, simile, metaphor, or allegory than the text will bear. That can sometimes come from assuming that the message conveyed by an image extends to all its elements, and that all elements imply meanings conforming to the world the image is drawn from. Take Pericles' citizen-soldier-as-lover metaphor in the Periclean Funeral Oration (Thucydides 2.43.1 = p. 149 in the Hacker Thucydides we're using). It treats the citizen-solider as a lover, the city (or its power) as his beloved, the act of dying as some sort of courtship gift, and so on. Scholars have interpreted the image in pederastic terms (in terms of an older male lover courting a younger male beloved), and that works up to a point. That does NOT, however, mean that the city (the love object in the metaphor) is to be understood as an adolescent youth who works out in a gym and will, when he grows up, court other younger males, too. Yes, that's in keeping with pederasty, but it reads way too much into the image.

Page numbering (pages). Every page needs to be numbered. Do not add numbers individually to the top of each page! Have the word-processed document indicate pages automatically in the header area of the document. In Microsoft Word, that's typically done by clicking the following sequence: "Insert" menu > "Header & Footer" > "Header" > "Blank." Type 2 tabs (to right-align page number), your last name, space, "Page Number" > "Current Position" > "Plain Number." More info here.

Paragraphing (¶, graf). Paragraphs, or "grafs," help guide readers through the structure of your thought. Begin most paragraphs with a 1/2-inch indent of the first line. DO NOT add space between paragraphs. Paragraphs should normally be at least three sentences in length and should ordinarily start with a topic sentence to SIGNPOST the paragraph's role in the argument. Paragraphs should develop, or at least stick to, the topics or ideas they announce in their opening sentences; they are like mini-essays within your essay. Paragraphs approaching a full page in length or longer should probably be broken up. More at Owl.


Parallelism (par). As a stylistic rule of thumb, phrases or clauses that relate to each other in a sentence should try to balance each other with similar grammatical constructions, phrasing, etc.

NOT PARALLEL. "Aristophanes presents women in the Lysistrata and Assemblywomen differently: in Lysistrata they are like saviors of Greece; in the latter, as though they were the most qualified to rule."

PARALLEL. "Aristophanes presents women in the Lysistrata and Assemblywomen differently: in the former, as saviors of Greece, in the latter, as most qualified to rule."


Passive voice. Try to avoid passive voice, but don't try too hard.

Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence (the noun or pronoun that "does" or "is" something in the sentence) has an action done to it / her / him.

ACTIVE VOICE: "The dog chases the cat."

: "The cat is chased by the dog." Too much passive voice leads to impersonal tone. But don't overdo avoidance. Passive voice can be a good way to focus attention on the recipient of an action. ("Roman women, though clearly subordinate to men, were allowed [passive voice] more freedoms than classical Athenian women.")


Possessives (poss). A possessive is a word denoting who or what owns, possesses, controls, or otherwise stands in a crucial relationship to something else.

RULES. Make a noun possessive by adding apostrophe-s: "The girl's hat." If the word already ends in an "s" (as in the case of plural nouns), normally just add an apostrophe: "The (plural) girls' hats." "Pericles' eloquence." If a plural noun doesn't end in an "s," then again, add apostrophe "s": "The women's hats."

Some nouns ending in "s" still take apostrophe-s: "The demos's hopes." "The goddess's beauty."

Pronouns have special forms of the possessive:


Precision (prec), clarify (clar), vague. When you see "prec," "clar," or "vague," that means you have to do more to get your meaning across, whether by reformulating in more precise or clearer terms, or by supplying further explanation, documentation, or the like.

Pronouns, ambiguous use of (pron); ambiguous use of relatives (ambig rel). Pronouns ("he," "she," "it," etc.) are words that replace nouns. For it would be tiresome to hear or read a noun over and over again, as in: "Socrates looked at Socrates in the mirror. Then Socrates's friend greeted Socrates and said to Socrates that Socrates was looking well."

Obviously, a few well placed "he"s or "him"s would help immensely there.

But over-use of pronouns creates ambiguity, i.e., we don't know who or what is being talked about: "Socrates looked at his friend and said to him that he (?) would do well to repair his (?) house and buy him (?) a gift."

In the writing of students, that often happens when a speaker or writer's name is used in the possessive case, as if that clarified whose quotation is being referred to: "In Plato's Gorgias, in Gorgias' speech, he says that leaders do not need to understand issues but how to persuade." But that's still quite unclear. Better: "In Plato's Gorgias, in Gorgias' speech, the speaker says that. . . ."


Punctuation, issues in (punct). See this page, entries concerning:

See also Owl on punctuation.

Quotation — excessive (EQ). Students tend to document either not nearly enough, or they (sometimes) document too much in the form of excessive quotation. That can lead to padding of your essay, and that can have serious consequences for your grade.

In supporting your arguments, do quote, but when you do, explain the quotation; paraphrase or interpret it so your reader knows what the point is. Often, though, you're better off not quoting but cutting straight to the paraphrase / interpretive stage. Remember: MOST READERS SKIP QUOTATIONS ANYWAY. I mean it, and that includes me.

Quotation, various issues in (quotes). Use American style, to wit:

If you need to edit the quotation to clarify its meaning or to make it fit into your context, you can and should. That can be done by adding or replacing words in square brackets ([]), or by deleting language and showing where with an ellipsis mark (. . .):

In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln famously declares, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers [i.e., the founding fathers] brought forth on this continent a new nation. . . ."


Ober offers the following, rather fascinating thoughts on method:

My other primary goals in writing the book may be less self-evident. Some historians of Greco-Roman antiquity, including myself, have embraced the technique of employing models devised by modern social scientists to help explain ancient society. When models are used crudely or mechanically, however, the results are unlikely to be persuasive. (xiii)


Redundancy (red), repetitiveness (rep). That is when one unnecessarily says something more than once, or says explicitly what is already obvious. As such, it can be regarded as related to wordiness:

Note, however, that there exists a perfectly valid rhetorical figure known as pleonasm, intentional redundancy to lend weight to one's language. "Last will and testament" is an example.

Repetitiveness is needless repetition of a point, argument, or idea: "Pericles as orator proved very persuasive. He was eloquent" (that second sentence only restates the idea of the first). Ask if your possible repitition has a further point to make beyond any that's been made so far.


Relative clauses ("who / that / which" and similar clauses) (REL). There are two main types of relative clauses: (1) defining relative clauses, which specify, narrow down, or otherwise define what or whom a noun or pronoun refers to ("The apple that you ate was a Macintosh" — which apple? the one you ate and no other!); and (2) non-defining clauses, which enlarge upon or comment upon what they refer to, sort of like footnotes ("Greece, which is a land parched and thirsty for much of the year, offers little in the way of white-water rafting" — the relative clause comments, it does not specify).

RULE: Non-defining relative clauses need to be set off by commas; defining relative clauses are not to be set off.

PERSON VERSUS THING RELATIVE CLAUSES: Always use "who" ("whom, whose") for the relative pronoun if it refers to a person / persons. THINGS: Defining clauses use "that," non-defining, "which."


WHAT clauses. For things, "what" can be used as relative pronoun when it refers to no explicitly stated noun or pronoun ("What you see is what you get" — in either case, "what" refers to a thing or concept conveyed simply by the clause itself)

See further "commas." See also ambiguous use of relatives under Pronouns, ambiguous use of.


Research. If you see the notation "research" in your papers, that means that you need to do additional research in primary (ancient) and/or secondary (modern scholarly) sources to correct facts, supply added documentation, and so on. That research needs to be in approved sources: books in our library, peer-reviewed journal articles such as are made available by JStor and the like, vetted web sites like those supplied on the Resources page. See more on the Guide to Academic Honesty, Research, MLA etc. page.

Run-on sentences. These are sentences that go on for too long, such that the reader will lose track of the syntax, thought, or both.


"Foucault, to explain the singularity and specificity of modern sexual typologies, lays out a broad-based groundwork by investigating forms of sexual knowledge in classical Greece and he also continues that focus into the Roman and late-antique periods and he intended to follow that up with a study of Christianity's impact on sexual truth-regimes in the medieval West and had he lived he doubtless would have carried his history right up to his own time and place which was twentieth-century France."


Semicolons versus colons (semi). Colons are two dots, one on top of the other (:). Semicolons are a dot on top of a comma (;).

Semicolons (;) can be useful, but be careful not to use them where periods, commas, or colons are called for. Use semicolons:

Otherwise, be careful to use periods or commas.

Use a colon (:) when you want to emphasize what follows ("This is what I think of it: brilliant!"), or want to show that some sort of list follows ("Please purchase the following: milk, coffee, bread"). Language introducing a quotation, when that intro language forms a complete thought by itself, often ends in a colon (Shakespeare wrote the following: "To be or not to be, that is the question"). See more at Owl.

Sentence fragments (frag). USE COMPLETE SENTENCES, i.e., ones with a subject and a finite verb, and that can stand by themselves. E.g., "Because he hated women" is not a sentence: it has a subject and a verb but can't stand by itself, because it's a dependent clause. Be especially careful when using "because." Note that semi-colons (;) and sometimes also colons (:) can also articulate complete thoughts. Watch out for fragments there, too.

One type of frequently encountered sentence fragment starts with a participial construction (aka gerund) to explain something:


Sexist language (sl). By "sexist language" I mean when a phrase or expression meant to refer to either or both genders (masculine or feminine) uses language specific to only one, usually the masculine, gender. It is, in other words, no longer acceptable to say:

See also they.


Spelling (SP), proofreading (proof). For PowerPoints used in group oral reports, the diagnostic essay-PowerPoint, and the two major papers, though NOT for journal entries or similar, SPELLING COUNTS. No one's perfect, of course, but allowing (too many) misspellings into your work says a lot about your regard for your reader, and not good things. Please get used to using spell-check, but use it intelligently. Don't globally fix a supposed misspelling unless you're absolutely sure. Sometimes "Grey" really is spelled "Grey," as in proper names.

Spell-check is not, however, any substitute for good old fashioned PROOFREADING. Proofread your papers for errors of all sorts, also for style and flow. Failure to proofread REALLY says bad things about your consideration for your reader!

You can use this page as guide to a lot of the proofreading marks I'll be using. So, for instance, if you see "proof" written on your paper, that means I detect a lack of, or problems in, proofreading.

Syntax (syn). Syntax means how words words go together to form clauses and sentences; it's what people commonly mean by "grammar." So the comment "syntax" ("syn") means go back and check the grammar of the sentence, whether the words have been put together the right way, or the right forms of words used, or unneeded words have been put in, or needed words left out.


Tense. Tense means the time-frame a verb (an action word) refers to. Now, there are at least two issues to be dealt with here: tense inconcinnity and issues in choice of correct past tenses.


This is a mistake everyone makes in writing, and a great deal of the time. Think about when it's better to say "is," and when it's better to say "was" — that sort of thing. Try not to jump back and forth too much between tenses. Thus when you summarize exposition, narrative, basically, what an author "is doing" in a work (even if she / he is dead), prefer the PRESENT tense: "Aristophanes describes Lysistrata as intelligent"; "Then the women of Athens blockade the Acropolis." (I call that the "expository present tense.") When describing HISTORICAL conditions or events, prefer the past: "Women in fifth-century BCE Athens were not permitted to take part in politics." ("Historical past.")



"Than" versus "then" (than) "from."


"They/them" etc. for "he," "she," etc. (they). I don't accept "they" or its variants as non-sexist substitutes for singular personal pronouns. ("The voter must place their ballot in the ballot box.") Use instead:

See also sexist language, agreement.

Titles. As per MLA, titles of books, journals, articles, plays, poems, artworks, web sites, web pages, etc., are to be. . .

Ancient works bearing a title, even shorter works and even works with generic titles, are always italicized, whatever the length (e.g., Lysias' Against Simon, not a long speech; Pindar's First Olympian Ode, a poem of less than epic dimensions). The abbreviation "fr." (for "fragment") is never italicized. Don't capitalize or italicize the word "the" at the beginning of an ancient title: not The Iliad, The Oresteia, but the Iliad, the Oresteia.

Use of "the." In the case of ancient works, apart from certain exceptions (e.g., The Golden Ass), one does not ordinarily format or capitalize the word "the" as if it were an integral part of a title with which it is used. Thus:

Try also to avoid wordy titles in the body of your essay, i.e., listing complete, or nearly complete, titles or bibliographical information before you've even got to the "Works Cited" section, which is the proper place for it to appear. See further under Wordiness (wordy titles).

See more on the Documentation page; also Owl.


Usage, word choice (WC). When you see notations like "usage" or "word choice" (abbreviated "WC"), that means that you need to do the following things:

Usage/word-choice issues come up when the word you're using doesn't quite fit the context or otherwise work, whether in terms of grammar, meaning, idiom, style, etc. Examples:

See also jargon, wordiness, malapropism.


Wordiness (wordy). Wordiness can take a variety of forms in papers, but always refers to unnecessary verbiage. To quote Ronald Wallace's poem,

The adjectives all ganged up on the nouns,
insistent, loud, demanding, inexact,
their Latinate constructions flashing.

("The Student Theme," from The Uses of Adversity, Pittsburgh 1998. Link)

Freshmen can perhaps be forgiven for this particular sin, as their teachers have, since the first grade, been encouraging them to write with feeling and expression, the result all too often coming out wordy. And wordiness itself all too often results in inexact or incorrect, awkward, or ungrammatical usage, further complicating matters.

But wordiness does not always reflect an effort to jazz-up the style or pad the prose; sometimes it's simply a matter of a writer's wanting to make over-sure she or he is being clear: "Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, published by Penguin," rather than just "Thucydides." (Try to avoid writing out entire titles, if possible.)

IN OTHER WORDS, for expository essays, often the simplest way of saying it is best. Examples:

Wordiness can often create problems in grammar, word usage, usage, or clarity. (That's actually a form of wordiness to which academics are prone.) Example: "The idea of the dog barking is the crux of the moment." Better: "The dog is barking now."

Word processor, issues related to (WP). A requirement of this paper is that it be word-processed appropriately. That means, among other things, not using your word processor as if it were a type writer. To use the space bar, hard returns, or tabs in place of simple, up-to-date word-processor formatting is simply lazy.

Learn to use your word processor:

Sloppy use of the word processor will result in a lower grade.


"You," improper use of (you). In formal prose, "you" is not ordinarily used except to refer directly to the reader: "When you read this, you doubtless will be shocked." And that's fine, provided it's not overdone.

It is, however, incorrect to use "you" when referring to no one in particular; use instead "one," "a person," and so on.

Zeugma. Zeugma is when two words or phrases in parallel depend grammatically on the same governing word (usually a verb or preposition), but in meaning or range of reference don't go together. Examples:

Zeugma, while it can be a striking figure in poetry or high-style rhetoric, just doesn't fit the stylistic conventions of expository prose.


© Andrew Scholtz | Last modified 12 April, 2017