Wednesday, January 4, 2006

What a fuss about a syllabus

Hee. I'm a poet.

Seriously, since I've decided the raison d'etre of this blog is to describe what this particular professor does all day, here's a sketch of what I did yesterday:

  • Worked on the syllabus for my early English literature class
  • And also:
    • quickly mailed some overdue holiday presents
    • quickly deposited Christmas money
    • turned in two completed syllabuses* for photocopying
    • e-mailed the junior high teacher with whom I'm working on teaching The Hobbit
    • did a 45-minute run
  • But mostly: worked on the syllabus for my early English literature class
Ack! Why oh why does it take all day long to do one bleepin' syllabus?! Is it because the formatting is slow (I am anal about making sure there aren't page breaks in the midst of a day's list of assignments)? Is it because looking up page numbers in the editions and ISBN numbers and all that is tedious? Or is it that I'm like New Kid, hopefully tweaking the policies sections to cover every possible problem (late papers, plagiarism, cell phones in class, absenteeism, blah, blah, blah) in order to nip it in the bud before it blossoms? Or could it have something to do with the fact that I re-tool and overhaul my courses every time I teach them (except Chaucer -- I found a rhythm I like in that one)? Or all of the above?

And btw, is there a program or a plug-in for making syllabuses* that makes the dates automatic, a bit like using the "repeat" function on Palm software? Because I swear, typing in the dates takes up about half the work.

*From now on this blog will use "syllabuses" as the plural of "syllabus." I'm making a stand. The word is fully Anglicized and therefore open to forming its plural through analogy to the most common English morphology for plurals of words ending in -s. And anyway, my American Heritage Dictionary says I'm not the only one -- it lists "syllabuses" before "syllabi."

16 comments:

ezra said...

And btw, is there a program or a plug-in for making syllabuses* that makes the dates automatic, a bit like using the "repeat" function on Palm software? Because I swear, typing in the dates takes up about half the work.

The answer to that would be a big fat yes. I like using Excel for this kind of thing, though most normal people would advocate Microsoft Project, I spose. Happy New Year!

Dr. Virago said...

Exxxxxxcellent! I look forward to making my preciousssss syllabusesssss easier to do!

And thanks for de-lurking and commenting, Ez! Good to have you here!

Murky Thoughts said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Murky Thoughts said...

(pedantic posts call for proofreading, so I'm trying this again)

"Syllabuses," I'll stand beside you on that one. I too appeal to the AHD as my authority. I was just wrestling with and succumbed to "octopi" the other day, though.

Dr. Virago said...

Octopi? Really? Hmph. Well, at least there's a lot of Latin in biology to begin with, especially in the nomenclature, so I suppose it's consistent.

Bardiac said...

Ahh, I LOVE making up syllabuses (and I've been told, by someone who seems to think he knows, that that's actually the proper Greek plural). It's like professorial fantasy time! Yes, I can teach this weird play and they'll LOVE it! It's the actual teaching of it that gets hard...

And it's SO easy to plan assignments... and so danged hard to grade them when they're done!

Thanks for your suggestions on the Chaucer stuff. I'll get at them as soon as I get back home and have a chance.

Dr. Virago said...

You're very welcome, Bardiac. Glad I could be of some help.

And yes, so easy to plan...so hard to implement! :)

Btw, I was told by a budding Classicist that the Greek plural would be "syllaboi" (cf. hoi poloi) and I almost posted about that and how, though "correct," it sounds rather pretentious and silly and no one would know what one was talking about. But then, in looking up the etymology of syllabus, I found it went through a medieval Latin stage (having come from Greek) before getting to English. So it was Latinized before Anglicized -- hence "syllabi."

In short, we have, potentially, three choices: syllaboi, syllabi, and syllabuses. Not usually one to shy away from old and foreign words and forms, I nevertheless have decided to be thoroughly modern and English-centric. :)

Cats & Dogma said...

Not only do I overhaul pretty much every semester, I frequently do a midsemester tweaking after midterm evals come in. But yes, I easily spend a whole workday per syllabus, making my syllabi (sorry, taking a counter-stand) a major priority of my breaks.

Dr. Lisa said...

Yup, it usually takes me several days per silly-bus. For truly, mine are the silliest of them all. I have a whole bunch of cranky policies, too. My students generally try to be good about following the policies.

Dr. Virago said...

my syllabi (sorry, taking a counter-stand)

Those are fighting words! Just kidding. As for midsemester tweaking -- OK, you win the prize for syllabus tweaking! The only time I've done that is when I'd disastrously overestimated how much work the students could handle.

Lisa -- "silly-bus" made me smile.

Karl Steel said...

But then, in looking up the etymology of syllabus, I found it went through a medieval Latin stage (having come from Greek) before getting to English.

No kidding? Where were you looking?

I kinda want to take this up in Medtext, because I was having just this squabble with an early modernist a few weeks back. Here's what I've turned up in the few moments I've given it:

* Lewis and Short claim that Augustine uses the word syllabus in Confessions XII 15, 18.

* The OED says that's bunk and gives no earlier reference than 1656.

* Brepols online library of Latin texts doesn't have a single entry for Syllabus, although many entries for variants of Syllaba, syllable, as in Origin, "In litterario ludo, ubi prima pueri elementa suscipiunt, abecedarii dicuntur quidam, alii syllabarii..."

* In the PL, 'syllabus' is common, but only the post-medieval apparatus

* Middle English Dictionary? Nope.

* Haven't checked any French historical dictionaries but the TFL, which uses the OED for its citation of the word in English and repeats its debunking, through another source, of the supposed reference in Augustine.

The OED suggests a very wicked journey for that word to reach English. I think "syllabi" is giving the word more dignity that it deserves, given its origins. Syllabuses, unless whatever search committee I encounter in Philly next December beats me to the punch with Syllabi.

Karl Steel said...

TFL

Errr, TLF.

Dr. Virago said...

Whew, Karl! Impressive! OK, now I admit that I just did a quickie look-up in American Heritage to confirm that it was a Greek-ish word, and they said that it Greak via medieval Latin, but then I think they also used the word "possibly." I wanted the quick and dirty version (and the easiest to reach from my desk at that moment), which is what I got, and since it was the quick and dirty version and not very scholarly I decided not to mention it in my main post.

So I stand corrected on -- or at least very, very skeptical about -- syllabus having any medieval Latin phase.

While we're at it, here's what American Heritage did say:
Medieval Latin, probably alteration (influenced by Greek sullambanein, to put together) of Latin sillybus, parchment label, from Greek sillubos.

Hehe -- "sillybus."

Karl Steel said...

Harh! I'd like to know where the A. Heritage is getting their information. I would check, I dunno, one of the big-ass medieval Latin dictionaries, but at home all I have, for some silly reason is the M volume of the Dictinoary of Med Lat from Brit Sources.

You know there's a long note on this word somewhere.

But, well, as for "impressive": even having crossed over to the other side, you probably remember what it's like to procrastinate on a dissertation...

Dr. Virago said...

But, well, as for "impressive": even having crossed over to the other side, you probably remember what it's like to procrastinate on a dissertation...

Heh. Yes, I do. And I remember (vaguely and fondly) having the energy to procrastinate by doing something somewhat scholarly. Nowadays I procratinate from work (whether writing or preparing for class or grading or whatever) by watching TV or, erm, writing comments on blogs.

Right, then, back to work with me!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog thru a Google search of the string "syllabus proper plural". Another result I got from the same search let me to the "Online Etmymology Dictionary" at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=syllabus

It reads: 1656, "table of contents of a series of lectures, etc.," from L.L. syllabus "list," a misreading of Gk. sittybos (pl. of sittyba "parchment label, table of contents," of unknown origin) in a 1470s edition of Cicero's "Ad Atticum" iv.5 and 8. The proper plural would be syllabi"

I don't know whether or not the above entry is accurate, but if it is, it would seem that the mistake happened hundreds of years ago, and it is now too late to go back. I mean, we're not going to start saying "sittyba," are we? ;-) As far as I am concerned, either syllabi or syllabuses is correct, though syllabi rolls more "trippingly off the tongue" if you ask me.

I taught my first ever class last semester and it took me hours and hours to do that darned syllabus. Part of the problem was just trying to picture the whole timeline in my mind's eye. It was like trying to piece a puzzle together when you can't see the whole puzzle. I wished I had a huge LCD so I could see all four pages of the syllabus at once, but alas, I didn't!