“Oh, you’re an English major,” they sneer, looking down their noses at those of us who have chosen to pursue studies of language and the traditional liberal arts instead of STEM, or business, or law.
“Yes, I’m an English major,” I assert, proudly. The language is the ninth most popular major in the United States, so clearly, I’m not alone. Those who have chosen to take this route along with me are adaptable, mastering the arts of thinking, speaking, and transcribing in ways that help others solve problems by refining the verbal and written means of interaction that might otherwise have been jumbled by those who are not experts in communicating.
To those of you who don’t understand the value of getting a degree in English, I ask: “What language are you speaking right now?” Here are 16 things all English majors have wanted to clarify to the general public at some point or another:
1. There isn’t enough time in the day to read everything we "should" read.
Not all of us have read "Moby Dick" and "War and Peace" and "My Antonia" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Oliver Twist." We don't want to. We don't have time to. We are in no way required to read every installment of the Western Canon, and that's fine. I'll gladly recommend a recently published book to you over Chaucer any day, and I'm sure we'll have more fun chatting together about new releases than criticizing Hemingway, anyway.
2. Yes, there are jobs for English majors.
In fact, we’ll probably be taking the jobs that you want but for which you are less qualified than we are. English majors are in demand, mostly because of our command of language and ability to connect the big businesses with the rest of the population. That elite 1 percent relies upon us to ground them, communicating with ease their intentions to augment their sales and supporters. We are the translators of jargon, simplifying the arcane aspects of the industries the everyman must interact with but hardly wants to, all while adding the appeal of beauty to the concepts most mundane.
3. If you’re nice to us, we’ll happily offer to edit your papers.
If you're annoying about it, we're probably "too busy."
4. Instagram captions and tweets with typos/ grammatical errors make us less likely to throw you a like.
5. Writing well will get you so, so far in life.
Sure, you might be able to fix a car, but we can share with others how they can do it themselves. Sharing knowledge, one word at a time. Being able to express yourself through language -- especially written language -- can only solidify the perception others have of your intelligence, and that intelligence might just be able to change the world.
6. English is not an “easy” major. No, we might not have hours-long exams like our pre-med friends, but we have twenty pages of original analytical content due at the end of the week -- for each class. We work hard to understand the writing of others so that we might hone our own communication skills, and there's never a "right" answer. While we try to smooth and synchronize our use of English, no writing will ever be consumed identically by two different people. English is endlessly applicable but will always be subjective.
7. Not all of us are interested in becoming the next J.K. Rowling.
Professional writing is a lot less creative and glamorous than you’d expect -- it simply means “writing for publication.” This includes technical writing, which many only reach an audience of ten engineers, but the communication is necessary for progress to be made. Creative writing might be fun, but not all of us are inclined!
8. Teaching isn’t our only option.
In fact, for some of us, it’s not an option at all! Why limit ourselves to one field when we fit into all of them? Law, medicine, journalism, biology -- the need for communication is everywhere. If we’re not teaching it, we might as well be applying it!
9. We do have some professors who wax poetic every chance they get.
OK, not all stereotypes are grossly exaggerated.
10. Listening to other people read their drafts is super awkward.
Listening to other people read their own writing (or doing it yourself) is super awkward. Especially if it's in a formal writer's house or sponsored by a literary magazine; everyone is always trying a little bit too hard to prove that their talent exceeds everyone else’s. It's respectable and the extra credit is usually worth it, but no matter how hard we try, we can't help but internally edit everything we hear or compare others' work to our own.
11. Carrying heavy books makes an awesome alternative to arm day when you can’t make it to the gym.
12. We do leave the library.
Mostly for food.
13. No, we don’t always use big words.
But what a convivial time we have enacting such befuddlement upon otherwise unvarnished circumstances!
15. Unpaid internships are a thing.
Hey, the publishing industry is hard to break into! And future teachers can’t exactly take on a traditional summer internship -- we might not have money now, but we’re setting ourselves up for an awesome selection of jobs by majoring in a language that is useful in literally every field. Generous paid options will come to us upon graduation.