The elements of style, part 2

I said I’d report back on the results of my experiment: how well did the students identify the style of Hyphenated American Author (HAA) in passages where the subject matter was quite different from that which they’ve come to associate with HAA?  Really surprisingly well.  While only one group correctly matched all of the passages with the three authors (HAA and two other contemporary writers on similar topics), all of the other groups did very well, with just one or two errors–except the “group” that was a pair instead of a three- or foursome.  (Does the wisdom of crowds apply in such small groups?) 

The one passage that all the groups except one got wrong was a passage that was mildly funny.  Almost all the students (except those in group that identified all the passages correctly) said that they believed this passage could not be HAA’s because it was funny.  Not even really laugh-out-loud funny, just rather ironic, which is a quality they haven’t heard in HAA’s work.  On the one hand, I could see what they meant: the work of HAA’s that we’ve read is certainly not funny.  On the other, the slightly discursive but smoothly controlled prose of this passage seemed to me to be obviously HAA.  But then, I’ve read more widely in HAA than the students have, and know that HAA can, in fact, be funny (HAA, ha ha).  Also, I am the teacher and presumably have a little more skill in this area (though I was fascinated by some of the stylistic features they identified).  Also, of course, I had chosen the passages…


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