When older generations complain about reading and writing skills among today’s youth, they point accusingly at technological advances, award-winning author and college teacher Daniel Wick said.
But older generations would do well to embrace the changing landscape of language, says Wick, whose newest book is “An Epidemic of Epigrams or an Avalanche of Aphorisms."
“Historically, the English language is probably the most open major language, a testament to the different cultures that have interacted with English speakers. Generational contributions to culture have been an important influence,” he says.
“We still use the colloquialism ‘cool’ from the jazz age and rock n’ roll and rap lyrics continue to add words and phrases to our vocabulary. Likewise, word-use limits such as those on Twitter have more of us thinking about economy of language, which can be a good thing.”
Rather than deny the power of culture and technology, Wick suggests to both educators and older folks that utilizing today’s trends is a great way to promote the joy and education of language.
“When you think about the engaging possibilities for wit, wonder and wordplay, language today has plenty of potential to educate expanding young minds and exercise aging brains,” he said.
He offers fun language exercises that can help both the young and elderly:
•Explore the wealth of possibilities with aphorisms/epigrams. What are they, and is there a difference? Not according to Wick. “Epigrams are aphorisms and vice versa: brief, usually witty, occasionally profound observations on life, love, death, philosophy, religion and virtually everything else,” he said. They tend to be thought-provoking, truthful and funny – or all three, including one from Wick: “We are as good as we are compelled to be and never as bad as we would like.” Or, put a new spin on an old cliché: “She was dressed to wound.”
•Assign lyric writing. Often, when asked about one’s favorite music, the real challenge is narrowing down the choices to those an individual doesn’t like – and even then there are exceptions. A student can share his or her favorite lyrics, and a second portion of the assignment would be to share his or her own lyrics, in the style of their favorite genre. There are many directions a teacher can take this, including applying a parts-of-speech tree to a student’s favorite lyrics. For older individuals, the creative component of the task can be stimulating – and they may even discover a previously hidden talent!
•Bringing the generations together: good old crossword puzzles. Challenging one’s mind is one of the most reliable ways to maintain our memory as we age. A challenge can include taking an alternate route home, reading material that we aren’t used to or that old-fashioned brainteaser, the crossword puzzle. It’s a great way for a grandparent to participate in a mentally stimulating activity with grandchildren, who may have never seen a crossword puzzle. These puzzles offer clues and answers that can be as clever as a well-written aphorism.
Daniel L. Wick is an international award-winning author of books, articles and plays. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of California and has taught at the college level for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in the San Francisco Bay Area.