English Majors Do It—Period

by | Apr 8, 2006

Dan Neil writing for the LA Times:

Here are words that no parent wants to hear: I’ve decided to major in English.

The English major presents for his or her parents a lexical quandary: What to call the graduate? My son the geologist, my daughter the physicist”these ring familiarly. But there is, ironically enough, no word in English for the English major. Our son the . . . um . . . who speaks English.

The high-minded, lowly employed English major has become a stock comedic character. And so I was cheered (note the archaic usage, so typical of an English major) recently when I found Richard A. Lanham’s The Economics of Attention amid a forlorn pile of books (personification–again, so typical) rejected by the book review editor. “The central commodity in our new age of information is not stuff but style,” read the cover blurb. “In such a world, intellectual property will become more central to the economy than real property, while the arts and letters will grow to be more crucial than engineering, the physical sciences, and indeed economics as conventionally practiced.”

Really? No kidding? Sweet! I want to be director of well-turned phrases for the Federal Reserve.

An an English major, I used to endure the constant concern of relatives. “What are you going to do, teach?” All these years later, with no classroom experience to my credit, I have to say, why certainly, I’ll teach. I’ll teach that a man of letters is not by definition an effete, but rather a man like any other, ready to do the work of a laborer, pettifogger or Machiavellian executive.