My high school English teacher had a nifty little shorthand she used when grading our essays, the only part of which I remember was “B.S.” *BE SPECIFIC*. If you received an infamous B.S. scrawled in one of the margins, follow the arrow and you would no doubt find a sentence, phrase, or word that lacked specificity. If there was more than a sentence, she might frame entire passages with nifty little red-ink borders, doodling notes like clip-art. And somewhere, deep down inside the dark recesses of her mind, there was a specificity threshold that, once crossed, would send her over the edge. I learned fairly quickly that “things” and “stuff” were instant B.S. words. Push her hard enough, and she would explode–the result of which would be a huge “B.S.” scribbled across entire pages.
Today, those two letters came screaming back to me when I received the following quote in an email from a mailing list:
I’ll have you know that I my philosophic ideas don’t require “tricks” to “come,” and I resent the implication that they do. I may be forty-one years old, but I’m still healthy and intellectually virile as a horse.
I paused for a minute and re-read this line. Now, the more demented of you who read this will understand why. Others, it might take a minute. But immediately, I replied to the e-mail with something akin to the following: “Hey…don’t leave yourself open. You could be a mare or a gelding!”
It just goes to show that, be it in the heat of passion of an email or in an academic paper, or even in a Presidential state of the union address, specificity is completely void. I recall fondly the last paper I ever turned in for my aforementioned high school English teacher. Eight pages long, I was shocked to find not a single red mark on the first seven. Flipping to the last, where I knew I would find my grade, I saw why. In very ornate, articulate penmanship, she had written, “Mr. DeVault, this paper is a load of B.S., and I *don’t* mean Be Specific.”