Word of the Week! Session

Session at University of Limerick Scholars Club Pub

Beannachtaí ó Luimneach, or greetings from Limerick!

I alluded to one Irish entry while on holiday, so here it is.

I have been at the the EWCA Conference, my second visit to the University of Limerick on the banks of the River Shannon. While here, I presented data from my and research assistant Cady Cummins’ second year of surveying students about their use of generative AI for writing assignments.

The Irish have more than lived up to their reputation as welcoming folks, hosting us in comfort and catering to our needs while on the campus. We closed out our second day with a delightful “barbecue” at a campus pub, where over pints of Guinness and hard cider, local musicians and a step-dancer held a proper “session” for academics who arrived from as far as South Africa.

You see posters in every Irish city for traditional Irish music sessions, called seisiún in Irish, so I wondered about the origin of this common word. The Etymology Dictionary Online provides an interesting history, starting with sitting down, which is what the audience does during a seisiún, though an Irish colleague who dances did join in the fun for a while.

You may have heard of a Cèilidh, pronounced kay-lee, which I had understood to mean an informal and spontaneous jam-session in a pub. This word can also embrace other sorts of informal meetings for social visits, including in a home. Sessions, on the other hand, appear to be public events that are planned ahead.

The word “session” dates back to the 14th Century, “from Old French session ‘act or state of sitting; assembly,’ ” with far older roots, “from Latin sessionem (nominative sessio) ‘act of sitting; a seat; loitering; a session, ‘ ” which makes our Irish and English words both borrowings from the Romans.

Sessions happen concurrently at conferences, Congress and other legislators are “in session,” and you can probably add dozens of other contemporary uses of the word, including “bull session” and more. So put down your phones, have one of those bull sessions in person, and decide where to go to hear some live music this summer. It’s probably closer than Limerick, though perhaps not quite as fun.

This blog continues all summer after a hiatus (a 2022 WOTW) for the rest of June, while I finish holidays and plan the next long journey to Ireland; Donegal and the North next time, on a driving tour into the backcountry, like our first one in the Southwest back in 2011.

As you enjoy your holidays, send words and metaphors to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Consultant Makena Gitobu Wins Thomas West Gregory Award

Makena Gitobu receives Gregory Award I made these remarks last month during Commencement-weekend festivities on campus. I want to share them here so those who were not present, as well as Makena’s family, can read them. Thank you again, Makena, for your hard work for the Writing Center and your professors!

The Thomas West Gregory Award is named for a faculty member who, for many years, advised students seeking certification to teach English and is presented to the senior whom the English faculty judge to be the best English major preparing to teach.

This year’s winner of the Gregory Award is Makena Gitobu.

I met Makena when she was invited to join our Writing Consultant program in the fall of 2021. She trained with me the following semester then worked in our Center and with faculty directly, assigned to their courses. In that capacity, she did work we would normally associate with a graduate teaching assistant. For example, she wrote commentary on student drafts and held one-on-one writing conferences, a job that is both emotionally demanding and intellectually challenging.

During Makenna’s years at Richmond, she has demonstrated a consistent enthusiasm for this work. Makena wrote in a final project for me how she assisted a struggling peer named Jack. After asking Jack about his essay prompt, “I asked, in the simplest language possible, how he had planned to answer the question that the prompt was asking. This gave me a window into his thinking process, showing how he had decided to tackle the key elements of the prompt. Now that Jack had let me into his initial thinking process, I could address the paper’s macro-level issues with a strong idea of his desired direction.”

This approach embodies a semester of training in a single tutoring session.

Furthermore, I am not alone in recognizing Makena’s many talents. As my colleague Dr. Elizabeth Outka notes, “Makena radiates intelligence and POSE.  A dynamic thinker and writer, she has been an essential part of the English Department since she arrived on campus.”

Dr. Kevin Pelletier appreciates our award winner’s interpersonal skills, stating ” Makena is such a gem. Smart, a fabulous writer, so so funny, beloved by all her peers, and as charming as they come. I’m really going to miss her.”

I will too. Her intelligence, as well as empathy for others will shine in a classroom, when Makena stands on the instructor’s side of the desk.

So please join me in congratulating this year’s Gregory Award winner, Makena Gitobu.

Metaphor of the Month! Shrinking Violet

Violet plantBy Leo Barnes

A shrinking violet is an exaggeratedly shy person. Since violets grow in the low herb layer of most forests, their rich purple petals are often veiled behind other vegetation. So the metaphor goes, getting a shy person out of their shell is as hard as spotting violets in a forest.

In pop culture, two figures – ironically highly visible superheroes – come to mind: Violet Parr and Salu Digby. Parr, the shy heroine from The Incredibles franchise, has the power of invisibility while Digby from DC comics is better known as her alter ego Shrinking Violet, and can shrink herself. How apropos!

Violet from The IncrediblesWhile we might often overlook shrinking violets, both popular media and real life remind us not to judge a book by its cover. Charismatic Atticus Finch may have endeared himself to readers in To Kill a Mockingbird but it was Boo Radley, the town recluse, who saved the day. In the Harry Potter novels, the unprepossessing Neville Longbottom was the one who ultimately killed Voldemort. In 2014, Ronald Read, a Vermont janitor and gas station clerk, donated six million dollars to his town library and hospital – money he had earned over a lifetime of frugality and investing. This from a man who barely graduated high school and was often mistaken for being broke.

While shrinking violets can be difficult to draw out, in my book a reserved nature is certainly better than an overbearing one. Sometimes shyness is endearing and, in the case of Read or Radley, even noble.

Editor’s Note: Thank you, Leo, for another excellent guest-post. I found a claim of first usage in 1820, followed by explosive growth on both sides of the Atlantic, here.

Leo’s in Indonesia for the summer, teaching English in Kediri in June as part of Dr. Leslie Bohon’s Global EFL program. I’m jealous!

The violets may have faded in my yard, but the blog continues all summer after a hiatus (a 2022 WOTW) for the rest of June. You might, however, see a loan-word from Irish here, mid-month.

As you enjoy your holidays, send words and metaphors to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.