That little voice in your head

We usually think of an earworm as one of those 1980s one-hit wonder songs or any-generation pop song that you can’t get out of your head. Let me pause for a minute here while you try to get something unstuck. Sorry.

But I’ve learned of a different kind of earworm: the academic/mentoring kind. That voice in your head that sounds like one of your professors — perhaps a mentor or a relative — that goes off when you are about to commit a grammatical sin. Or when you are about to tweet something that common sense would tell you is a bad idea.

Chuck Zuegner at work

Chuck Zuegner at work

My father, Chuck Zuegner or Mr. Z as he was known, also was a journalism professor. He taught hundreds of Creighton students and I always love when I run into someone who had him as a professor. One recent exchange with one of Mr. Z’s students — Glenn Reedus, a talented Chicago journalist  — made me think of the earworm. Glenn told me he was about to write “which” and a little voice that sounded a lot like Mr. Z made him stop, think and use “that” instead.  Mr. Z’s editing advice is one thing Glenn remembers, but he also remembers the encouragement and tough love when it was needed that Mr. Z doled out.

I am lucky enough to have Mr. Z’s voice in my head and my heart all the time, doling out encouragement and tough love in my teaching, my journalism and my life.

My own version of the earworm came when awesome Creighton senior Lauren Dries tweeted that she was going to use “comprised of”  but a little voice that sounded suspiciously like me warned her off that “of.” (Not needed with comprise.)

I want my students to remember grammar/punctuation and syntax rules. I want them to write cleanly and accurately and always keep the reader in mind. I want them to bear witness, to always think of the people they write about and film as people, not just sources. I can only hope to be that little earworm that offers encouragement and tough love. (And that says don’t use “of” with comprise.)



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