Thursday, October 4, 2012

Alamak, English! week 2, quotes.

This is the second Thursday since I started my new studying timetable, so it's time to study English again with all my kind blog readers! Now, what to talk about today? I shouldn't over-think this kind of thing, because that would make it too tedious. Writing is supposed to be fun, as the author Terry Pratchett once said, "Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself." Hey, that's a great subject to talk about! Not about fun writing, but about quotes.

In Bahasa Melayu and English essays alike, we are often advised to include idioms, proverbs, and figures of speech in our writing. The main reason why we need these things in our essay, is because of the "impressive" factor. We need to leave a good impression on the examiner, so that he will decide to give us good marks when he finishes reading the essay.

Idioms and proverbs have a high "impressive" factor, and when an examiner seems them in an essay, he thinks "This student is a very mature writer and is able to link idioms to relevant situations." Thus, the marks increase. However, the art of integrating proverbs into an essay is one that does not come naturally to me. That is why I tend to use quotes instead. In theory, quotes should also impress the examiner, as they show that the student is able to make sense of a quote and apply it in a way that is relevant to the essay. Of course, idioms and proverbs should not be left out, because they are one of the requirements in the marking scheme for an 'A' rank essay. But quotes still make an essay more interesting.

One of my favourite quotes is a famous line from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name, would smell as sweet." This quote, while universally recognised, is not very easy to use in an essay. The quote generally means that the reputation of a name is not as important as the virtues possessed by a person; hence, even if we were to call a rose by another name, it would still smell as sweet as it always did. Basically, it's a souped-up version of "Don't judge a book by it's cover," but can only be applied to names. It can be used to say that we should not judge people by status and namesake, but by their virtues; although it might find more practical use in a narrative composition.

One quote that is both well-known and flexible in usage is "The only thing stopping you is you." This quote has many variations, such as "The only thing stopping you is yourself," and "The only thing stopping your from fulfilling your dreams is you." All variations of the quote carry the same meaning, namely, that hard work will help you achieve anything. However, the quote does not really have a real source, as so many people have said it. No Winston Churchill or Mark Twain here, just the general hope of humankind. When you use it in an essay, you could just say something like "Many knowledgeable and wise people have said that 'The only thing stopping you is you.' " This quote has many applications as it touches a common topic.

Because of my work on the school magazine last year, I had done some searching for miscellaneous motivational quotes to put on the section pages. Here are a few that can come in handy. "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm," by Winston Churchill. This quote tells us not to give up when we are trying to reach a goal, and can be used together with the previous quote about working hard. "Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders," by Tom Peters. This quote can be used as an introduction in an essay about leadership. A few others that are not in the school magazine are "A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be," by Douglas Pagels,

If you are able, you can choose to memorise a few lines of some of the poems in your text book. In our Form 4 & Form Five Poems and Short Stories text book, a few lines from some of the poems can come in handy when writing your essays. "They were born amidst hardship, and grew up without a sigh or a complaint," by Latiff Mohidin. These lines can be linked to the lesson that we should be grateful for what we have, a useful quote in narrative and other kinds of essays. As for He Had Such Quiet Eyes, by Bibsy Soenharjo, memorising the whole thing is not a difficult task, and many different parts of the poem can be put to good use.

William Shakespeare's Brief Candle can be used too, by some feat of imagination. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.". This quote reminds us that life is temporary. Therefore...? We shouldn't be caught up piling riches for ourselves on earth. Or something. Like I said, this quote may require some imagination to use.

There are many ways to squeeze a quote into an essay. Some quotes can be used in the introduction for the essay. For example, you could write like this:

"Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders." The famous writer Tom Peters spoke these words on leadership, and he tells us a lot about what it means to be a reader.
And so on...

You could also use quotes to reinforce a point:

We must not let failure deter us from success. As the famous politician Winston Churchill once said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Therefore, we must always try our best to succeed, no matter how many times we fail.

Note that in all cases, it is advisable to include the speaker's authority, such as "famous writer" and "famous politician". This makes the quote sound better, and that way we know that this person is actually an important guy, and not some old nobody.

And now for the dirty tricks: It probably does not matter if you do not get the spelling of the speaker's name right. The examiners, unlike me, do not have the time to look up quotes on Google, since they will be marking hundreds of students' essays. On top of that, they will probably be lenient on the matter. Just make sure to get the really famous people's names right, like Winston Churchill and William Shakespeare.

It can be a good idea to have a few quotes in your pocket at all times, ready to be pulled out and used in any essay, whether in homework or the actual examination. You do not need to force yourself to memorise a large number of quotes. Just find a few quotes that are meaningful and easy to remember, and keep those away in your mind for a rainy day. Target quotes which speak on general topics, such as hard work, family togetherness, and friendship, if you plan to write argumentative essays or factual essays. For narrative essays, you can have one of your characters quote to someone as advice, or you yourself as the narrator can write a quote, as if speaking to yourself, or to your readers, to drive home a lesson.

That's about all I have to say today. Quotes may not be for everyone, and some people may be better off sticking to idioms and proverbs. Many quotes can be found on any topic at

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