The Yuk Word
The Law Teacher, Volume 3, number 1 (Fall 1995), p. 9.
About the Author
Brannon Heath is an assistant professor of legal methods at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, 300 Nassau Road, Huntington, NY 11743, (516) 421-2244 (ext. 451), FAX (516) 421-2675.
Breathless, late, the student bolted into my classroom. "Have I missed the YUK word?" I knew then that my experiment had worked for at least one student.
YUK, my abbreviation for "yucky," implies disgust or repugnance. I chose it to dramatize literate readers' reactions to common grammatical errors. At the beginning of my Legal Methods class each year, I explain that there are certain errors I find so jarring and disruptive that my mind stalls when I read them. I no longer can focus on what the writer is saying; all I see is the error. I tell my students that many others -- judges, attorneys, clients -- react the same way.
I tell students I will devote the first few minutes of each class to the YUK of the day. From then on, I explain, that error should not appear in their written work. If it does, I will write YUK in the margin. That mark will signal that I stalled, that I was annoyed, and that I focused on the error rather than the content of the work.
I begin with the YUK its-it's. I find the confusion between the possessive and the contraction the most common mistake in first-year students' papers. I have seen the error in printed publications, in memos from university offices, and in notices on bulletin boards. It is such a common error that I usually have to repeat it as a YUK 2, reinforcing my distress and disbelief at finding it in a set of papers.
My choice of the YUK depends on the class. In addition to commonly misused words, I intersperse punctuation rules on the use of the comma, rules on agreement and the use of apostrophes. Sometimes a YUK arises from a memo or brief problem. This past semester, we spent a few minutes on the difference between "affect" and "effect," both as nouns and verbs, because our moot court issue was whether a certain action effected an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment. Needless to say, a YUK that mistakes affect for effect presents a more subtle problem than some of the simpler, more glaring mistakes.
I wish I could report that my students never make a YUK mistake after I explain it. Alas, they do. But they do not make nearly as many mistakes as they did before I introduced the YUK of the day. They also become more conscious and critical of the grammar and usage of material they read. Equally important, the YUK of the day allows me to begin each class with something students know counts and helps them. Thankfully, there is less paper rattling, shuffling to seats, and settling in. I even find myself explaining what YUK means to other students who see the YUK of the day on the blackboard after class.