# What is something that you learned/were taught wrong?

• What's something that you learned/were taught wrong?
• Was this a singular error specific to you or whoever taught it to you, or a widespread misconception held by many?
• When did you realize it was in error?
• What impact, if any, did it have on you?

1. [4]
kfwyre
In high school physics, I learned about the Bernoulli principle, and learned that it was what helped airplanes fly. As it was explained to me, planes are able to lift off the ground because of...

In high school physics, I learned about the Bernoulli principle, and learned that it was what helped airplanes fly. As it was explained to me, planes are able to lift off the ground because of their wing shape. The top of the wing was curved, and the bottom of the wing was flat, so when air hit the wing, the air on top of the wing had to travel a greater distance than the air on the bottom of the wing. This caused the air on top of the wing to move faster, which caused lower air pressure, which generated lift.

At the time, I remember being baffled, because I didn't understand why the air had to "meet up" at the back of the wing after separating at the front. Also, it seemed absurd that a simple curve could lift a heavy plane off the ground. That's all it took? Really? I tried to fashion similarly shaped wings for myself from posterboard, not because I believed they would actually help me fly but because I was dead set on proving that they wouldn't. Sure enough, I didn't leave the ground, but I did garner some choice insults from my older brother as I ran around our backyard with them on.

Nevertheless, this concept is what my teacher taught, and what was in the textbook, and what was on the fledgling internet when I searched around for information on flight, so I ended up just accepting it as a matter of "people smarter than me agree on this, so I'm probably in the wrong."

Turns out, I wasn't in the wrong. It was a widespread misconception at the time. Here's an explanatory page from NASA. The Wikipedia page for Bernoulli's principle has its own section on the misconception.

I didn't learn what I had already suspected was true until years later. I don't think it had a very profound impact on me or anything, but clearly it stuck with me enough that I'm talking about it here. I don't even have a good grasp of what the Bernoulli principle actually is, I just know what it's definitely not.

1. whbboyd
To be clear, because when I learned about the equal-transit-time fallacy this confused me immensely, airfoils do generate lift because the airflow over the top is faster and Bernoulli's principle...

To be clear, because when I learned about the equal-transit-time fallacy this confused me immensely, airfoils do generate lift because the airflow over the top is faster and Bernoulli's principle means that causes a low-pressure zone. The fallacy is that the flow is faster because it must meet up on both sides—in fact, wings produce enormous amounts of trailing turbulence because it does not and the airflows over the top and bottom of the wing are traveling at very different speeds when they meet.

it seemed absurd that a simple curve could lift a heavy plane off the ground

This works because airplane wings are enormous. A 747 wing has more than 520 m² (5,600 ft²) of surface area; an average pressure differential of 0.08 bar (1.1 psi) is enough to support the plane's 400-tonne maximum takeoff weight.

2. benoliver999
Yeah I think you are much better off taking the Newtonian approach to teaching about lift. Angle of attack makes much more sense. I started to suspect the Bernoulli explanation wasn't the whole...

Yeah I think you are much better off taking the Newtonian approach to teaching about lift. Angle of attack makes much more sense.

I started to suspect the Bernoulli explanation wasn't the whole story when I noticed that some planes could fly upside down indefinitely, and some stunt planes even had symmetrical airfoils.

3. joplin
Thank you for that! I've always had the same issue - why do the 2 particles have to meet up? Wouldn't one just get there more slowly? WTF? You have to wonder what teachers who taught that were...

Thank you for that! I've always had the same issue - why do the 2 particles have to meet up? Wouldn't one just get there more slowly? WTF? You have to wonder what teachers who taught that were thinking about it. Did they just accept that aspect of it?

2. [6]
determinism
This was a very long time ago and basically amounts to trivia but it's an experience that buried itself in my mind. When I was in kindergarten, my sisters told me I wouldn't be able to graduate if...

This was a very long time ago and basically amounts to trivia but it's an experience that buried itself in my mind.

When I was in kindergarten, my sisters told me I wouldn't be able to graduate if I couldn't read. One of my sisters was helping me learn by reading a book about fish. Eventually she turned to a page on the "Deep Sea Angelfish" and showed me a picture which looked to my goldfish-bounded imagination like a fucking alien.

Some time later, I had to do my first book report. My mom took me to the library to help me research the topic of my choice: the "Deep Sea Angelfish". We dug through book after book looking for this thing. On several occasions my mom would pull up an entry on the Angelfish and show me a picture of what would have been a perfectly good subject for my report. Again and again I refused this concession. She involved a librarian, I could not manage to make either of them understand the distinction between this stupid looking Angelfish and its obviously superior "Deep Sea" cousin. Eventually she gave up trying to convince me, we checked out a pile of books to return home with. After appealing to my sister, she managed to find the original book and we all confirmed that the fish I wanted was in fact called the "Deep Sea Anglerfish" and had no relationship with the Angelfish.

1. [5]
kfwyre
(edited )
I had a book that had a picture of an anglerfish in it as a child, and it flat out terrified me. I would skip the page whenever I flipped through the book, but even without seeing it I still had a...

I had a book that had a picture of an anglerfish in it as a child, and it flat out terrified me. I would skip the page whenever I flipped through the book, but even without seeing it I still had a low-burn anxiety that it was still there, close to my hands, only one mis-turn of the page away from my sight. The same thing happened, interestingly enough, with another book that had a closeup of the planet Jupiter. Both gave me the willies.

Your story is actually somewhat similar to something I experienced. My older brother is dyslexic, but this isn't something we knew about until much later in his life. My parents just thought he was a disorganized and unmotivated student. He had a very difficult time learning to read, and my Mom spent untold hours reading out loud to him, pointing to words as she went, trying to get him to match letters, words, and sounds, seemingly in vain. I actually learned to read because she would also include me in the read-alouds while I was around and because she encouraged my older brother to practice his reading skills by reading out loud to me.

Well, one of my brother's reading strategies was to, when he wasn't sure what a word was, guess at something approximately close to it based on whatever letters he could make out. When reading out loud to me he was acutely aware of his fluency, and he avoided stopping and sounding out words because that would mess up the flow of the story (and because he was likely a bit insecure about his difficulties with reading). So, a lot of what he read wasn't actually what was on the page. I didn't fully know he was doing this at the time, because, of course, I was still learning to read myself. As such, I ended up internalizing some of his substitutions.

I can't remember what most of them were at this point, as they came out in the wash as I grew up, but one I do remember is the word "omelette". It showed up in a story, and my brother confidently read the word as "oatmeal". I didn't know any better when he did it, especially because at the time I had no idea what an "omelette" was in the first place. I just internalized it as one of those weird words that isn't pronounced like it's spelled, like "sword" or "colonel".

This stuck with me for years, working its way into my actual understanding of food. Because I thought that "omelette" was "oatmeal", when I finally learned that there was such a thing as an "omelette", I assumed it was just some strange, presumably French version of oatmeal. I would see it on menus and never order it or even pay it any mind because I didn't like regular oatmeal in the first place. This let my misunderstanding persist far longer than it should have.

I don't think it was until I was in high school that I realized that "omelettes" were a completely separate thing from "oatmeal". The only reason I ever connected the two was because, years earlier, in some random kids' book, my brother saw a word he didn't know and substituted it for one he did.

1. [3]
ThatFanficGuy
I was unable to pronounce "sword" in any way other than by its spelling for a while, after hearing Markiplier mispronounce it on purpose for a joke. Seems to be fine now, but you never know when...

I was unable to pronounce "sword" in any way other than by its spelling for a while, after hearing Markiplier mispronounce it on purpose for a joke. Seems to be fine now, but you never know when this type of a tick returns.

1 vote
1. [2]
Sand
Like s+word or like sw+oared?

I was unable to pronounce "sword" in any way other than by its spelling for a while

Like s+word or like sw+oared?

1. ThatFanficGuy
I went with [swɔːrd], rather than the regular [sɔːrd], if that clears the air any.

I went with `[swɔːrd]`, rather than the regular `[sɔːrd]`, if that clears the air any.

3. [5]
Eidolon
Larkin's words are apt: 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you.' Other than patriarchy, one...

Larkin's words are apt:

'They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you.'

Other than patriarchy, one thing springs to mind for me - a protestant attitude to food. Dinner was boiled vegetables, boiled chunks of kumera and potato, and a plain piece of meat. No sauces, spices, herbs, or dressings - only salt allowed.

My parents' kitchen has a 'herb and spice rack' consisting of dried herbs and spices, to be used on Christmas Day with no exceptions. I just assumed they were rare, expensive, and only to be used on very special occasions for guests. We never grew herbs nor had fresh roots of spices to hand - I don't think I had ever seen them except in shops and markets but had never paid attention. Somehow I never twigged onto the fact that using herbs and spices is commonplace in cooking, despite very occasionally eating food outside the home environment (curries, soups, etc.).

After I left home, a fellow student cooked breakfast for me and arrived at my flat bearing fresh chives, parsley, basil and nutmeg pods. I remember being shocked and thought the gesture absurd, though I didn't let on. It took several meals before I realised how quotidian herbs and spices were, though I don't think I have ever recovered.

I savour going out into my garden to pick fresh herbs, and I take my time when grating ginger or tumeric. Though it's been years, it's still very much a rarefied experience. I can happily eat the plainest food, though I'm almost child-like when I consume anything home-cooked with fresh herbs and spices. I wonder how long it will last or if I have been marked for life.

1. [2]
Omnicrola
I genuinely hope you never do. Losing the childlike wonderment of things is mostly inevitable, but there are those small occasional things that don't penetrate our sphere until we're into...

I wonder how long it will last or if I have been marked for life.

I genuinely hope you never do. Losing the childlike wonderment of things is mostly inevitable, but there are those small occasional things that don't penetrate our sphere until we're into adulthood. In which case they can stick around a long time, especially if you recognize, honor, and reflect on them as you describe.

Cooking for myself and others is an expression of love and who I am, even though I'm no master chef. It pains me greatly that while my spouse appreciates eating together, the specific scene of gathering around a table every night for a meal is something that is a negative experience for her because of her family.

1. Eidolon
In light of your situation, mine seems quite trivial. I sincerely hope you are able to find ways to retell that story.

In light of your situation, mine seems quite trivial. I sincerely hope you are able to find ways to retell that story.

2. [2]
joplin
To be fair, have you been to the spice aisle of your local market lately? They are pretty expensive! \$10 for a few ounces of dried leaves? WTF? I can buy a whole live plant of the same thing for...

I just assumed they were rare, expensive

To be fair, have you been to the spice aisle of your local market lately? They are pretty expensive! \$10 for a few ounces of dried leaves? WTF? I can buy a whole live plant of the same thing for half that!

1. Eidolon
There's dollar bags abound for those little dry packs, but true - anything proper and you do have to fork out a lot these days. I save by growing my own, climate permitting.

There's dollar bags abound for those little dry packs, but true - anything proper and you do have to fork out a lot these days. I save by growing my own, climate permitting.

1 vote
4. [10]
ThatFanficGuy
That it's all my fault: not kind enough, not clever enough, not working hard enough Both, depending on your interpretation I went to uni – outside my little bubble – and some people actually liked...
• That it's all my fault: not kind enough, not clever enough, not working hard enough
• Both, depending on your interpretation
• I went to uni – outside my little bubble – and some people actually liked me
• Hoo boy
1. [9]
kfwyre
You're really going to tease us with just that as your full answer?! :D In all seriousness, you don't have to expand if you want to, but I'd love to hear more about your experience if you're...
• Hoo boy

You're really going to tease us with just that as your full answer?! :D

In all seriousness, you don't have to expand if you want to, but I'd love to hear more about your experience if you're willing to share.

1. [8]
ThatFanficGuy
It's a pervasive feeling. Once you've internalized that you're not good enough, it stays with you for a long while, affecting everything you touch. It's why you pass up on the opportunities you...

It's a pervasive feeling. Once you've internalized that you're not good enough, it stays with you for a long while, affecting everything you touch.

It's why you pass up on the opportunities you could only dream of: that notion buzzes at the back of your mind, reminding you that no matter how much you think of yourself in that little bubble you seclude yourself to, in the real world people don't care about you or your work 'cause it ain't ever gonna be good. You suck: how can whatever you do be any better?

It's why you say "no" when people invite you to parties or dates: they just don't know how bad you really are. Must be that the façade you put forth worked well enough to fool them. Now they think you might be worth anything – but they don't know you, and you don't want to disappoint them, so... "Yeah, thanks, I'm good".

It's why you never really try touching upon those things you can't stop thinking of. Creative endeavors, trying something new, travelling, that new book that sounded like fun... How can you possibly enjoy such a thing? It's probably gonna suck, anyway. Nothing good ever comes your way, right? Not really your category: good things. At least the hole you're in, you're familiar with.

It's a shitty lens to view your experience through. The bullshit part is that you can't take it up, not really: it has to be ingrained in you by someone on the outside, someone you trust. There's only so much awareness and so much effort you can afford when it's someone close to you telling you you suck.

It took me a long time – and as much separation from my family as I can afford – to even get my head out into fresh air. I think I'm lucky: from what I understand, many people don't get that kinda break: they just dive deeper, caught in the vicious feedback loop.

It's not something you can "cure", in the sense that there isn't a thing you can say to someone that would help them snap out of it. It's not a temporary state, like depression after the passing of your loved one: it becomes ingrained into your identity. You start believing that this is who I am. Aspects of your self are very hard to extract, or even examine at times, especially when it's a destructive pattern that reinforces itself by declaring itself the one true thought.

And it's not that I'm sulky all the time, either. I can be real fun around people. If I do end up at a party, I can be outgoing and funny and witty and clever. It's just that when I get back home, the feedback loop restarts, and I'm slowly going back to my old self: that one that hates oneself. If you're in that headspace for too long – because you're isolated and focused on too few things in your day-to-day – it grows stronger, and that leaks into every aspect of your living inevitably.

But then you don't really go out 'cause you no longer have any friends 'cause you pushed them all away, never believing to be worthy of them. Nobody asks you out 'cause there's no longer any to do so. And hobbies? "Nah, yeah, I'm good".

It fucks you up.

1. [3]
zara
I'm so sorry for you, man. But I'm rooting for you dude, and I wish you the best.

I'm so sorry for you, man. But I'm rooting for you dude, and I wish you the best.

1. [2]
ThatFanficGuy
Thank you. No need to feel sorry for me. It's a bad experience, but I've gotten a hang of it.

Thank you.

No need to feel sorry for me. It's a bad experience, but I've gotten a hang of it.

1. zara
Stay strong, dude! o7

Stay strong, dude! o7

2. [2]
sleepydave
This hit me hard haha, you just managed to verbalize pretty much every persistent feeling I've had for the past 5-ish years to a T. Hope you manage to find a way out of it - don't let that crown...

This hit me hard haha, you just managed to verbalize pretty much every persistent feeling I've had for the past 5-ish years to a T. Hope you manage to find a way out of it - don't let that crown fall King :)

3. [2]
Ellimist
I think you've put into words some things I've been internalizing and unable to articulate since I was 12...13 years old. When I first began questioning my self worth and coming to the conclusion...

I think you've put into words some things I've been internalizing and unable to articulate since I was 12...13 years old. When I first began questioning my self worth and coming to the conclusion that myself wasn't worth much.

It's never truly gone away and I've only somewhat been able to keep such thoughts and feelings at bay. On a good day, I never think about it.

On a bad day, or most days, to be honest, it's there all the time. No matter what I'm doing, where I'm going, who I'm with.

Case in point, my job. I'm a 911 dispatcher. In less than 2 years, 2 3/4 if you count my training time, I've gone from bottom of the barrel rookie to becoming a training officer, member of the Tactical Dispatch team, nominated for Dispatcher of the Year, and was asked if I would consider interviewing for a recently open supervisor position.

But I regularly denigrate myself to my boss and coworkers. Part of it is my sense of humor. I'm very self deprecating. Always have been and, objectively, I acknowledge it's a byproduct of my raising. But I often just genuinely feel like I'm terrible at my job. The evidence says otherwise. But I genuinely believe it and every little mistake is magnified when viewed through my "own worst enemy" lens.

I didn't want to be a training officer because I didn't feel like I was experienced or good enough to do it. I told them I wouldn't consider interviewing for the supervisor position unless I was literally the last option available for the same reasons.

I regularly turn down invites to go out with friends and begrudgingly go out to dinner with my girlfriend. Not because I don't want to be out with her. I just don't want to be out at all.

1. ThatFanficGuy
It's been a lot of experiences that paved my road to a better mental space, but one quote in particular stood out lately. I've been watching an interview with Taliesin Jaffe, an interesting man in...

It's been a lot of experiences that paved my road to a better mental space, but one quote in particular stood out lately.

I've been watching an interview with Taliesin Jaffe, an interesting man in his own right. He told of two stories that resonated with me; one is a situation and one is the quote I mentioned.

The situation was him in high school having a mental breakdown because he didn't fit in. Tried to be normal; didn't work. So very early in the morning, he took a folding chair outside and sat there watching the sunrise and thinking to himself this was the last time he'd be trying to fit in.

The quote came from later in his life. He was talking about job opportunities and how he turned plenty of them down because he felt like he wasn't qualified enough, or that the scope of it was beyond his capabilities... only to see the jobs mucked up and him exclaiming "Oh for fuck's sake".

That's the feeling I've been having for a while. "I can do this better. Why am I not doing it?"

So I started to, little by little. Like a baby learning to walk – except as an adult, with all the mental coordination but not enough "muscle memory" to execute it properly. Lacking the somatic architecture, so to speak.

I had a breakdown of my own. I asked myself "What's the point of all this if I can't do what I want to do?". I figured I might as well try. It took a lot longer to start actively engaging with life, but I'm starting to do it now, and it feels... good.

There's a lot to talk about here – I considered the changes in my mental framework a lot while going through them – but the big thing is: you do matter, you are worth something – but you have to assert it into the world, and onto yourself. By doing things out of passion, or joy, or out of feeding that drive inside that makes you feel alive, you're enabling yourself to do it more and more: physiologically, mentally, and emotionally. This is true for everything: the more of something you do, the more you condition yourself for it; the more it becomes natural, the response that your body and mind give most readily.

Unlike me, you're blessed with a support network. Leverage that. Talk honestly to the people that care about you and enlist their help in changing your ways. They care about you: they're already on your side. It sure is fucking easier than going the mile alone.

5. [15]
mrbig
I was taught at school that “they”could only be used as plural. Tildes told me otherwise.

I was taught at school that “they”could only be used as plural. Tildes told me otherwise.

1. [7]
ThatFanficGuy
In general, there's a lot about languages – especially ones you aren't natively fluent in – that you can only learn in an informal context. Schools and even universities teach you the codified...

In general, there's a lot about languages – especially ones you aren't natively fluent in – that you can only learn in an informal context.

Schools and even universities teach you the codified language: that which has entered the dictionaries and the grammar books. Language in active use by natives is often so much wider and deeper because it's a living thing, not a static memory of one.

It's an amazing thing that blew my mind when I started studying linguistics. Turned out, it ain't always black and white.

1. joplin
Yeah, some languages are downright weird about it. In Greece, the evening news is read in "formal Greek," I'm told. It's almost a different language. Some of my spouse's Greek relatives say they...

Yeah, some languages are downright weird about it. In Greece, the evening news is read in "formal Greek," I'm told. It's almost a different language. Some of my spouse's Greek relatives say they can barely understand it because it's so different from day-to-day Greek.

2. [5]
mrbig
I expect professional instructors to know more than the “codified” language...

I expect professional instructors to know more than the “codified” language...

1. [4]
ThatFanficGuy
I asked one of my teachers why we're learning that which is almost a relic of the past in colloquial speech. My argument was: people generally don't talk the way we're learning to, so we're...

I asked one of my teachers why we're learning that which is almost a relic of the past in colloquial speech. My argument was: people generally don't talk the way we're learning to, so we're effectively going into speaking the language with a translucent fabric over our eyes: handicapped. Her argument was that we're learning the language that educated people speak, which is the only part that matters as far as our future profession of teaching and/or translation is concerned.

Another teacher said we should learn curse words of the languages we study, so as to not look like a dumbass when the guy at the bar mentiones how he had sex with your mother in all sorts of positions. (He didn't go into such specifics, but this is a more interesting way to tell the story.) He couldn't teach us because he'd get himself fired real fast that way: it's beyond the institution of university language education to delve into certain parts of the language taught.

I'm not sure if you're upset with me appearing to defend the source of your confusion, or with the education process that leaves you stranded when time comes to speak the real language. Either way, there are limits to what you can be taught reliably in a professional environment. There are limits I don't enjoy, but they're there, and no amount of being upset over them will displace them.

For one, teaching the real language would be a process full of lag. There's a reason older people get the "hip" language of the youth pretty much once it's already outdated: by the time it gets to them, it's been exhausted and worn out, or has changed into something different. Multiple this lag by the layers of bureaucracy that comes with codifying the language enough to store it in school and uni textbooks, and you're left in the exact spot you were in before learning of the singular "they".

For another, there are human limits to speaking the real language. More than a few teachers in my uni – persons with at least a decade of linguistic experience between them each, with multiple papers on the subject of their chosen language – were suprised to hear my near-fluent English when everyone else in my group was struggling with some of its aspects, or with speaking the language in general. It takes a kind of involved experience that you could reliably achieve as a teacher, but between the bullshit you have to deal with at work (grading, reviewing papers, handling your magisters and your PhDs, extracurriculars, organization...) and having your own life, it may just not be a priority once you get a solid handle on the language and can do your job well otherwise.

To be fair, I used to be upset by that, too. I wanted uni to teach me everything I needed to know. Not sure that's possible now that I've been out of it for a while. There are no structures in life for those who seek to go beyond limits: if you want it, you better gather your gear and venture forth on your own. Watch documentaries, talk to people living abroad, read newspapers, listen to songs that aren't international hits... Hell, maybe there's exactly the kind of a book you want out there, waiting for a curious type like yourself. There are opportunities as long as you don't sit on your ass.

1. [3]
mrbig
Natural languages are never really codified. We may have some good references. I don’t expect my teachers to know and convey everything I need, that is not possible. But maybe they should stress...

Natural languages are never really codified. We may have some good references.

I don’t expect my teachers to know and convey everything I need, that is not possible. But maybe they should stress that there’s some degree of fluidity and uncertainty in the acquisition of knowledge. Before the university, teachers rarely admit that many things are relative, contextual and subject to change.

1. [2]
ThatFanficGuy
Depends on your definition of codification. Are they in absolute terms? Never. They live in the minds of their speakers, each a separate instance that self-equalizes with the rest with contact....

Natural languages are never really codified.

Depends on your definition of codification.

Are they in absolute terms? Never. They live in the minds of their speakers, each a separate instance that self-equalizes with the rest with contact. Their development goes along with time and shifts in culture, which then becomes influenced by the languages.

Are they in terms of having definitive textbooks supported by their respective language authorities? Popular ones are. Some are even codified in prescriptive fashion: "this is how you're supposed to speak".

The latter is what the linguists that I've spoken to refer to as "codification".

I don’t expect my teachers to know and convey everything I need, that is not possible.

You want them to know more but not enough to teach you everything you need?

But maybe they should stress that there’s some degree of fluidity and uncertainty in the acquisition of knowledge.

You already realize this. Why would you need authorities to remind you of that?

"Apparently there's so much shit I didn't know about!" is a common realization among learners. Like I implied already, you can utilize it in two ways. One is to be vocally upset about it until someone agrees with you so you feel validated. This changes nothing and only serves to soothen your bruised ego. Another is to do something about it, either for your own learning's sake or others'. This usually changes something.

1 vote
1. mrbig
(edited )
I don’t need that anymore. But I’m not a young man. Haven’t been for quite a long time. That approach might have been useful. This is a much nicer approach to teaching anyway.

Why would you need authorities to remind you of that?

I don’t need that anymore. But I’m not a young man. Haven’t been for quite a long time. That approach might have been useful.

This is a much nicer approach to teaching anyway.

1 vote
2. [2]
skybrian
In written English, at least, it seems like a very recent change. I think it only became common last year?

In written English, at least, it seems like a very recent change. I think it only became common last year?

1. grahamiam
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they Not a recent change at all, it just got brought into the spotlight because of its use for nonbinary purposes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

Not a recent change at all, it just got brought into the spotlight because of its use for nonbinary purposes.

3. [5]
Diet_Coke
That's a pretty recent change, style guides and dictionaries have only come around in the last few years.

That's a pretty recent change, style guides and dictionaries have only come around in the last few years.

1 vote
1. [4]
Algernon_Asimov
The singular "they" dates back to Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales', which was written about 1400AD. It has since been used by various writers, on and off, over the centuries (including...

The singular "they" dates back to Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales', which was written about 1400AD. It has since been used by various writers, on and off, over the centuries (including William Shakespeare).

Here in Australia, it entered common parlance in the 1980s. A few years back, I watched some old re-runs of a soap opera from the early 1990s, and they were dropping singular "they"s all over the place.

The USA seems to have been slower to pick up the singular "they" than other English-speaking countries.

1. [3]
Diet_Coke
That is really interesting, I wonder why the US was slow to adopt it. I can't imagine the reason is even related to acceptance of non-binary identities, as the average person wouldn't even have...

That is really interesting, I wonder why the US was slow to adopt it. I can't imagine the reason is even related to acceptance of non-binary identities, as the average person wouldn't even have been that aware of them ten or more years ago.

1. kfwyre
(edited )
For a while, explicit grammar was taught in US schools, alongside a very prescriptivist view of language. I remember diagramming sentences in high school and identifying parts of speech. We had to...

For a while, explicit grammar was taught in US schools, alongside a very prescriptivist view of language. I remember diagramming sentences in high school and identifying parts of speech. We had to identify not just nouns and verbs and such, but also gerunds, participles, and subordinating conjunctions. We deeply analyzed syntax. This formalism is now completely out of vogue in English instruction in the US, with our standards mostly focusing on the acquisition of language at the earlier grades and the production and analysis of language for meaning at higher grades. The standards aren't concerned with whether you can identify subordinate clauses; they're concerned instead with your ability to functionally read and write in order to understand and convey concepts.

Getting prescriptivism out of language instruction is actually a good move, IMO, and I'm saying this as someone who loved learning about grammar and syntax! Language is naturally dynamic, and prescriptivism tends to reinforce lots of uncomfortable value judgments about the worth of someone based on their expressive language skills/norms. Furthermore, being overly formalistic about language is a bit of a fool's errand, as language hasn't been this one static thing that is only starting to change just now and we need to hold the line lest all is lost. Instead, language has continually changed and evolved in advance of us, so picking our current norms as an arbitrary stopping point is a bit short-sighted and self-centered.

I've found that most of the people I know are already comfortable with the singular they even if they're not conscious of it. The easiest scenario to show this is when the pronoun is referring to an unknown antecedent: "Did you see who it was?" / "No, I didn't see them." Saying "no, I didn't see him" or "no, I didn't see her" is actually more uncomfortable in this case, because it gives certainty to the gender of the unknown person. Yes, it's possible to get into the weeds with number agreement with the singular they, but it's also possible to do that with all sorts of other pronoun issues as well that aren't specific to gender. Collective nouns and indefinite pronouns are commonly understood, and they can shift between singular and plural based on context!

One of my go-to examples of a common number issue is that I'm guilty of using "data" in a singular manner:

Our data is shocking.

Many would consider this an error, however, with "data" being the plural of "datum", so that the sentence should, in their mind, read:

Our data are shocking.

This has never, ever sounded right to me. I have similar problems with the words "media" and "series". Are the people who insist "data" is plural right? Am I right? Well, yes and no. It's still debated and depends what you're doing and who your audience is. Language does have structure and rules but those are malleable. Also, context always matters.

What I have seen in the US is that we very commonly politicize language shifts. I think much of the resistance and friction we see with the singular they comes not from people who genuinely care passionately about language but instead come from people who see it as yet another shot fired in the larger culture war regarding what people "can" and "cannot" say. The idea of "political correctness" and the accompanying social divide it causes goes back decades and isn't showing any signs of going away.

To a lot of people, advances in language can look like out of touch linguistic prescriptivism. After all, they get the impression that they are now "required", as a rule, to use words they feel are a corrupting force or are less accurate. Asking them to change their language is akin to asking them to change their beliefs.

On the other hand, there's also the idea that formalism can give a veneer of respectability to prejudicial beliefs. Someone might realize that culturally expressing their beliefs about non-binary people would be seen as hostile or bigoted at large, so they can instead assert their beliefs as a concern about language, rules, and linguistics, which abstracts their underlying feelings and motives to be more amenable to audiences.

Also at play is the idea that many Americans, in general, value their individual liberty and don't like being told what to do. We see this playing out right now in innumerable sad and frightening ways, as many Americans' response to news about the coronavirus was not to prepare or even proceed cautiously with their lives, but to choose to do things to openly spite the directives for caution and preparedness.

I feel like I've seen the same thing happen with the singular they (among many other issues spanning back decades). What's noteworthy is that, conceptually, the singular they is such a tepid, almost boring thing to make a cultural flashpoint. And again, I'm saying this as someone who genuinely likes getting into grammar and syntax.

2. joplin
Memory is fallible, but I don't think the US was slow to adopt it. I recall using it colloquially in the 1980s as well. It was probably avoided in popular media because it was considered improper....

Memory is fallible, but I don't think the US was slow to adopt it. I recall using it colloquially in the 1980s as well. It was probably avoided in popular media because it was considered improper. But everybody was saying it at the time. I don't remember a time when I couldn't use "they" as a singular pronoun (other than in writing for school).

6. [8]
krg
I had an anti-authoritarian mindset even as a kid, so Lies My Teacher Told Me and Everything You Know is Wrong definitely strengthened that mindset when I first read them around freshmen year of...

I had an anti-authoritarian mindset even as a kid, so Lies My Teacher Told Me and Everything You Know is Wrong definitely strengthened that mindset when I first read them around freshmen year of high school. Though, these days I'd probably read them a bit more critically.

My high-school physics teachers were pretty inept, though I went to a public school that probably wasn't well funded, so I don't hold it against them. Thankfully, my community college physics professors were pretty damn good! Along those lines, I think math, particularly calculus, is taught terribly in straight-ahead math classes. The best calculus teacher I had was my third semester physics (electricity/magnetism) professor in college. As not everyone was guaranteed to have the same math background in the class, he quickly (spent maybe 15m on it) went over a concept (double integration? can't quite recall) in a clear and concise way. The same concept might've taken a week to go over in a very dry and distant way in a traditional math class. I'm convinced that most math ought to be taught in the context of physics. That is, an integrated class where the math is taught as its needed in physics problems rather than a separate math and physics class.

1. [5]
reese
I found the calculus-based physics classes more intuitive than any math class I had ever taken. I would have been so much better off if I had taken those physics classes before cut-and-dried...

I'm convinced that most math ought to be taught in the context of physics.

I found the calculus-based physics classes more intuitive than any math class I had ever taken. I would have been so much better off if I had taken those physics classes before cut-and-dried calculus, but oh well. The curriculum was adamant that the physics classes depended on prerequisite math exposure, which, save basic algebra, must have been a lie because my physics professors had to re-teach the pertinent math to the 99% of students who forgot it anyway.

1. [2]
determinism
Someone recommended this popular math/physics book a while ago which is premised on a similar theme. https://www.amazon.com/Mathematical-Mechanic-Physical-Reasoning-Problems/dp/0691154562 It's...

Someone recommended this popular math/physics book a while ago which is premised on a similar theme.

https://www.amazon.com/Mathematical-Mechanic-Physical-Reasoning-Problems/dp/0691154562

It's really just a bunch of physical thought experiments around which he constructs mathematical arguments. It's pretty light reading but each example will leave you pondering for a bit and it takes a little effort to comprehend what he is saying even with the diagrams provided.

1. reese
This is excellent. Thanks for sharing! I'll pick up a copy.

This is excellent. Thanks for sharing! I'll pick up a copy.

2. pocketry
I think this is because calculus and physics were invented together by Newton. I know Leibniz also invented calculus independently, but I think the physics of motion are so more intuitive than...

I think this is because calculus and physics were invented together by Newton. I know Leibniz also invented calculus independently, but I think the physics of motion are so more intuitive than most math. It's like calculus was invented to describe the world, so looking at the world makes it easier to grasp.

3. joplin
I actually went through the same issue with Algebra 2 and computer science in high school. My Algebra 2 teacher was a Mennonite who was more interested in blaming students in our class who had...

I actually went through the same issue with Algebra 2 and computer science in high school. My Algebra 2 teacher was a Mennonite who was more interested in blaming students in our class who had died for their "bad" behavior than he was in actually teaching the subject he was paid to teach. My CS teacher caught us up to speed on all the stuff we should have learned in Algebra 2.

That said, I got really sick of the problems in Calculus because they were all so contrived. They were things like "You have water flowing out of a hole in one bucket and into another bucket which has a smaller hole in it. How fast does the water flow out of the second bucket?" Who cares? That's not something that's going to directly help me in the future. Now had it been a more real-world physics problem I might have been more interested. I swear to god they had more problems about water flowing into and out of buckets than any other type of problem. (I may be just be remembering with my shit-colored glasses on, though.)

2. [2]
culturedleftfoot
I cannot make any sense of how math is taught in the US. It feels like learning a language through rote memorization of phrases and only when you get to college does anyone start explaining grammar.

I cannot make any sense of how math is taught in the US. It feels like learning a language through rote memorization of phrases and only when you get to college does anyone start explaining grammar.

1. Kuromantis
I'm not American but this is how they do it here (in Brazil) too and it's terrible. My math teacher was teaching types of numbers for a few weeks when numberphile can do it in literally a few...

I'm not American but this is how they do it here (in Brazil) too and it's terrible. My math teacher was teaching types of numbers for a few weeks when numberphile can do it in literally a few minutes and she only got to 'real' numbers. It's like watching Dora the Explorer but you can't tell if they're doing this because they're overworked, bad at what they're doing (which would be why they don't go to a private school where they're treated like people) or just not trying to make us understand properly because they don't trust us to learn anything. (Which would be more reasonable.)

7. [2]
Algernon_Asimov
I read a lot of books when I was younger. Like... a lot. Every spare minute I had, there was a book in front of my face. This started before I entered school, and continued for decades (I didn't...

I read a lot of books when I was younger. Like... a lot. Every spare minute I had, there was a book in front of my face. This started before I entered school, and continued for decades (I didn't slow down until my 40s). This meant I encountered some words in written form long before I ever heard them spoken, or even learned about the rules for pronouncing them.

One of these words was "misled". No teacher or other adult ever taught me this word, nor did I ever look it up in a dictionary. I learned its meaning from context (the same way I learned lots of words): it meant to lead someone astray, to give them wrong information, to lie to them. I also worked out its conjugation for myself: it was obviously the past tense of the verb "to misle" (I misle you, you are misling him, she has misled us). And this word "misle" was obviously pronounced "my-z'l". It was like "isle", but with a non-silent "s". So, "misled" was pronounced "my-z'ld". Obviously!

I was also aware of another word that people would say, which was the past tense of the word "mislead". This past tense was pronounced "miss-led". But I'd never seen that word written down, so I didn't know how it was spelled.

It took me until I was in my mid-to-late 20s to realise that "misled" was the past tense of "mislead", and that it was pronounced "miss-led", not "my-z'ld".

1. joplin
Oh man, I had some words like this, too. I read a lot of computer manuals as a kid. At one point I learned the word "interpolate". I pronounced it "inter-POL-ate" instead of "in-TER-pol-ate". The...

Oh man, I had some words like this, too. I read a lot of computer manuals as a kid. At one point I learned the word "interpolate". I pronounced it "inter-POL-ate" instead of "in-TER-pol-ate". The first time I heard someone pronounce it, I was like, "What the hell kind of pronunciation is that?"

8. [6]
grahamiam
No one taught me that I should brush my tongue, and I don't think I realized I should until I was an undergrad. I hold my pencil "incorrectly" and have bad (but not awful) handwriting, plus my...

No one taught me that I should brush my tongue, and I don't think I realized I should until I was an undergrad.

I hold my pencil "incorrectly" and have bad (but not awful) handwriting, plus my hand hurts sometimes if I write much. I don't know for sure that if my Kindergarten teacher had been more strict about how to hold it that these issues would be fixed.

1. [4]
joplin
FWIW, I hold my pencil correctly and have awful handwriting. In my case it's because the Catholic school I went to for K-8 was obsessed with handwriting. By the time I was in 6th grade I was...

FWIW, I hold my pencil correctly and have awful handwriting. In my case it's because the Catholic school I went to for K-8 was obsessed with handwriting. By the time I was in 6th grade I was typing everything on a computer and basically completely stopped writing outside of school. Handwriting was for chumps as far as I was concerned.

In 7th and 8th grade, at the end of each week, the 4 teachers you saw throughout the week would get together and just assess your handwriting. Then they'd give extra handwriting work to anyone who they felt needed work. Needless to say, I got assigned the extra handwriting work every week. There was even one week where we somehow ended up only handing in 1 or 2 assignments, and I was the only one who got the extra handwriting work! I hated it, so I would do the extra assignments even more messy than normal as a sort of protest. They continued to give them to me, and my handwriting continued to decline. Ultimately, I was proven right, and now everyone types everything except signatures which are expected to be unreadable. I'm glad I didn't waste time doing those exercises properly. What a bunch of fucking masochists those assholes were.

1. [3]
Eidolon
I also learned to hold a pen 'incorrectly' and was deeply conscious of it as a child. While my teacher seemed to ignore it as I was already too old for her to be paying attention to my pen grip, I...

I also learned to hold a pen 'incorrectly' and was deeply conscious of it as a child. While my teacher seemed to ignore it as I was already too old for her to be paying attention to my pen grip, I do remember hastily changing my pen grip to the 'proper' position whenever another adult entered the room. Somehow I still acquired my pen license and made it through school unnoticed.

I re-taught myself how to write at age 20, as my other grip caused pain when writing excessively and callused my finger creating a large bump. I sacrificed my impeccable handwriting when I transitioned, though, for anything requiring swift or meticulous penmanship, I'll always defer back to the unconventional grip. It took months to relearn how to write but it was worth it.

Do you ever think about re-training yourself, @grahamiam?

1. [2]
grahamiam
Not really - while I handwrote a lot in grad school for my notes, I was the only person who read it so it didn't bother me. I've recently swapped from being a college instructor to a high school...

Not really - while I handwrote a lot in grad school for my notes, I was the only person who read it so it didn't bother me. I've recently swapped from being a college instructor to a high school one, so I handwrite a lot more now than I used to (since there's less electronic grading), but I'm 34 and don't see it being easy to switch.

I have worked on my chalk handwriting though and am proud to say that if I focus it no longer looks like a 3rd grader's writing.

1. Eidolon
Chalk handwriting is a niche skill, I have to say. In all my years of schooling (90's kid, now a doctoral student) I have never encountered a chalk board. I didn't realise they were still in use!

Chalk handwriting is a niche skill, I have to say. In all my years of schooling (90's kid, now a doctoral student) I have never encountered a chalk board. I didn't realise they were still in use!

1 vote
2. vivaria
(edited )
I used to hold my pencil "incorrectly" but had really nice handwriting. I still got shit from my grade school teachers! Then, a few years ago (middle of university studies), I decided to...

I hold my pencil "incorrectly" and have bad (but not awful) handwriting, plus my hand hurts sometimes if I write much. I don't know for sure that if my Kindergarten teacher had been more strict about how to hold it that these issues would be fixed.

I used to hold my pencil "incorrectly" but had really nice handwriting. I still got shit from my grade school teachers! Then, a few years ago (middle of university studies), I decided to consciously switch from my style to the "correct" way of holding it. The transition went okay! I think it only took about a week or so, maybe a month at the very worst. No real change in appearance or comfort levels... just conformity. :P

Ditto for typing. I used to use only three fingers, but had a really quick typing speed (>90WPM). Then, a handful of months ago, I up and decided to switch to home row typing. I now use all of my fingers as I'm "supposed to" and am more or less back up to speed. It was a strange transition, rebuilding the muscle memory on typing websites. It was a huge coding handicap for about 2 weeks. I'm not even sure it was worth it? But it feels so nice when I'm able to get into a burst-y groove now. Much less chaotic on the keyboard.

All I'm saying here with these anecdotes is, A) brains and bodies are really strange, and there seem to be lots of valid ways to do things (i.e. fuck "correct" ways of doing things!) and B) if you want, you can still change how your brain/body works! It's never too late to go through the process of learning new muscle memory. :)

9. joplin
That when people tell you about a problem they're having, it's not a competition where you have to one-up them. It wasn't intentionally taught to me, just something that everyone in my family did...

What's something that you learned/were taught wrong?

That when people tell you about a problem they're having, it's not a competition where you have to one-up them.

Was this a singular error specific to you or whoever taught it to you, or a widespread misconception held by many?

It wasn't intentionally taught to me, just something that everyone in my family did to me when I had a problem. So I thought it was normal.

When did you realize it was in error?

I got my first clue from a college girlfriend, but didn't really grasp the scope of it. It was later in adulthood (far later than it should have been) that I started to realize what an ass I was being to other people.

What impact, if any, did it have on you?

It ended up teaching me that I have no right to complain because someone else has a worse problem, and that in general my feelings are worthless and nobody cares about them or me. It caused me to become isolated from others and led to a lot of confusion and depression.

Since figuring it out, it's led to me keeping a much farther distance from my family than I had before (and we were never close to begin with).

10. est
Tons of ideas in biology I learned at school was "wrong" by today's standards. For example there were supposedly 20 proteinogenic amino acids, another one was discovered a few years back, now it's...

Tons of ideas in biology I learned at school was "wrong" by today's standards.

For example there were supposedly 20 proteinogenic amino acids, another one was discovered a few years back, now it's 22. The standard genetic code table was updated as well.

1 vote
11. [3]
bleem
(edited )
Not necessarily taught wrong, but self-*taught wrong. I missed a lot of school when I was younger. I was very very depressed and have wanted to die since middle school. I didn't know what was...

Not necessarily taught wrong, but self-*taught wrong. I missed a lot of school when I was younger.

I was very very depressed and have wanted to die since middle school. I didn't know what was wrong with me and was in a household where I couldn't really talk about my problems. My father thought I was faking everything just to be able to stay home and play video games.

I missed a lot of school due to bullying about me playing video games and being on the computer 24/7 (wow how ironic). I had to teach myself math, history, english, science. I learned some stuff wrong. I have no idea how I graduated high school, I think they needed to pump numbers.

I'd honestly like to go "back to high school" now that I'm older. I know community college offers high school courses but that costs money. I don't qualify for financial assistance because of my completed class ratio isnt where they want it. So I have to complete classes in order to get financial assistance again. But again, that takes money and I can't "really" have 2k in assets. I can take money out and store it in my apartment but I cut it close every month paying for rent and all that on my SSI.

1. [2]
zara