“Panoply” makes my teeth itch. It’s an English teacher word (not its fault; I’m not blaming it), one of those that kids learn in high school as they develop their vocabulary so they can write longer more descriptive essays. Unfortunately, as a college writing teacher, it was my job to unteach them and it wasn’t always easy. Lots of students felt betrayed. “But my high school English teacher said…” I tried to explain it as the way a giant amorphous gaseous unfocused section of the universe could collapse into a singularity of immense gravity and power, smaller and more intense.
“Panoply” goes along with “plethora.” Back in the day, when I saw either of these words little worms crawled under the skin on my arm. I knew what was ahead of me.
So who were these kids? Mostly they were kids who thought using big words (that they never heard in real life) would impress their teacher. In their mind, “English teachers like these words. If I use these words, she will like me and I will get a better grade.” That smarmy, unctuous little creature didn’t get it.
“Why didn’t I get an A? I always got A’s on my English papers in high school.”
“Well, Lamont, you didn’t follow directions. This isn’t supposed to be an argumentative essay. It’s supposed to be an observation of a place in nature. I gave you a handout. All you had to do was fill it in as you looked around.”
“You never said that.”
“OK, that’s not a conversation I’m having, Lamont. If you look at this panoply of papers here, done by your classmates, you’ll see that everyone did the assignment except you. You tell me what that means, ‘K?”
“Lamont, you want a chance to do this assignment right? You don’t deserve it, but I’ll give it to you.” I didn’t say, “Because I’m the all-powerful deity in charge of this room for one hour three times a week and from my high promontory, I can make all things new again.” It was a PR stunt. A kid like this didn’t deserve a second chance, but if I gave it to him, it would speak well of me. It might (often did) turn into a teaching opportunity for a skill more important than writing. He might learn that his homework is for HIM not for ME.
“Yeah, really. I know you know what the assignment is. It’s on the syllabus, it’s on the handout I gave you.”
“Uh, I never got the handout.”
“How’d that happen?”
“Uh, I wasn’t here.”
“Awright. Here you go. Bring your paper Monday. You’ll lose a few points, but if you don’t do this project, a lot of the stuff in class won’t make sense, OK?”
I had an immense panoply of these kids. An entire plethora.