Mapping Arguments in Our Community

While we often think about words making an argument, spaces and places make arguments too. For example, neighborhoods make arguments about the values of the people that live there and public parks make arguments about how people should spend their time outdoors.

For the last two years, students in my English 155: Cortina Composition were challenged to work as a group to analyze how public spaces around Omaha make “arguments” that influence the way people think about a space. We practiced by visiting the Benson neighborhood to see for ourselves how the neighborhood demonstrates its values of local business, art, and community (and to drink delicious Aromas coffee).

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.41.01 PMTo conduct their own spatial analysis, students selected a site in the local Omaha area, photographed the site, interviewed local residents, conducted online research, collaboratively wrote their analyses, and posted their work to a publicly available Google Map. The end result is an exciting and interactive opportunity to explore the Omaha area.

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I invite you to click on the projects to see, read, and learn more about public arguments in Omaha.

Dr. Faith Kurtyka

Speech Communities: “So That’s a Thing” by Kaylee Stankus

“I have to write a paper for Cortina English on a word or phrase used in my speech community, so that’s a thing.” One phrase that I find myself, as well as my friends, using a lot is “so that’s a thing.” The literal meaning of the phrase poses a lot of questions. What qualifies as “a thing”? How do we know if it’s a good or a bad “thing”?

i hear that's a thing copy

In my community of friends and Creightas, the phrase is almost an ending to whatever we are discussing. Instead of just ending the statement normally, we find ourselves unnecessarily ending it with “…so that’s a thing.” For example, if I was talking with Sarah, she might say “Today my boss asked me to stay late at work, so that’s a thing.” In this situation, Sarah included “…so that’s a thing” because she was hinting to her audience that it was something that she didn’t want to do but felt like she had to do.

We use this phrase in many different ways. I often use this phrase in a form of a question. If someone explains something that I might not believe right away, instead of saying “really?” or “for real?” I might say, “that’s a thing?” Sometimes it’s used sarcastically when we are angry or annoyed with something that has happened recently. Such as, “Today my politics teacher assigned 100 pages of reading due by tomorrow, so that’s a thing.”

Personally, I don’t mind the usage of the phrase, though this paper makes me realize just how often we use it. Since I’ve been writing and discussing this topic with my friends, I started noticing just how often I say it. I also realize how some people outside of the speech community might be confused when we use it in our everyday conversations. Whether it’s used sarcastically, as just a statement, or as an expression of disbelief, “so that’s a thing” will always be “a thing” in my speech community.

Speech Communities: “Magis” by Kate Albrecht

magis“Magis.” A Latin word. A Jesuit Value. An utterance frequently heard on Creighton’s campus. “Magis” can be seen in colorful sidewalk chalk scrawled on the mall advertising the #MagisMondays, can be heard in addresses to wide-eyed freshmen during Welcome Week, and can be spoken in casual reference to the new Magis Core. Yet, what does Magis really mean to the larger Creighton community?

When I first started here at Creighton, I was initially excited when I heard about how Creighton was unifying itself behind the Jesuit values and this sacred idea of Magis. Magis, as defined at Welcome Week, means more not in the quantitative sense but more in the qualitative sense of better or greater. Magis shows how Creighton strives for excellence in all things be it academics, athletics, the arts, or simply moral living. Yet, I was disappointed to find that that Creighton was using Magis in a less sacred way in the naming of the new core curriculum.

Magis appears in the name of new Magis Core as seen at This use of Magis as a marketing strategy designed to appeal to perspective students who are concerned with the return on their investment in a Creighton education cheapens the use of the word Magis. Magis becomes a cog in the capitalist society, having been chosen for its efficiency and slogan potential.  The more we use casually use “Magis Core” — like when a sophomore said to me “I am so jealous that you get the Magis Core,” or when a student in my RSP group complained “Ugh, we have to go to another Magis Presentation!” — the more we diminish the original sacredness of this age-old Jesuit value.

It is the duty of us, the students of Creighton University, to wrestle “Magis” back from its cheapened value. It is our responsibility to use this and all the Jesuit values in a respectful manner, remembering their original sacred meanings. That is truly doing more!

Speech Communities: “I Can’t Even” by Shannon Mulcahey

This begins our series from the Freshmen Cortina Composition class about word choices in speech communities. Enjoy!

In a world where Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram rule the lives of teenage girls, there are several new words and phrases that are dominating the pop culture. Social media has become people’s personal diary. Emotions are expressed in 140 characters or less; people’s best days are captured in a single picture. The restrictions social media has made on articulating feelings has led to new words in our culture like “swag,” “YOLO,” and “selfie” in order to portray situations in as few words as possible. “I can’t even” is another example and is used out of frustration, ignorance, and efficiency.

A few weeks ago, I was over at a friend’s dorm room because we needed to catch up with what was going on in our lives. As the conversation progressed, I found myself not being able to share all of the emotions I was feeling. I continually said “I can’t even do this right now” because I was not feeling comfortable enough to talk about a recent event that had happened. I was using “I can’t even” as a way to avoid an emotional meltdown. I knew if I expressed my emotions I would become vulnerable.

The evolving social media aspect of present-day society has contributed to the lack of emotional output girls are willing to express in person. There becomes a disconnect and a lack of trust between people. All people have to do now is sit behind a computer screen and tweet out their feelings in the comfort of their home instead of having face to face interaction and discussions about emotions. The words that I choose to speak have been affected by what others around me are using. For me, using “I can’t even” has revealed me as one to be more emotionally reserved, and it has become a refuge in maintaining my emotional wall. I also value efficiency, and this phrase allows me to quickly summarize all the emotions that go on in my head. Because of that, I will continue to say “I can’t even,” but I will not let the phrase become so instilled in my vocabulary that I am not able to share my feelings with my friends when I truly need to. There comes a point where people need to balance the relationship they have with social media and how they express themselves and figure out how much they want it to affect their personal life, which is a step that I have taken and encourage others to do as well.


Mapping Public Arguments in Omaha


It was my honor to teach two sections of English 150: Rhetoric and Composition specifically for students in the Cortina Community this semester. Thanks to a course development grant from the Creighton College of Arts and Sciences, I collaborated with Annie Dimond, the director of Cortina, undergraduate student Gretchen Stulock, and graduate student Catherine Walsh to design a composition curriculum specifically for Cortina students.

I so enjoyed getting to know the amazing first-year class of Cortina, who consistently impressed me with their diversity of thought, engagement in learning, and enthusiasm for our unique approach to writing, which included identifying examples of propaganda on Creighton’s campus, discussing the meaning behind gang graffiti, and a field trip to the Benson neighborhood to learn about local businesses and community development.

For their final project, the students were challenged to analyze how public spaces and places make “arguments” that influence the way people think about a space. Students selected a site in the local Omaha area, visited their site to speak to local residents and take photos, conducted online research, collaboratively wrote their analyses, and posted their work to a publicly available Google Map. I invite you to click on the projects and learn more about public arguments in Omaha and see some of the excellent work of English 150: Cortina Composition.

Link to Mapping Project:

-Dr. Faith Kurtyka

Speech Communities//”Slash”//Rachel Pham

Is “A” or “C” the best answer?  Do I feel like having Rocky Road or Butter Pecan?  To be or not to be?  Harry or Peeta?  Whether small or completely life-changing, choices fill up our existence (so choose your ice cream wisely).


Due to their constant presence, much of the value of choices has decreased, in terms of the recognition of being able to make choices in a very mental sense, which in turn is reflected by a physical change of language.  The change to be addressed here is not a very prominent one, but has significant implications nonetheless: the usage of the word “slash.”

The slash I am referring to stems from the “/” symbol, commonly used when typing to replace the word “or” between two choices as an abbreviation. An extremely common printed application of it in context is as “and/or.” The unconventional usage of “slash” of interest in this case is the pronunciation of the word out loud in a normal conversation.  For instance, while planning a weekend of bacchanalian festivities with a friend, I might suggest, “We can pickle eggs slash shave pencils on Friday night.”  Though “/” is used as an abbreviation in print, as exemplified here, saying “slash” in a sentence does not phonetically shorten anything, even if it does psychologically.  As a result, it could be said that using “slash” implies that choices are being treated in a very careless manner (and in the extremely serious context of my thriving social life, no less).  Thus, the seemingly innocent, arbitrary throwing of “slash” in our dialogue every now and then may reflect our taking the privilege of being able to even have choices too lightly.


This value is further emphasized by the fact that we sometimes use “slash” not so much as series of two choices, but as one choice and a continuation of that same choice, but in further detail.  For example, while trying to convince people to give a few hours of service, I once said, “You should come volunteer with us on Saturday slash sell us your soul forever.”  In this case, after a closer examination, one can see that there really aren’t two choices being offered, just one event and a highly escalated version of that same event. Thus, the range of and gratitude for choice has been limited.  As a result, it could be said this conscious reduction of choice indicates a subconscious reduction of the value of choices as a whole.

However, it must be noted that it is not the word itself that causes the reduction of choice, but the feelings behind the community.  It is possible that with a conscious and deliberate use of “slash,” the values that come behind the word when it is used could be changed.  Thus, on this note, I bid you happy choice-making.  Whatever you decide, always be grateful for the choice that you will or won’t make.  Slash it’s alright to choose the wrong flavor, as long as you get ice cream.


Speech Communities//”YOLO”//Connor

Hello everybody! This is an excerpt from my speech community essay for ENG 150 where my word/phrase I analyzed was YOLO (You Only Live Once). We discussed the origins of the word and how it is used throughout our speech community and then what affect that usage has had in your own personal life.

Whenever I personally see or hear the word YOLO, I immediately picture a high school or college student about to do something totally ridiculous, and they are often times drunk. Therefore, I associate the word YOLO with exactly what I envision, stupid kids doing stupid things. Because of this negative association, I hear the word most often being used in a sarcastic tone within my language community, taunting the dimwittedness of our fellow classmates. This is a sign that my close friends and I place ourselves in a higher standard of language by mocking the lesser speech of the community that is metaphorically beneath us. In the situation used previously with the egging of the principal’s house,  upon finding out that the delinquents reasoned their behavior by the word YOLO, my friends and I would likely have continued using YOLO in every possible scenario possible. Such scenarios would include but are not limited to: “Hey dude, come to the bathroom with me before class.” “Well we only have like a minute left.” “So? YOLO!” or, “Hey, did you do the homework last night?” “Nah, it probz won’t count that much towards our final grade, YOLO.” or, “Hey man your shoe’s untied.” “YOLO.” These situations are instances where we feel comfortable enough with our intelligence that we can poke fun at those who make poor life choices. We know better and therefore can tease them. The word itself represents our appreciation for intelligence and common sense. “… Our language habits are at the core of how we imagine the world.” (Postman, 4) This quote applies directly to the usage of the word YOLO.

The habit of using YOLO in our language to justify the irrational decisions gives way to how young people commonly misunderstand the image of the world. They feel they are free to make any decision they want because it is their own life and they only have one; this is quite false however because everything is connected, so whatever you do in your small community will affect the greater community, positively or negatively.

Also, here is a link to a pretty funny video that shows an exaggerated yet accurate way YOLO is used.

WARNING: Some explicit language is used, and certain situations depicted are very dangerous and should not be attempted.

-Connor F.

Monday Meditation: On Beautiful Speech

In my last year in College
I set out
to write an essay on
the Art of Rhetoric. I had yet to find
the country already lost to me
in song and figure as I scribbled down
names for sweet euphony
and safe digression.
And when I came to the word insinuate
I saw that language could writhe and creep
and the lore of snakes
which I had learned as a child not to fear —
because the Saint had sent them out of Ireland —
came nearer.
Chiasmus. Litotes. Perphrasis. Old
indices and agents of persuasion. How
I remember them in that room where
a girl is writing at a desk with
dusk already in
the streets outside. I can see her. I could say to her —
we will live, we have lived
where language is concealed. Is perilous.
We will be—we have been—citizens
of its hiding place. But it is too late
to shut the book of satin phrases,
to refuse to enter
an evening bitter with peat smoke,
where newspaper sellers shout headlines
and friends call out their farewells in
a city of whispers
and interiors where
the dear vowels
Irish Ireland ours are
absorbed into Autumn air,
are out of earshot in the distances
we are stepping into where we never
imagine words such as hate
and territory and the like—unbanished still
as they always would be—wait
and are waiting under
beautiful speech. To strike.
—Eavan Boland

We have been talking about language. Good Language. Bad Language. Language that engineers in. Language that engineers out. But, though language creates a portion of our reality, it is not everything, Boland insinuates. Do you ever hide behind your language? Where do you feel fear, hatred, pain, intolerance, or violence where you communicate confidence, love, pleasure, tolerance, or peace? How will you begin to deal with your own issues that are hidden beneath your language? How can you become cognizant enough to not hide from yourself underneath your own beautiful speech?

Monday Meditation: On Good Language

Last week we read about what David Dark says characterizes “Bad Language.” This week, we see the other side of that:

“But there are other utterances that counter the power of dis-membering death with wonderful words of life, words that serve to RE-member, restoring membership and belonging when they’re spoken or sung aloud…Maybe we have to pray for the wit and imagination to RE-member people again and again. The hardened heart, I imagine, is the one that won’t (or can’t) RE-member, that won’t quite grant a deep, personal reality to other people, the heart that finds it necessary to not RE-member others in order to survive, the heart no longer in tune with the notion, affirmed by every living religious tradition, that there is no available life in the universe that isn’t connected to the practice of RE-membering.

The good words remember and represent. They repair our visions by making all things new. They make the world-at-large reappear in dazzling new light, as if we didn’t quite know, till the words came, what we were all about. When they are spoken aloud, we describe them by saying things like, ‘That’s music to my ears.’ The good language uplifts the way bad language degrades. It’s the life-giving authority of poetry. The Canadian literary scholar Northrop Frye speaks of poetic authority as the ‘authority which emancipates instead of subordinating the person who accepts it.’ Frye isn’t talking about an authority confined to libraries and bookstores; he’s talking about the authority that redemptively rearranges life as we know it.”

-David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, “Questioning our Language”

How can we RE-member with our language, that is, create a sense of belonging for those we are speaking to or about? How can we use language creatively in the world, instead of settling for what seems to be the “least offensive”? Have you ever felt powerfully the impact of good speech? When was it, and what was so striking about it? How can you be a proliferator of emancipatory language? For yourself? For others? For your community?

Our language always casts the world in a certain way, so in a sense we are all poets, and prophets. If we accept this as a challenge, we will be aware of the effort it takes to do the creative work required to be a good at a vocation we all participate in by mere speech.


Monday Meditation: On Bad Language

Yesterday’s community time focused on what we called “Just Language” or, language that does justice. The following excerpt talks about the possible harm that comes from “bad” or unjust language. Stay tuned for next week’s exploration of what might constitute good language.

“The question I’d like to bring to language, my own and everyone else’s, is the question of reductionism. Reductionism reigns when the words we use to give an account of people and events serve only to reduce, degrade, and devalue human beings in the interest of managing them, mischaracterizing our relationships with others to make them mean whatever we need them to mean to maintain our fragile ego structures. This is the perversity we employ–perhaps it employs us–when we reduce a person to a “just” (“so-and-so is just…”) or a “nothing but” (“you’re nothing but a …”), as if we’ve gotten to the bottom of all they are and ever will be.

Eye-rubbingly broad generalizations are leveled in our talk of other countries, personal histories, and the petty mortal who just cut us off in the flow of rush-hour traffic. These are the death sentences that generate a sort of verbal totalitarianism, closing up and cutting off real-live people. The words that fail to do justice to the irreducible complexity of whatever it is we think we’re talking about. It’s what we call bad language. Cursing words. The speech is dirty, if you like, because it deals in pseudo-reality, dimming an awareness of where we live, what we’re doing, and what we’re taking. It demeans and disfigures with a feeling of control as it takes a turn for the  contemptuous, DIS-membering experience in the telling.”
-David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (“Questioning our Language”)

In what ways do you reduce people with your language–intentionally or unintentionally? Where is more complexity needed in your conception of and speech about a person, group of people, or an event? How can you re-member instead of “dis-member” with your speech?