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Seamen Responsible for Cow Insemination

Aug 15 2007 00:34
Ashley Brown
It's official: being able to spell (or operate a spell checker) is not a requirement for a first-class degree at Imperial.
Seriously, spell check it first if you're submitting it for marking (no, we don't always spell-check on Live!)

"Filthy hippies" have been causing stress for Imperial's communications division over the weekend, but they have been unable to generate as much bad PR as a revelation by Dr Bernard Lamb: first-class Imperial students are unable to spell, or operate a spell checker.

Bernard Lamb

Lamb, a Reader in Genetics and member of the Queen's English Society, has attracted coverage in the national media in advance of his next publication "Errors in the English of highly selected undergraduates". The paper, which is to appear in the forthcoming journal of the QES, reveals how horrifically Imperial students butcher the English language.

Although some would put the poor grasp of English down to the sheer number of overseas students, Lamb's experience shows a lack of understanding amongst UK-educated students too. The Observer carried an example written by a "UK-born, UK-educated student who has just been awarded a first-class degree". This student handed in this gem, despite all of the mistakes being within reach of a spell checker:

"It initats a undisired non-specific response in mamammals"

The following example, this time with perfect spelling, came from another student:

"insemination of these cows at the age of 3 with their fathers seamen"

insemination of these cows at the age of 3 with their fathers seamen
Random Student

Of this final example, Lamb wrote: "There should be an apostrophe in fathers, three should be written as a word, and as for seamen ..."

According to Lamb an English tutor at Oxford has also complained about poor grammar among students, revealing failings in English teaching throughout the education system. Primary school teachers have been sent guides reminding them how to use apostrophes and differentiate between easily confused words such as two, to and too.

ICU has agreed that there is a problem with the standard of English within the student body, but has expressed concern at the way in which the point was made. Deputy President (Education & Welfare) Kirsty Patterson gave the following statement:

"While we do agree that there is a problem with declining standards of written and spoken English throughout the education sector, we still have reservations over Dr Lamb's decision to openly publicise this specific cohort of Imperial College London undergraduates. Our primary concern at this time is to ensure that the 75 students cited in the journal have not been made readily identifiable, even within their peer groups.

"Imperial College Union will be approaching students from Dr. Bernard Lamb's tutorials to measure the impact that this will have on their continued teaching and learning. We appreciate that Dr. Lamb's intentions are not malicious and that his objective is to highlight falling standards of English but feel that this is an inappropriate use of privileged information regarding nationality, ancestry and country of birth. We cannot see any positive benefit that this will have on the students under Dr. Lamb?s tutorage and are concerned about damage that may have been caused to his future relationship with students following a perceived breach of trust."

She continued that Lamb's research had "raised concerns over the level of feedback students are receiving on their work and the processes that are in place to target these key skills as part as their development as Imperial College London undergraduates."

Warning: this article criticises those with poor spelling and grammar, so will probably contain a high level of mistakes in those areas. This is nature's way of saying "don't be smug". Anyone correcting the mistakes will be traced and sent to the climate camp.

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Discussion about “Seamen Responsible for Cow Insemination”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Aug 15 2007 00:38

And to those people wondering why it took so long to write something on this ... you are welcome to write articles yourselves. See the page Join the Team for more information.

I can't (continue to) write everything myself and Live! needs your help... I'm happy to add the cynical tone and acerbic comments once I have the bulk of an article ;)

Drop me an email on if you'd like to get involved at a more formal level.

2. OK   
Aug 15 2007 02:00

Well college aren't exactly flawless in this regard either - who else remembers the posters put up all towards the end of last term offering a "sneak peak" at the staff party?

Sometimes I get cross at how stupid everyone else in the world is.

Aug 15 2007 02:58

Links to the articles in question:


What a load of NUS-party line twaddle from the new DPFS. "We cannot see any positive benefit that this will have on the students under Dr. Lamb?s tutorage". How about the lazy bastards learning to spell properly?

Aug 15 2007 10:33

u may fynd dat Kerstee Patersen is DPEW, knott DPFS.

Aug 15 2007 10:36

I was a student under Dr Lamb a few years ago and found his lecture on the use of English very useful although I was shocked that he had the need to give the lecture ("effect" and "affect" anyone?).

I can't see how the article can be any less than a benefit to the students. It is important that those people leaving a top class university such as Imperial are seen to get the basics right.

6. Sid   
Aug 15 2007 13:34

What would you expect from a bunch of life scientists?

Aug 15 2007 16:53

what a load of twaddle. her statement reads like something from some f**king new labour spokesperson. honestly, do you think any of the students involved will give a flying c**p about whether 'privileged information' was used? grow a pair.

dr lamb is pretty much a legend at college. good on him for highlighting the borderline illiteracy of some undergraduates. he shouldn't be made the target of some investigation just because he dared to make a point.


Aug 15 2007 22:28

And another thing...

It *is* OK to use capital letters once in a while, such as at the beginning of sentences. Shame on the ~90% of people at Imperial who forget that.

Aug 15 2007 23:31

If you think that the spelling and grammar is frighteningly awful, you should see some of the essays and articles that come from the kids that think they can write... Are these people reading essays and journalism that I'm missing, or are they writing in the first person singular just for kicks?

Aug 15 2007 23:37

i do it by choice. it's a stylistic thing on messageboards.

and yeah, no-one can write well any more. orwell is spinning in his grave (his essay, on writing, is superb and highly recommended to anyone who values clear, concise and intelligent writing).

11. JJ   
Aug 16 2007 07:58

"How about the lazy bastards learning to spell properly?"

Might be a bit late. Did I read somewhere that the list was compiled over ~10 years?

Aug 16 2007 10:21

It's never too late to start learning. If you can understand the intricacies of artificial insemination, you can bloody well spell the words right when you're describing it! The problem is people don't read enough - Wikipedia and poorly written lecture notes suffice for most courses.

That said, at least biologists actually have to write stuff (i.e. essays on a regular basis). I wonder how bad the spelling of the engineers and mathmo's would be?

13. dwm   
Aug 16 2007 18:43

If you think that's bad, you should see some of the technical-support emails we get.

An interesting response to the Observer article from an Imperial alumnus:

14. Sheila   
Jan 31 2009 16:54

I took Dr Lamb's course and he was always a brilliant tutor. I can't see why he's being crucified for having the guts to point out a real issue in the education system. Ms Patterson needs to give the melodramatics a rest!

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