Jenny saw snow for the first time a few months ago. She came to Wisconsin from Central America with a dozen other students to enter a two-year program for agricultural development.
The students have had one semester of intensive English; and now, in this second semester, they have a mixture of program classes and English classes. Jenny is in my reading class.
At the beginning of the semester, I asked each student to write personal goals for the class. Be specific, I told them. Don’t just say you want to improve your reading ability; tell me how many books you are going to read each month.
Most of the goals were specific, but a few general ones slipped by. My favorite came from Jenny. “I want more flounce in my English,” she wrote.
Jenny’s first language is Spanish, so when she wrote the word “flounce,” she was pronouncing it as if it were a Spanish word: flow-oon-say. Say that a few times and you’ll see that it is close to how speakers of American English pronounce “fluency.”
A flounce is a sassy ruffle that waves at everyone when it enters the room; it calls attention to the body part it encircles or adorns. A flounce lives to flutter and give fabric a way to flirt. You can live without flounces, but why would you want to?
Adding a flounce requires altering a plain design and sewing on twirls and winks of cloth. The word itself is an alteration of an earlier word “frounce,” which meant “wrinkle.” Word spellings and word meanings are often redesigned to fit the fashion of the day.
I write the way I dress: plain and simple. But sometimes I get dressed up, and then I like a little flounce. And sometimes, I want more flounce in my English. Now and then I like to add words that ruffle around an idea, to braid thoughts together just for show, to stitch in rows of phrases like colorful ribbons that delight the eye, and to hand-sew the hem of the page, embellishing it with tiny scalloped jokes.
When Jenny turned in her goals, I had to correct “flounce” to “fluency,” but now I think that first goal was a good one. Correct pronunciation and syntax are important, but so is getting more flounce in your English.