In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

Higher Grades and Better Marks

Man overboard! When it comes to formal schooling, many are in over their head. And there's nary a savior in sight.

Navigating academic waters requires scholarship, but, alas, there's no real "ship" in scholarship, only the suffix meaning "condition" or "skill".

We measure scholarship not by knots, but by grades. They are what enables a student to monitor his or her progress, from the Latin gradire, gress- "to step," and pro, "forward," following him closely, step by step, as he moves gradually up through the grades. This shows him how many steps he has fallen behind or raced ahead of the others. We also know them as marks — from the Old English mearc, "boundary"-a convenient way of setting young people off from the one another, as well as teaching them their limits.

Marks unfortunately also create stigmas, from those used by the Ancient Greeks to brand their slaves. The Romans took things a step further, using them to figuratively mark the disgrace caused by dishonorable conduct.

Today, we no longer employ branding irons, favoring instead computerized files and designations such as, "drop-out," and "difficult to work with." Of course, there's always the "F " for "Failure" to fall back on.

All this is not insignificant. The Latin, signum, "mark," and facere, "to make," gave us a sign how "important and full of meaning," this all is, establishing the belief that what is significant in scholarship is primarily high marks.

Could it be, however, that what is significant is not the marks assigned by teachers but those made by the students themselves in laying out their future path — marks that are not made by anyone else but are those of their own design?