Editor’s Note

The theme of this year’s issue of the Tortoise is, as the title says, the so-called hidden lexicon. What is meant by this? As Writing Center fellows, the other editors and I usually tend to discuss the characteristics of good (and bad) writing in terms of the “lexicon terms” we are taught in Writing Seminar — motive, thesis, orienting, and so on. In many ways, we do this for practical reasons. By having a single set of terms by which we can refer to the parts of an essay, writing fellows avoid confusion, and make it so that a student can have a consistent experience no matter which fellow or professor he or she is speaking to.

In some ways, however, this lexicon also adds a new layer of complexity to the already-difficult task of writing a clean essay. All the editors remember quite clearly how the first time we encountered “motive” in writing seminar, we had no idea what it meant. Was it a research question? What about the so-called “motive layer cake”, and how could you be sure that the particular version (or versions) we chose to lean on for our essay would yield an arguable thesis? At the time, I was certainly confused, and after three years as a writing fellow, I don’t think I am alone in this.

The previous issues of Tortoise all provide excellent examples of the various lexicon terms. Our goal in this issue was to connect the lexicon terms back to the some of the more familiar — though possibly, more ambiguous — phrases and ideas which arise we write essays. The pieces we selected — mostly excerpts, with one full-length essay by Cassandra James, ’23— are varied in both subject matter and depth, from Writing Center papers to Junior independent work. We hope that together with the commentaries by the authors, editors, and in some case, professors for whom the paper was written, these pieces will not only showcase the variety and quality of student writing at Princeton, while also providing inspiration and guidance for future essays.

— Isabella Khan, ’21