Having finished a marathon session of grading for the "Modern Poetry" class I am currently teaching, I decided to strip the names and grades from my comments and paste them into wordle. It was just the sort of idle fancy that strikes one after grading twenty, seven-page essays. (See that use of "one" in that last sentence? Take note of it--it will pop up in the tag cloud.) The result looked like this: [caption id="attachment_28" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Wordle, Paper Comments"]Wordle, Paper Comments[/caption] Seeing the resulting word cloud gave me the opportunity to briefly reflect on the way I comment on student papers. I normally type between a paragraph and a page in response to major papers written for the class. The dominant terms in this word-cloud are unsurprising: essay, poem, and so on. "Close" is there because of my frequent comments about "close reading." And if you look closely, you can probably deduce what we've been reading recently (Millay, Cummings, Eliot, Pound, "Prufrock," and so on; the words "Waste" and "Land" have been separated, but you'd be justified in concluding that we've braved The Waste Land, recently). Other terms however are surprising. I was initially somewhat flummoxed to see both "one" and "two." This is a course in modern poetry, not counting. But, after going back through my comments, it seems "one" emerges from my tendency to use phrases like "in one sense," and "One reason for this," or even "One might assume..."; "two" rises to prominence because many essays were comparing "two" poems or poets. Even more interesting to me were the habits of commenting revealed by wordle. Words like "quite" and "wonder" (used throughout as a verb--almost always as "I wonder...") bubble up, as a product of the tone I tend to adopt in responses to student work. Chief amongst these strange hedge words with which I couch my response to student essays is "seems" (and to the right of it, "seem"), which assumes as much prominence in this word-cloud as some author names. Looking back through my comments, this innocuous little verb does a lot of work, in comments like "At times your essay seems to lose sight of it claim..." or "You seem to suggest..." I wonder if this is just needless coddling, or if this sort of hedging serves some purpose in softening comments that might otherwise be seen as unhelpful or overly critical.