Memories · The Last Half Century

When A Lot is Not Alot

I’ve been in the marketing and public relation business for a long time. I’ve seen some pretty effective product campaigns, but none more effective from a cost and impact perspective than the one I saw in sixth grade. This particular campaign was the genius of a determined English teacher who sought to rid the world of improper English. It was her mission to teach young minds to write with proper sentence structure.

Like many of my fellow students in grade school, I struggled with nouns, verbs, adjectives and sentence structure. To this day, editing and proper English are not my strength which is why I rely on seasoned editors. (And why you might notice my posts on this blog don’t benefit from an editor since they arrive straight from me to you.) In sixth grade I wasn’t alone. We would hand in our writing assignments and I could see our English teacher sighing as she went through each paper in the stack. I sensed she was starting to look at us as a lost cause, but she pressed on and continued to scold us for improper use of words and sentence structure.

One particular irritation she had was how we spelled the word “a lot”. Over and over, my classmates and I would spell it as one word – alot. It frustrated her to no end. Each time she handed back our papers she would announce to the class, “How many times do I have to tell you a lot is not one word?!” Apparently, the answer to that question was always, “One more time.” I would glance at papers she handed back to me and see the word “alot” circled three or four times in red with a big “NO!” written next to it and the correction “a lot”. I could tell by the deep impression the red circles made in the paper that she was very upset about the whole thing.

I’m not sure what prompted her to take drastic action, but one morning when we arrived at school, we saw that she was taking this whole “a lot” battle to the next level. She had brought out the heavy artillery to reach us in a most unusual way. There, plastered on every wall in the halls of the school, were signs that read:

A lot

Is not

A four-letter word!

To this day, I vividly remember bending over to get a drink at the drinking fountain and when I stood up, there at my sixth-grade eye level, was one of the signs. For some reason, at that moment, the phrase stuck in my head for all time. Even to this day, decades later, I can rattle off that phrase. From that moment on, I never wrote “alot” as a four-letter word. I guess I owe a lot to my sixth-grade English teacher. I think she would be pleased that even though I wrote a lot of ads, articles, brochures and news releases in my career, I never wrote “a lot” as a four-letter word – except of course in this post.

© 2021 CGThelen

First published June 2021

I would glance at papers she handed back to me and see the word “alot” circled three or four times in red with a big “NO!”

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