“Flow” – is it time for me to un-ban it?

My A-level students, and doubtless some others, have had the experience at one point or another of me going berserk about someone using the word ‘flow’ to describe a piece of text, followed by my theatrically banning its use, usually to the accompaniment of a less than edifying toilet-based description of how ‘flow’ can take so many different forms from the trickle to the torrent that it’s pretty useless in any discussion that’s aiming at analytical precision.

Reading this the other day, led me back to the source whence it flowed, thereby reassuring me that it’s not only my ‘pet peeve’, but also confirming what I’ve always felt: that even though it’s not useful in itself as an analytical term, its use by students nearly always reflects the sense that they are grasping at something important and worth saying, but do not yet have the conceptual tools and critical vocabulary to define and describe adequately.
My A-level students will also notice that one of the examples used by David Jauss is an extract from D H Lawrence’s Odour of Chrysanthemums which uses stylistic techniques very similar to those used by Lawrence in a passage I nearly always use towards the beginning of the course (it’s the first paragraph here ), and which I contrast with extracts from Hemingway and Austen that use very different syntactical structures, and also ‘flow’ but in very different ways. (I think I first saw those extracts juxtaposed in an early English Language resource book called Some things to do with English Language.)
(Anyhow, both articles are well worth a read, I think.

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