Crossing the Threshold

This post was written by Ansley Morris, a Humanities Center student fellow.


When I was 18 years-old, there was one word that stopped me from declaring myself an English major: prose. Not writing it, not reading it, but the very word itself. Prose. Those five letters were my roadblock, spelling out every one of my insecurities.

It was the winter semester of 2021. I was a young freshman enrolled in the English Department’s Reading Series. Each week, authors would (virtually) come to BYU, read their work, and answer questions from bright-eyed students eager to learn. I was one of these students, one who wanted to sit in lectures, find meaning in books and poetry, write papers, and one day walk across that graduation stage, English degree in hand. But I was also scared. Nervous. Anxious. I felt too young and inexperienced to be a part of that world. Do I know enough? Have I read enough? Can I even write? The doubts stacked like bricks in my mind as I sat on my apartment couch every Friday, tuned in to the Reading Series Zoom link.

During one of these class periods, the professor’s voice sputtered across my speakers. “Now, if anyone has questions, we’ll use the remaining time for a Q&A.” I listened as my classmates unmuted their mics to talk with the author. They asked typical questions about the writing process until one in particular made my eyebrows pinch together: “How do you balance description in prose?”

Prose? What’s prose? I had never heard that word before, but from the way dozens of tiny heads nodded in agreement on my screen, I felt like I should know, like I needed to know. My naivete regarding this simple term made me feel like I was failing a very important prerequisite.

I stayed in that class for the entire semester and never once found the courage to ask about prose. I never cracked the spine of a dictionary or even typed a google search. All the resources were right there in front of me—and yet? I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know. Even in the privacy of an incognito browser, I couldn’t bring myself to confront the fact that I, a wanna-be English student, didn’t already know about this very important word, prose.

Not-knowing can feel embarrassing. It can make us feel like imposters. It can make us want to sit in the back corner of the classroom with our hands in our laps, too scared to raise them in question. But aren’t we all striving to be lifelong learners? Is that not one of the very pillars Brigham Young University stands on? Lifelong learning doesn’t just suggest not-knowing, it requires it.

In their beautiful book, Charitable Writing, authors Richard Hughes Gibson and James Edward Beitler III touch on this idea of not-knowing. Building upon the work of Jan H.F. Meyer and Ray Land, they explain that as learners, we stand at the threshold of new experiences, waiting to enter in. They call the unknown a “threshold concept”: the “idea one must learn to take part in academic disciplines.”[1] Threshold concepts are our ticket to ride—our intellectual cover fee. For math students, a threshold concept might be imaginary numbers. For economics students it might be the notion of opportunity cost.[2]

We are not born with an understanding of threshold concepts; they do not come to us overnight or instantaneously. However, once they are learned, they are transformative. They permanently change the way we think. They prevent us from regressing back into our old, naive ways of knowing. They are wonderfully irreversible.

I would like to adopt one of the threshold concepts discussed in Charitable Writing as a threshold concept for lifelong learning: “All writers have more to learn.” Stretching this principle beyond my discipline, I suggest that all of us—students, professors, parents, employees, retirees, etc.—have more to learn. There will always be subjects and formulas and languages we don’t know, but we can’t let that stop us from trying. It is the not-knowing that beckons us to explore, not evade, the depths of knowledge that lie before us.

On that cold, snowy Friday in January of 2021, I let not-knowing stop me from learning. I let one single word make me feel dull, dumb, and incompetent. My ignorance was an impediment rather than an invitation. I was stuck behind two threshold concepts: 1. “All writers have more to learn,” and 2. The denotation of that vexing prose. It would be two years until I signed up for my first required English class, two years before I left the advisement center as a newly declared English student. It took me two years to cross those thresholds. (Don’t wait two years, cross them now!)

We all have more to learn. The moment that we understand, accept, and even welcome that truth into our minds, we’ve crossed the threshold. We’ve walked through the doorway and into a house of learning where lively conversations spill out from every room, warmly inviting us to join in. But, for any reader who may share in my struggle, who may find it hard to cross these thresholds, I offer you my hand and one simple definition:

Prose /prōz/ noun 1. Written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure.[3]


[1] Gibson, Richard H., and James E. Beitler. 2020. Charitable Writing: Cultivating Virtue Through Our Words. N.p.: InterVarsity Press.

[2] “Understanding Threshold Concepts | Howe Writing Across the Curriculum.” n.d. Miami University. Accessed March 24, 2024.

[3] Oxford Languages, s.v. “Prose,”

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