The Passionate Skeptic
About Thor May

Contact: Thor May
Adelaide, Australia
e-mail: thormay@
articles :

: Writer, teacher, teacher trainer, lecturer (English language & linguistics), contrarian thinker ...

Qualifications : Life has taught me to put no great store on the formal "qualifications" of people I meet (the fancy diplomas might or might not tell you something useful about the other person). However the institutional mind, and lots of others too, seem to need badges, medals, diplomas and titles etc. before they can decide anything. Therefore, for what they are worth, the following is my collection of honorifics. Click here to see Thor's Résumé, and click here to see a List of some of Thor's Publications (this needs seriously updating) . Lately I've also posted about 147 articles and papers to where they attract far more readers than on my own humble website.

My main qualifications are :

Accredited :

PhD : My doctoral dissertation on language teaching productivity was awarded in 2010 by the University of Newcastle, Australia. The dissertation itself can be read in several places, including the University of Newcastle's own web repository. This is an unusual dissertation, coming towards the end rather than the beginning of a career. It is a collection of twenty educational case studies, exploring why various institutions worked, or failed to work well, in their supposed mission of enabling teachers to be productive in their professional task of promoting effective student learning (student productivity) . I tried to write it in very plain language for the widest possible audience. This research was a total departure from my earlier research in formal and cognitive linguistics (see below).

Master of Applied Linguistics - 2005; the University of Newcastle, Australia; => transcript.

Postgraduate Diploma of Teaching , Auckland, New Zealand, 1975; ( one year postgraduate program).

RSA/Cambridge CTEFLA (certificate in teaching English as a foreign language to adults; a syndicated course from Cambridge, done in Melbourne, Australia, 1996).

Bachelor of Arts degree, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, 1974. Majors in linguistics and social anthropology.

Non-accredited : the following material is useless for getting jobs or satisfying bureauracies, but does reflect a lot of extra knowledge and insight, earned at great expense of time and money.

1. I worked on two other PhDs (besides the one finally awarded in 2010) :

a) The first one, in the early 1980s was not finished, but later turned into an M.A. That was about Generative Grammar (topic: Grammatical Agency). I walked away from this after deciding that the rationalist-logic approach of Noam Chomsky's model (the foundation of what I was doing) could not in principle explain how the human mind made language.

b) I wrote about 50,000 wildly speculative words, and did a lot of research on a second PhD in Cognitive Linguistics (about Formulaism and Collocation in Language) at the University of Melbourne, Australia, 1990-1994 part-time. I also stopped doing this degree formally after concluding that computing technology would overtake my grunt-work analysis within a decade, and that nobody else really gave a stuff about my ideas anyway. It did develop my own thinking a lot, and still remains of great personal interest. See my material on
Generative Oscillation, and also the article "Postsupposition and Pastich Talk". Another of my papers from this period, much read, is "Aspects of Repetition in Discourse" .

Master of Arts in Formal and Applied Linguistics, Hawaii, 1994. It is based on PhD work from the University of Newcastle, plus some other content. The examiner was the head of Linguistics at Newcastle, who accepted that it was one solution to an unfair situation at the U. Newcastle itself (whose restrictive rules at that time would not allow withdrawn doctoral work to be resubmitted for a Masters). My motive for seeking this thing was purely to give some official validation to employers for the knowledge and skills I already possessed, but which the "B.A." label could not communicate. The university which awarded the qualification, Greenwich University in Hawaii, seemed like a good and recommended choice in 1994, but went out of business by 2004. Therefore the degree is now difficult to use officially (transcripts are available however). What a waste. Eventually I decided that it was best to do a second Masters degree (above).

Origin: I was born in Australia in 1945. My ancestors seem to have come to Australia between the early 1800s and 1851, some from England and some from America. My actual given name, Thorold, seems too hard for most people so I have shortened it to Thor. The "-old" suffix means "the strength of Thor", Thor being the ancient Viking god of storms. That is all a bit strange in this era ^_^. It became even stranger when an enthusiastic lady in China offered me a literally translated Chinese name : 梅 (Méi = plum blossom) 天 啸 (Tiān xiào = whistling from the sky). Since I left home at 17 years of age, I have lived outside Australia for a total of about 24 years as of 2021, though mostly as an agent of Australian culture (that is, as a lecturer and language teacher). I like to dwell in places where cultures meet. I therefore see myself as a 'citizen of the world'.

Teaching: I have been teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language since 1976. For twelve years (1978-1990) I also lectured linguistics in universities. Besides that, in 2003-2004 I lectured linguistics to Korean postgraduates in a TESOL program.

Background Experience: I have taught in these countries: Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, China (5 years overall), South Korea (I was in South Korea from September 2000 until September 2007, then returned to China). I have also visited perhaps twenty other countries, but prefer to have a purpose in travel rather than just log in to the standard "famous places". In Australia over many years I taught thousands of immigrants from what seemed like every country in the world. Before I became a teacher in 1976 I had many other jobs (about forty!), including aircraft dispatch officer, shipyard ironworker, office worker, commercial cleaner, newspaper copy boy, truck driver, taxi driver ... and so on. Perhaps because of this, I am more interested in your personality than your bank account, your job position, or how important you think you are. I respect anyone if they try to do a good job, and don't respect them if they are lazy or dishonest! Having said that, as I look back some rather bad guys (women too!) have left me with strong memories. Like them, no, but they are wonderful story material ^_^. I have a rather wry view of my own failings, a tendency to laugh at myself, and find it hard to really dislike anyone who can also have a good laugh at their own dumb mistakes.

Wealth: I have pretty simple tastes, moneywise, but probably spend too much on computers !! I'm usually frugal (women hate this ^_^), but hopefully not mean. Being frugal is a necessity. I started poor, have never been rich (by Australian standards), am officially retired on an Australian basic age pension (crazy! I don't feel old), probably have enough to buy a small apartment somewhere but hate to commit, and seem likely to die someday without a lot of money. However, I have never been in debt. Many people have security + a career + a boring life. Some folk have the lucky option of wealth + an interesting life. I have usually chosen interesting work + interesting personal activities like writing stories + rather little money + very little security. The main drawback, I suppose, is that not having hung out in expensive hotel lobbies with a credit card overdraft, an Armani suit and a big fake smile, I have also failed to meet some of life's more interesting villains and fast living ladies ... No big regrets, but donations gratefully received (smile)!

Preferred Intellectual style: playing Devil's Advocate, i.e. as a friendly provocateur challenging accepted wisdom. I'm delighted to be argued down and proved wrong every time, but every government, business, college, colleague, student and friend needs this kind of challenge to grow! If you can graciously defend your practices, actions and beliefs they might be worth something. I'm with Socrates on this: "the unexamined life is not worth living."

Interests and affections:

I am an active person who stays fit with exercises every day. I've been distance running since about 1961, walk wherever possible, and prefer stairs to escalators (which seems to put me beyond the pale amongst most members of the human species). For decades I slogged 10 km most days, which took about 42 minutes. Nowadays the distances are usually shorter, using sprints in intervals with brief pauses for heart rate recovery (it is more effective than ordinary running) + about 15 minutes of skipping a day. Including walking I'm averaging around 13 km a day on my feet. Maybe half of that is running.

My social relationships tend to be cordial but not really close, perhaps because of a natural independence. Luckily, humans come with all kinds of shapes, sizes and dispositions, and surfing along with that daily human drama does give life a special buzz.

I have never married. Why not? No easy answer. First take: at 168cm tall in a land of giants, without the bravado to play Napoleon, I probably was't sending most gals weak in the knees. Still, there is hardly a person alive who wouldn't like a special 'perfect partner', and the synergy which comes with that. On the other hand, I learned long ago that the frantic partner search which obsesses so many finally rewards so few, frankly leaves too many other opportunities neglected. In my case, that race has surely been run and lost by now! For what it's worth I was attracted to slim, very bright and courageous women who could also manage a spark of humour and compassion. Sometimes complicating this instinct, my particular life experience has left me more attuned to many Asian women than a lot of their Australian sisters. Since this is a shopping list that will never get to the supermarket anyway, I'll thow in that only a minority of individuals, whatever their age, seem to have the mental and physical energy to feel comfortable with me for long as close constant companions, or maybe we express it in different ways. Whatever. As for history, however you cut it, the bright girls were too smart to tie up with me. Well, maybe that's the way the world is, and in the end for me it hasn't been such a bad world to live in.

The way things stand, I am rarely lonely or bored personally because life is so fascinating. I run a couple of meetup groups, one called
DiscussionX8 for round table discussions, and one to help learners of English feel comfortable in a new country: Adelaide English as a Second Language Group. Sometimes old colleagues send me a bit of academic editing to do (see Plain & Fancy Language) . I am interested in computers, technology and new ideas of all kinds, as well as languages, history, geography, sociology, economics and current affairs. I'm occasionally moved by music, but it is not a big deal in my life. Pop culture, spectator sports and TV are almost total blanks (which makes me a very unpromising character in your typical bar scene chatter ^_^).

There is a very big, "homepage" site at, which has come to be a kind of extension of my brain. Some entries run back to the 1990s- ancient in cyberspace. It is now a legacy site which desperately needs updating. Life is so short! Much should be be spun off into other, less self-centered content, but that would be an enormous job! Some of the files on this site are of book length. The more organized articles and papers on it now also reside at , about 147 pieces + some lecturee material, and have attracted a rather astonishing worldwide readership there. Writing stories, essays, articles and sometimes poems is absorbing, but does take up a lot of time. Over the years I have also produced much English language teaching material and occasionally toy with the problem of how to put it in front of non-classroom learners, hopefully to make a dollar or two. To do that, I'm very slowly converting material toresponsive format with a program called Rocket Cake.

Big questions: Everyone has at least one important question in their life. For me, the important question is "how does it work?". That is, I always want to find out how everything works: a watch, a car engine, the human brain, China, Korean culture, you ... Learning about new things, and creating new things is facinating enough to fill up a human life. I noticed long ago that many people ask and worry about "why am I here?" I have no answer to that, and believe there is no answer. Therefore, it is a waste of time worrying about "why am I here?". The important thing is to have an interesting life while you are are alive. At the time of the Roman Empire, a couple of thousand years ago, average life expectancy was apparently about 22 years at birth (partly because child mortality was shocking). In Elizabethan England of the 1500s-1600s, a person could expect to live around 32 years. No wonder the big deal was to "have a good death", preferably with honour, such as having your head cut off while defending the king or saving a noble lady from bandits. Well, now we have an extra 50 years or more to fill in, and it is surely an abuse of the gift to waste it start to end with a couch potato TV existence.

I understand that religion is important to many people for many reasons. I respect that, but have no religion myself. Maybe that comes from being comfortable as an independent thinker. In any case, looking at both history and the world today, I see that bad people use religion as an excuse for what they do, and good people use religion as a reason for what they do. Many people use religion as either an excuse or a reason to hate other people. I don't need excuses like that, and I don't need reasons like that. I have lived what seemed to be a good and decent life since stage entrance in 1945. I have clear values and enjoy helping other people to grow (which is why I am a teacher).

Seeing is believing: A video autobiography of Thor in five parts called "The Ages of Man" can be seen on the Video Page. These are videos. In 2010 I also made three other very short videos, "Born 1945 and Still Running Strong" (about my running), "Teaching English is Fun" (shot in a class of nursing trainees I was teaching in Zhengzhou, China), and "The Journey of a Passionate Skeptic" (a speech to graduating students at my Australia-China joint venture college in Zhengzhou).


Seeing is believing: A partial video autobiography of Thor in five clips called "The Ages of Man" can be seen on the Video Page. These are videos. In 2010 I also made three other very short videos, "Born 1945 and Still Running Strong" (about my running), "Teaching English is Fun" (shot in a class of nursing trainees I was teaching in Zhengzhou, China), and "The Journey of a Passionate Skeptic" (a speech to graduating students at my Australia-China joint venture college in Zhengzhou).


Garmin Vivofit - Resting Heart Rate (1 week average, 25 January 2021)

Thor - Blood Pressure - 27 January 2021

Garmin Vivofit - VO2 Max (23 January 2021)

Polar Ignite - HRV ( from a 4 hour overnight sample; July 2020)

Polar Ignite - Interbeat Interval ( from a 4 hour overnight sample; July 2020)

From the Getting Stronger website -


author: Thor May PhD
location: Adelaide, Australia

©Thor May 1995-2021 All rights reserved