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Watch Your Tongue

English for Luddites. Plus: Slamming Rathergate. Democrats have a nice day. Washington botch.

1.11.05

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MODERN AMERICAN USAGE
Re: Christopher Orlet's Grammar for Smarties:

I found Christopher Orlet's article "Grammar for Smarties" quite interesting, since it represents one of my pet peeves -- the accepted degradation of the English language. It's a good thing that there is still is a large segment of our populace intent on saving the language, even though they are saddled with the seemingly retrogressive handle of "Luddite." Actually, I think most of the Luddites don't oppose change so much as they oppose complete disregard for proper grammar, composition, and spelling. New words will come along, and others will become archaic -- but some of the things we hear and see written nowadays are truly atrocious.

Just as an aside: it's too bad and rather ironic that a typo (perhaps using one of those "new" words) sneaked in the article -- last paragraph, first sentence -- it should be "necessarily" I believe. :) Of all places for that to happen --in an article on English grammar (and I realize that this is a sentence fragment --used for emphasis only). :-)
-- Gary W. Johnson
Huntsville, Alabama

I'm not aware of any extant grammars in English of the rigorous sort that one sees for other languages, particularly those available for Greek, e.g., Greek Grammar by Herbert Weir Smyth, Harvard, 1920, and Latin such as the Cambridge A Student's Latin Grammar, 1992. With all due respect to Mr. Orlet, Fowler's Modern English Usage is not a grammar; it is merely a style book, so also Strunk and White.

Where does a high-school or college student go to look up uses of the subjunctive, conditional sentences, predicate nominatives, and examples of the archaic second-person forms of verb and pronoun inflection? The best place to learn English grammar remains the Latin 101 course. Grammar purists have been whining about the deterioration of American English for most of my life (I'm 64), and yet no one has attempted to put the whine into a new bottle. Here's a great opportunity for scholarship, and a chance to collect royalties for years. The Smyth book is still in print after 85 years.
-- Stuart W. Settle, Jr., J.D.
Richmond, Virginia

At the moment I am reading John Adams by David McCullough and I am struck by the beauty of the language spoken by John and Abigail Adams and also by the level of learning as John Quincy's schooling is described. I am also very saddened by what is being taught (or, actually, not) in our public schools. If our citizens cannot communicate using the full range of our language how can we read the classics or understand our own history? Reclaiming our language must be our goal!
-- Mrs. Deane Pradzinski
Highland, California

Language is about communication (i.e., what is said and how it is said). Much of what is communicated is nonverbal, such as facial expressions and hand gestures, most of which are subconscious. Should there also be national standards for expressions, gestures, and the subconscious? Do not the relatively frozen faces and paralyzed arms of speakers of American English communicate less than, say, the faces and arms of Italians? Just asking.
-- David Govett
Davis, California

A pet peeve of mine: the word "done." In the past, it was NEVER acceptable to use it as is common on television by people who should know better, lawyers and such. "Are we done yet?" When did this become acceptable speech? It sounds like fingernails on the chalkboard to me. I weep for the unfortunate teachers slogging through grammar with young skulls full of mush who get little support at home from parents or peers.

Years ago, Louden Wainwright lll wrote a brilliant song called "Cobwebs." The printed lyrics describe a word which he never uses. A word in common usage that everyone uses, and most people, even so-called educated types. It is a sad commentary on the decline of standards. Very timely column.
-- Janis in Independence

The Christopher Orlet column on grammar was much welcomed, indeed. I think that laziness is responsible for most of the decline in proper grammar. The journalist seems to be the worst offender, but that is because those are the people we have contact with, through the media.

I should note that The American Spectator is no exception, as I have pointed out errors on several occasions: Not to be pedantic, but instead, to remind you of the standards set by RET. Other than that, I love TAS. I wish Mark Steyn still had his "Culture Vulture" column here.
-- R. Jeff Jarvis
Austin, Texas

Yes, I for one think the use of correct language matters very much. To "legalize" words and the mispronunciations of words to satisfy those who cannot or will not learn to speak their language correctly contributes to the "dumbing down" of our society.

Please correct me if I'm wrong on one word I constantly hear that I didn't think was a "word" -- "SNUCK."

The conjugation of the word "sneak," as I recall, was "sneak," "sneaked" and "has or have sneaked."

If my memory is right, please let me know. I look forward to letting the media who use the word "snuck" know that they should check a dictionary.

Oh, then, what dictionary!

If "snuck" is not a word, surely a dictionary out there has decided it is. Your point exactly.
-- Joanne

Prescriptivists -- okay, what does this mean? Merriam-Webster doesn't know either.
-- Pat Cleveland

CBS SURVIVORS
Re: George Neumayr's Carry On, Dan:

Neumayr is one of very few who are 100% correct about "Rathergate" (sadly). Thank you for the FACTUAL account of the RatherGate White Wash. It's sickening to watch what CBS got away with .
-- Meredith McFadden
Dayton, Ohio

I know, Mr. Neumayr, that you're not surprised. Maybe you're familiar with the NRA bumper sticker, "I'll give up my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers." Well, the same mindset is at work in the Legacy media. "I'll admit my liberal bias when..." A laudable attitude when trying to protect your Second Amendment rights, but laughable in the case of the CBS/Dan Rather whitewash. Bernard Goldberg must have experienced a moment of resigned melancholy when he read it.
-- Tim Jones
Cordova, Tennessee

Interesting, isn't it, that with the thinnest strands of connection, questionable sources, dissenting experts and more, CBS leapt at the fabricated non-story about President Bush's National Guard service. But with proverbial blood everywhere, with even it's own evidence containing what appear to be smoking guns, CBS can't find there was a crime committed against the truth by their darlings, Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, and serious offense bordering on defamation to the president.

Better they should've refused to investigate themselves. With their whitewash report, they only punctuate their inability to investigate and report the truth. And they further establish how they have betrayed and continue to betray the public's trust.

Perhaps we should've known that CBS would never indict itself of liberal, anti-Bush bias. But, please, did no one there understand that this report would draw even more attention to their bias and the laxity and unprofessionalism of their newsroom?
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

A well analyzed piece indeed! Once again it is obvious that this white-wash is not designed to make an intelligent defense of the Rather/Mapes propaganda. That would be impossible and this panel knows it. This defense is for those who need only be given the most transparent of defenses for them to be satisfied that the president is guilty. The folks to whom this panel's fairy tale is dedicated are those who hate President Bush so much that any crime could be ascribed to him and the mere accusation would be iron-clad proof of his guilt. The hypocrisy, incompetence, and sheer chutzpah of this panel makes its report "the stuff that dreams are made of." I feel deeply for those in whom hope springs eternal and who expected an honest assessment of the situation and a placing of blame where blame belonged. But, then again, those folks are the same ones who still put a lost tooth under the pillow expecting a visit and a monetary reward from you know who.
-- Joseph Baum
Newton Falls, Ohio

I just loved this article. It hit home so truthfully and to the point. Who do these people think they are trying to fool?!

They just insult my intelligence to the n'th degree and make me more committed to seeking the truth and justice in journalism. America, land of the free... home of the moron, liberal-biased journalists (alias zero-brains).

Thanks,
-- Bob Hepler

BOXED IN
Re: Patrick Hynes's The Day the Wheels Came Off:

Mr. Hynes snide joke about how Ted Kennedy's inquiry into our military's torture at Abu Ghraib -- conflating "waterboarding" with Kennedy's drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne -- is funny, in a hideous way. But also morally sickening.

I'm a rock-ribbed Republican, but I hold with our first President, George Washington, who kept his men from torturing a group of captured Loyalist soldiers in the Revolutionary War -- stopping them from making the captives "run a gauntlet" of sticks and rifle butts. Washington said that this was not the way "Americans should behave in war" -- and that standard, a standard perhaps higher than those practiced by other countries, is part of what makes the word "American exceptionalism" glow with something approaching truth and valor.

I am not a dreamy idealist, and I realize that sometimes, when the chips are down, rules may have to be occasionally bent. But is placing the conservative side on the side of those sick, untutored unfortunate U.S. soldiers who reveled in leashing up and degrading Iraqi prisoners really something the conservative side in our country wants to do?

I don't. I won't. Shame on Mr. Hynes. We're better than that as Americans, and as Republicans. If we aren't better, or at least trying to be better, then why are we Americans at all?
-- Peter Russell

Perhaps the so called Boxer Rebellion that took place on January 6th in the Senate as described by Patrick Hynes is not as bizarre as he might wish to believe.

By cuddling up to the Congressional Black Caucus early on in so dramatic a fashion -- weeping public tears already! -- Sen. Boxer may be attempting to earn a chip to cash in during the big game three years from now in the run up to the 2008 Democrat Convention. If so and lacking the gravitas to go for the brass ring on her own merit, my guess would be she may be making an early bid for the number two slot on what she may envision as the all female, all Senatorial, red state bracketing ticket of Clinton/Boxer.

If that is what she has in mind, it would appear she is shrewdly attempting to apply the advice the legendary (if fictional) New York City olive oil importer Vito Andolini -- who came to be known as Don Corleone -- offered to his sons, to wit: you can never have so great an advantage over an adversary as to be underestimated by that person.

Bizarre? To be sure, but crazy? Well, maybe crazy like a fox.
-- Thomas E. Stuart
Kapa'au, Hawaii

WASHINGTON POLITICS
Re: Heather Roscoe's Report From Washington-Florida:

First off, who the heck is Heather Roscoe? I'm fairly active in politics in Washington State, and I've never heard of her. I'm not saying that it's impossible or even unlikely that I wouldn't know her, but she seems to claim credibility that I would question.

Either way, she's either willfully ignorant or out of her mind if she believes Sam Reed when he says the Washington State Governor's election wasn't botched. I've supported Reed in the past, including voting for him in this election, but if I ever vote for him again, it will require a clothes pin on my nose. I don't have any problem with him certifying the election, that was his duty and he was right to do it. But saying he didn't feel as if the election was botched showed either shameless media pandering or a totally warped view of the world.

The Washington State Governor's Race was well run only if you believe the following:

1. The Feds threatening to sue the state because they shipped out the military absentees late, and in Island County's case, a county with a naval base, didn't even meet the new deadline after the threatened lawsuit, is no big deal.

2. You trust Democrat campaign workers when they went out to "verify" that tossed votes were actually valid by simply having the person sign something saying that they did indeed vote.

2. That several hundred unchecked provisional ballots were directly placed into the voting machines without checking them, i.e. it is literally possible the same person cast all of them since they were not checked, in King County alone, by their own admission, isn't a big problem.

3. The fact that King County alone ADMITS that they have AT LEAST 1,200 more ballots then voters, the number changes daily and might be well over 2,000, is just a mistake that doesn't really matter.

4. The fact that Pierce County alone found over 40 convicted felons, whose rights had not been restored, who voted, isn't a big deal.

5. The fact that there is iron clad proof that a number of dead folks voted, is perfectly OK.

6. King County election workers obscuring the original markings on "enhanced" ballots, so we can't ever tell again what the voter originally did, even though they were told in an audit that if they did it they were leaving themselves open to an election contest, doesn't really matter.

7. The fact that Dino Rossi won the first two counts is meaningless, and the third count, with human error and bias involved, was more accurate.

So yeah, if you believe all these things, great! The election was run perfectly. Sleep well, and forget it.

But if you have a higher standard of how we should run elections, you know standards as high as, say, the Ukraine, then maybe, just maybe, this one was botched.
-- Cliff Smith
Lynnwood, Washington


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