The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Noah Webster

Noah Webster is an unsung hero in my opinion.

I would salute Noah Webster, but I doubt he could receive such a salute. I am as sure as I am sitting here writing this, the man is spinning in his grave.

Languages Evolve.

We add new words every day. Someone makes one up, or we derive from other languages or they just occur and fall into common useage. Normally they are assimilated into the language with little impact, and we carry on, expanding our vocabularies and understanding word by word. But with the onset of political correctness, American English has devolved into word games. Few of us use the word 'man' referring to mankind anymore -- as in the title of "Man's Search for Meaning," by Viktor E. Frankl. Frankl did not write about a single male human being. 'Man' refers to humankind. Could such a title pass a publisher's scrutiny today? Doubt it. The theory behind that is that women scholars would be offended by the 'sexist' title. Fiddlesticks. That opinion is sexist. Are we so certain that women who would read Frankl's book are more interested in being excluded as a gender via sexist wording than they are interested in the content of the book? We are pussyfooting around the language trying not to offend women who should be insulted at the act of our pussyfooting around. Do we not trust these women to understand that shortcuts in language require all of us, men and women alike, to assume that the word 'mankind' does not refer only to one gender? Give me a break. My sisters are smarter than that. And not nearly so petty.

We are, as a country, ruining our language. Grammar has gone out the window, the same window which we are advised not to toss the baby out of, along with the bathwater.

Example: Each of the children had his own idea about the dog.

Simple and clear, right? We know that each single child had an idea of his own regarding the dog. Most commonly heard now is, "Each of the children had their own idea about the dog." We take a singular (each=every ONE) and pluralize the rest. This happens so we don't use the generic 'his' - and the only other option in correct grammar is to add the cumbersome, 'or her' to the sentence. This is the choice I most often make because I cannot be sure how my reader will react. Unfortunately, even newscasters these days use the improper 'their' and 'they' pronouns rather than the the universal 'his' and 'he.' Used to be we were told to listen to newscasters and announcers because they spoke properly. Can't do that anymore.

What prompted this tirade today is thatI got bored last night and used the feature on this blogspot to go to the 'next blog.' There are so many fascinating things that people find to write about, it is usually a great pastime. I cruised around for several hours just reading and learning how other people think. There are blogs from all over the world here, one 'next blog' click away. They're random, so I started a list of the ones I enjoyed and will go back to for more entertainment or for more information. There were many I would have liked to read, but I was tired of the new language that is being used by many of the younger people today. I really want to know what they are thinking, what is important to them, but so many of them are writing in a new type of shorthand, composed partly of computerisms (easy ones like lol, roflmao, etc.) and a different sort of shorthand -- ppl for people, substituting u for you, that sort of thing. For someone like me, it is tedious, at best. Many of the young bloggers also used completely phoentic spellings - which I guess is okay if one has the patience to get through them. I don't. I was raised reading and writing the language properly, and for me it is just too hard to read a blog as though it was a second language - because, in fact, it is. The sad thing is these folks have something to say. I believe what they have to say, how they feel, what they think, is important. Really. There are great ideas out there in young minds and I don't like that I have this barrier in the way of getting to know them. And the barrier is of my own making

Language Snob

When I was in (I think) the 10th grade I had an English teacher like no other. He taught from a book I have been trying to find since. The premise of the book was the acknowledgemnet that we can all make ourselves understood in the spoken and written word. But the calibre of our lives, our education, of our plans for the future, our standing in the world and our own self-esteem is all tied up in the quality of our language - hence the case against Ebonics. Why do you suppose actors and speakers and even some politicians take classes to eliminate regionalisms from their language? To be salable. And that was the thrust of the 10th grade textbook. Proper language will win out over improper in job interviews, letters to the editor, complaint letters, and blogs, where we reveal ourselves at what is arguably our best. So it's okay, this 60s textbook said, to write and speak however one chooses - as long as one recognizes that those who know better -- know better. There are many of us who can fall into dialect and all its mis-grammar glory among friends or acquaintances. But when it comes to saying something in a forum that we hope will be read/heard with seriousness, when we actually want to be taken seriously, proper language will win every time.

I read the blog of a local man, wherein he applied to the editors of a local paper for space in their publication as a columnist. He claimed also to be a software developer, yet, aside from his mispellings and horrid grammar (far beyond colloquialisms and a personal 'style') he could not - and admitted he could not - figure out the simplest HTML. Folks, what is not believable here? Right or wrong, snob or not, those of us who read also, consciously or otherwise, make judgments of what we read - not just the content, but the care that goes into the act of communication. I've said it when giving poetry workshops, and I will say it again here: If what you have to say is important, you will bother to say it so it is important to the reader/listener. And who of us bothers to write or speak if what we have to share is not important to us?

Poor Noah. He tried. We seem to have come full circle, to where he began. We have nearly as many ways to say the same thing as young folks wanting to say it. Maybe they can understand one another, but I just can't see an amendment to the US Constitution written that way - or a good legal brief, for that matter. We clamor for 'small print' to leave out the 'legalese' and tell us in plain English what they mean and then watch the young folk complicate matters with their individual styles. I don't know. Maybe I am just too old, but I believe there are some things that should unite us, and language is one of them.


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