Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Get Me The Smelling Salts!


I must say that the deterioration of the English language on the air waves is causing me some distress! I remember when one would listen to NPR and PBS, and even NBC, CBS, and ABC (well, not always on ABC, and I've never really watched FOX) and one would hear cogent, logical, articulate discussions with proper grammar, coherent sentences, and a decent vocabulary. This afternoon I was listening to the live feed of The News Hour on KQED-FM (The San Francisco NPR radio station) and heard a person being interviewed about the current economic crisis. The man said, "they were totally untransparent about what was going on." Now, I don't think untransparent is a word in English; I think the proper word is opaque.

I watched the YouTube video of Gov. Sarah Palin being interviewed while turkeys are being slaughtered in the background, and, while it is a bit unpleasant to see turkey's heads being placed in a metal funnel and then decapitated, I found listening to her even more unpleasant. She made no sense at all but she just kept talking and talking and talking. It reminded me of this statement she made at the Republican Governors Conference a few weeks ago, in which she was making a statement about God know's what the crisis in Dafur: "My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars."

I would like to know to what you, Gentle Reader, attribute this deterioration of the English language in public discourse. Is it due to the general dumbing-down of estadoünidense culture (or what passes for culture), or to the anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party over the past eight years?

Please share you opinions in the Comments section!

20 comments:

Leonardo Ricardo said...

I confess! I´m sorry...I get carried away too and don´t know run on from running off at the mouth.

Forgive me!

It´s Thanksgiving and I WANT A PARDON!

Padre Mickey said...

While it's true that you can really rant, Leonardo, you also make sense, so it's not the same as the situation with the Gov. of Alaska.

As far as a pardon is concerned, Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

There! You're pardoned and absolved!

Jane R said...

Dang! Are you handing out absolutions for Thanksgiving? Can we have proleptic pigging-out pardons?

As for the dumbing down, I dunno. I don't want to blame either tee vee or the internet, though they haven't helped. I think the problem was already underway by the time they showed up. I partly blame the decline of the public school system. I am wringing my hands about my students. (Not quite all of them; there are exceptions.) Not only are they having trouble with sentence structure and vocabulary, but they can't talk! They mumble. I say bring back elocution and don't let anyone graduate from junior high school (yes, junior high - by high school the young 'uns should know how to speak in public) without having passed that course. Harrumph.

Also, Terry Gross makes me nuts. What's the use of being snooty NPR if you have hosts who say "um" and "like" all the time?

Your word verification says "pityro."

Paul said...

I tend to agree with Jane R about the decline in our public schools and the execrable elevation of "relevance." it seems the only two allowable excuses for "education" are (1) making money and (2) passing the fracking standardized (puke it back up, children) tests. All else falls by the wayside.

There is clearly little emphasis on learning to think or communicate with any sort of discipline or clarity. That which enriches the soul, ennobles the human spirit, or simply leads to joy is little valued.

Anti-intellectualism has always been alive and well throughout my lifetime. Ignorance and stupidity seem almost to be prized - after all, they are the staff of life in American comedy.

My favorite symptom is the gradual (now almost total) disappearance of "whom" - a vestige from the days when we actually used language to signal conceptual relationships. When it is used nowadays it is frequently used incorrectly. And, to sum it all up, 99% of the population just doesn't give a s**t.

I have already broken too many strands of pearls, Padre. Fetch my salts.

susan s. said...

My main gripe with Terry Gross is her use of the non word 'anyways.' What is with that?

The use of the phrases 'I'm/He's/She's all', He/She/ goes', and the misuse of the word 'like' in every conceivable spot in a sentence just gets my knickers in a real twist.

Grammar is out the window! Remember diagramming sentences?

And also, remember topic sentences at the beginning of a paragraph? I have actually seen school papers about historical figures that do not contain the subject's name anywhere in the first paragraph.

Can I blame teachers? I don't want to, but I can't figure out anyone else to lay this on.
To back up my opinion, I once worked as a teacher's aid for a 4th grade teacher who did not know that the plural of 'deer' is 'deer!'

And Leonardo, even though I am not a priest, and you haven't asked, I would absolve you of any sin for which you wished to be forgiven! I love to read your comments/posts.

That is all.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Jane and Paul have already made good points. However, I think that a large segment of the population has always spoken this way, but we expected more from people in public life. Now, anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism reign supreme. People have a confused concept of equality. Instead of realizing it means equal standing before the law and as a citizen, they think it means, "Anything I say is just as good as anything you say."

Tara Mobley said...

It is most likely a combination of factors. The dumbing down of the American culture, the blatant anti-intellectualism that has been creeping into the society, aspects of internet culture (let me tell you about teenagers using "addicting" when they mean "addictive"), and the fact that schools are now in the business of administering tests rather than the education of the populace.

FranIAm said...

The Terry Gross "anyways" factor. Thank you Susan.

A sign of the decline of a civilization is the deterioration of language.

Just saying.

Cany said...

Having read my fill of Palin, I can only say this:

Of course it is true too that I mean people use a lot of different words also to try to in the moment say what is in their hearts also and while it might too seem elitist I believe that with God anything can almost always become what it is we seek to see in ourselves because we are others.

Hope that helps.

Raspberry Rabbit said...

It's a function of age, Padre, that we get so upset about this. I heard somebody on the BBC the other day talking about

"point of views" rather than
"points of view"

I grumbled about it internally for an hour.

RR

David |Dah • veed| said...

A sign of the decline of a civilization is the deterioration of language.

So it is not the Gays?!?

Grandmère Mimi said...

The schools don't teach grammar and writing, except in the most superficial way. One learns to write by writing and having one's mistakes pointed out, sometimes in a painful manner. Most teachers won't or can't take the time to teach grammar and writing.

Grammar is boring, and the kids must be entertained as they learn today, so the boring stuff is tossed out of the curriculum. I remember having to write sentences and then diagram those same sentences. I soon learned the meaning of the rule that sentences must have subjects and verbs.

Students are not required to write as much as in the past, because grading writing takes time, and the teachers either don't have the time or won't make the time to grade essays.

All right! I'm an old biddy. So sue me.

IT said...

Based on our observation of our two kids' high school experiences, there are several components:

1) "Self esteem". Teachers don't want to tell them what they did wrong, because it might damage their self esteem. (Which has the completely predictable effect of making the kids unable to deal with the normal negatives of adult life: they simply can't handle failure! If you don't tell them they are doing well they are crushed.)

2) "Individualism": They encourage them to write expressively, and focus on "the ideas" and not on the mechanics. Mechanics are so boring. So they jump to the content, and figure that the rest of it will come along.

They do the same thing in "The new math".

3) "Attention span". Along with twitter and IM'ing. This generation doesn't even use email: it's all texting. They can't read anything long because they have no attention span.

4) "Egalitarianism." No one has any problem admitting that one kid can throw a ball better, or run faster than another. We understand merit in athletics and on the football team. But we can't admit or admire it in intellectual pursuits. Hence the anti-intellectualism of the country overall.

I tell my beloved that I'm a proud elite intellectual, which means I'll be one of the first ones shot come the revolution.

IT

IT said...

Oh, but then there's This: Palin's words as a poem.

And the relevance to me
With that issue,
As we spoke
About Africa and some
Of the countries
There that were
Kind of the people succumbing
To the dictators
And the corruption
Of some collapsed governments
On the Continent,
The relevance
Was Alaska’s.


And if you read much modern poetry, the scary thing is, it works.

Whatever happened to iambic pentameter?

IT

Padre Mickey said...

We have a wonderful collection of comments in this thread. It seems to have struck a chord. When I wrote about the faith entrusted to the saints only Leonardo commented, but gripe about the deterioration of the language and so many are willing to join in the fun!

I really enjoy everyones' contributions and you all make good points. Grandmére Mimi, I remember diagraming sentences and I hated it. I was one of those students who found grammar boring, and I still can't identify the parts of a sentence. However, I learned about writing from reading a lot of very good writing.

IT, I love Sarah Palin as poet; it almost makes sense!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Call me crazy, but I loved diagramming. It was challenging and logical. Reading good writing is an excellent learning tool, and it's enjoyable, too.

IT, that is scary.

nyc momma said...

Long-time lurker and love your blog. As the child of English teachers I'm finally drawn to comment by grammar. I'm with Grandmere Mimi, I loved diagramming sentences in 7th grade and loved learning Latin and German largely because of the grammar. I can sit at the dinner table discussing arcane grammatical issues with pleasure. I guess I'm just a grammar geek.

As a lawyer, I've had to learn to accept that certain partners have "grammatical quirks" that I can't change, but overall I'm incredibly grateful to be in a profession where grammar and clear writing are still in the majority.

But I will say that I'm proud to have raised a child who recognizes the difference between less and fewer.

it's margaret said...

IT --that poem really is scary!

As to the language--yes, language changes, but the long arc of the current trend ends in chaos.... perhaps the devolution of the language might explain other symptoms, such as not being able to communicate "across the aisle."

My parents had a bulletin board in the toilet room (old house, toilet separate from the bath) and they covered it with jokes and cartoons and the like....stuff to read while you sat on the biff; but one thing that I still remember, because I really liked it, was a picture and a quote: The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

Still true.

spocko said...

"Hey, you kids get off my lawn!"

Is this just a function of getting older and crankier? Maybe. It also might be because of what Ruth Hull Chatlien said above, "a large segment of the population has always spoken this way, but we expected more from people in public life."

A story that I read about regarding our public life speakers might be relavant. The communications people around the president realized that their man was suffering from the symptoms of long term drug and alcohol abuse. (Compare his speeches as Governor of Texas with some of his later speeches to see what I mean.)

The communications people asked themselves, "How do we deal with Bush's deteriotaing speaking skills?" Simple. Make them a VALUE. "He's a plain spoken man. Not one of those 'elites'."

They tapped into the embarassment that some people have about their own lack of education as well as the anger at "the elites". (Of course they don't seem to notice that this "plain spoken man" was born on the East Coast and spent his life going to elite private schools.)

Personally when I'm embarrassed by my lack of smarts I feel bad and try and learn more and do better. The choice that the right wing on Talk Radio encourages is to hate the people who are smarter than you. Instead of suggesting more education is better, something to aspire to, they suggest that people should be "just plain folks".

This "plain spoken man" image was magnified by the speech writers who worked to make his speeches more John Wayne and Gary Cooperish. Often times they took phrases that people understood and had Bush say, "In other words, this means..." This tick was designed to give BUSH a way to understand it as if he was making it easier for the common folk to get. I've often suppected that the "In other words" line was written for Bush's benefit because those were the lines that this staff used to explain the situation to him.

They took a weakness and an embaressment and turned it into a thing to beat up their well spoken opponents with. And they used it as a way to deride the person. They even used made up words to deride the person. You know that phrase, "Who among us doesn't like Nascar?" was never said by John Kerry? He actually said, "I happen to like NASCAR." But Maureen Dowd, the writer for the elitist New York Times, needed to turn that comment into something it wasn't.
Talk about your self loathing!

Of course the sick and twisted part of this all is that it is usually an educated "elite" who creates these, "Simple man of the people" lines. What is sad is how many people see that as a symbol of being an authentic good person.

When they lie about their own background what else will they lie about? When the media buys into the "The President is a cowboy" who doesn't ride a horse" story they are guilty of perpetuation the sham.

Grandmère Mimi said...

NYC Momma, there's no underestimating the importance of knowing the difference between less and fewer. I'm not kidding. It's a literacy test of sorts.

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