Christmas message: On the emptiness of vague “hope”

Something to hope for in the coming year. — an end to the pandemic

“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”

— Proverbs 13:12

“He that lives upon hope will die fasting”

— Benjamin Franklin

“The reason of idleness and crime is the deferring of our hopes.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is nothing so well known as that we should not expect something for nothing – but we do and call it Hope.”

Edgar Watson Howe

 

UNIFORMITY = DIVERSITY: Modern Newspeak hits Orwellian rock-bottom

Political language abuse has changed little since Orwell described it in "1984." But the Internet has made it much more effective.

 

“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

— George Orwell

On titles, respect, and doctor-flaunting: who’s a “doctor”?

These people are unambiguously called "doctors."

 

“Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title.”

Thomas Paine

I admit, they had me.   I really thought that Jill Biden was an MD.  It’s not implausible that such a high-level official as the VP would have a high-achieving wife.  But then the truth came out, and I realized I’d fallen for “doctor-flaunting.”

There are implicit and subtle sociolinguistic principles that govern the public use of doctor (this list excludes all the countless hucksters and quacks who have bestowed the spurious title “doctor” on themselves):

On slogans — especially the one that dominates our lives

Slogans, even if vague or meaningless, can serve as a rallying-cry for wars, consumer products, countries, and much more.

One of the countless slogans by which we live.

 

 

“Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catchwords”

-Robert Louis Stevenson

(NOTE: a catch-word is technically what we today would call a “pull-out quote”; I’m using it in a broader sense here, to refer to slogans, mottoes, taglines, and catch-words.)

I keep quoting Stevenson because his observation is so true and has been for a long time.  We love slogans even more than we love narratives and conspiracies…because slogans are the verbal equivalent of Paxil and Wellbutrin.  They encapsulate whatever some leader or group of people decides is the best summary of what the product, movement, party, etc., is all about, while they make us feel good about it.

The welcome end of Presidential tweeting

It's all too rare that political speech comes off as anything but "blah." It doesn't have to be that way.

Politicians commit various language abuses considered “BS.” “Alternate facts” is the latest.

 

“Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable.”

— Socrates

“It is terrible to speak well and be wrong.”

— Sophocles

 

Those of us who have worked first-hand at speechwriting (my experience was corporate, not political) understand what goes into a CEO/senior management speech, how it is assembled, how it must touch the audience or articulate a particular point of view or policy.

Angry periods: P.c. virus spreads to punctuation

Punctuation marks can convey emotions. But the idea that periods mean anger or irritation is just another conceit of the snowflakes and language police.

Written language contains many information signals beside letters and numbers. Here are a few.

A period is to let the writer know he has finished his thought and he should stop there if he will only take the hint. Art Linkletter, A Child’s Garden of Misinformation (1965)

To a generation of children who are trained to be sensitive to an ever-increasing body of words deemed offensive because of their perceived meanings, who are “triggered” by these words and need “safe spaces,” it is, for  the P.c., just a small jump from reading new meanings into words…to reading new meanings into marks of punctuation.

Triumph of the TelePrompTerTM: What has it done to public speaking?

Why do people vote for a Presidential candidate who has plagiarized all his life and has as much originality and authenticity as the guy in the picture?

 

Here comes the orator, with his flood of words and his drop of reason.
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1735

[Disclaimers: I am not a conservative, a Republican, or a supporter of Donald Trump.  This is about the relationship of a speaker to his speech.]

The ubiquitous double screen has triumphed in Presidential politics. We now have a candidate who is totally reliant on script, whose public speaking skills do not enable him to compose and deliver an organized, coherent 30-second answer to a substantive or policy question.

“Alternate facts”: Latest language crime

Politicians commit various language abuses considered “BS.” “Alternate facts” is the latest.

 

You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.  (Daniel Patrick Moynihan)

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. (attrib. James Madison)

Just the facts, ma’am.  (Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, Dragnet)

Gender-neutral “they”: Let it start here

An actual scan of an original copy of "Nash's Synthetic Grammar of the English Language"

A grammar book from the 1870’s shows language changing and sheds light on a contemporary language controversy.

 

 

Many languages. . .have no gendered pronouns.  English needs a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and as Winston Churchill said about democracy as a form of government, “they”  is the worst option, except for all the others.

-Anne Fadiman, Harper’s, August 2020

 

Language changes, perhaps in response to social pressure or a communicative need – or for no functional reason at all, as with hone in on replacing home in on, mainly, I guess, because the two sound alike, hone connotes focus and sharpness, and people forget what the home in home in on  means.

Political correctness — ubiquitous and relentless

The babble of political correctness

Politically correctness attacks the teaching of English. Be afraid.
Be very afraid..

“The truth is what most people believe.  And they believe that which is repeated most often.”

-Josef Goebbels

“[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

George Orwell

Language change — up close

What is a language?

Language variation is change in progress.

 

“Language change is not a disease, any more than adolescence, or autumn are illnesses.”
― Jean Aitchison, Language Change: Progress or Decay?
“It’s hard to see what the problem is. Language speakers and writers have always been inventive, and texting is just one further example of human creativity. As David Crystal has expressed it: ‘it..is the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative… In texting, we are seeing, in a small way, language in evolution…”
― Jean Aitchison, Language Change: Progress or Decay?

The problem

I was writing to a friend that you could see language change in progress with the appearance (maybe 15-20 years ago) of hone in on, replacing home in on in speech and even in print..

Warning: political correctness is an attempt to control you

Who dares to be the red person in a homogeneous sea of blue think-alikes?

Who dares to be the red person in a sea of blue think-alikes?

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll

“Offending and being offended are now the twin addictions of our society.”

— Martin Amis

Can’t  handle homonyms: the difference between a  virus and a beer

Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings.

Being inoffensive and being offended are now the twin addictions of our society.

Martin Amis

Corona beer? Coronavirus?  What do they have to do with each other?  Absolutely nothing.  They’re homonyms – multiple meanings for the same sequence of sounds.  The English language is full of them, but only a few cause trouble, by which I mean they become infected with a “political virus.”

I would not want to attend the panicky meetings going on inside the walls of the marketers of Corona®  beer. The bugaboo of the current news cycle is the supposed connection between the worrisome coronavirus and the beer of the same name.

Pronouns and gender politics

The babble of political correctness

Gender politics pervades language, and it’s getting even harder to know what’s “correct.”

Tens of thousands of years have elapsed since we shed our tails, but we are still communicating with a medium developed to meet the needs of arboreal man. . . We may smile at the linguistic illusions of primitive man, but may we forget that the verbal machinery on which we so readily rely, and which our metaphysicians still profess to probe the Nature of Existence, was set up by him, and may be responsible for other illusions hardly less gross and not more easily eradicable?

Overwhelmed by political BS

Politicians commit various language abuses considered “BS.” Biden is a prime example.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.

Henry Adams, 1907

The politician is an acrobat.  He keeps his balance  by saying the opposite of what he does.

Maurice Barres (1896-1923)

Political BS, a noxious blend of mendacity, manipulation, and meaninglessnss, is all around us, as it has been ever since we invented politics.  So let’s try to understand what it is, the better to identify and resist it (this is knowledge that all middle-school graduates should have, but it is in the interests of the ruling classes that they not have it).

On the retarded “retard” taboo

From mind to thought (and from there to the speech and auditory organs)
.

 When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. ‘ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things. … ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

 

Apostrophe warrior lays down his sword

Aspects of the english language

The apostrophe plays a weak role in writing and none at all in speech.  That’s a problem.

 

 

Athen’s Pizza

          (Sign on restaurant in Jaffrey, NH)

Former copy editor John Richards has decided to surrender in his 20-year quest to promote correct (i.e., prescribed/codified) apostrophe usage.

Richards and like-minded crusaders are enraged by (i) use of the apostrophe in plurals and (ii) in possessive it’s (which I’ve seen many times on signs and websites and in print) and (iii) omission in other possessives where it does belong (Barclays).

Stop the pronoun craziness

The babble of political correctness

Politically incorrect speech is neither red nor blue.  It is red, while and blue.  It is American.  Repression of speech leads to repression of thought.

This is a message that the p.c. crowd — in the media, in the universities – needs to hear again and again, because they don’t get it, especially when a Presidential candidate (Warren) announces “her” pronouns on the debate stage, and a teacher is fired for not using the student’s preferred pronouns.  It is not enough, the argument goes,  to have pronouns of two genders, when there are so many other genders.  We need more pronouns!

Language change: getting it right

Aspects of the english language

The many aspects of English

The attitudes and prejudices of speakers towards various languages and dialects is important “peri-linguistic” data.  They may influence the development and differentiation of language itself.  Or they may not — just voices in the wind.

Gripes of a pseudo-expert

Thus, when a major, even venerable magazine, Harper’s, publishes an essay “Semantic Drift” by Lionel Shriver, it deserves critical attention.  I have seen many such pieces before — a pseudo-expert bitching about linguistic developments he doesn’t like.

Code-switching and pandering – a new low

Code-switching can be used in the service of pandering, as when Presidential candidates lapse into Spanish to win favor in the cheapest manner.

 Spare me the sight / of this thankless breed, these politicians / who cringe for favors from a screaming mob / and do not care what harm they do their friends / providing they can please a crowd!

Euripides, Hecuba (c. 425 BCE)

This post introduces my Blahblahblah Award, bestowed upon the politician using the most devious and manipulative language since…well, since the previous award.  The grinding Presidential race will continue for many months, so there should be plenty of material.