Reading all the way through

May 02, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Had you heard that the Kenyan Keynesian socialist Muslim sleeper agent in the White House is trying to kill off the nation's sparrows? At HeadsUp, FEV examines a Washington Free Beacon article that makes such a claim, which turns out (you did see this coming, didn't you?) to be entirely bogus.

How do we know that it is bogus, apart from the surface improbability of the mere assertion? FEV took the trouble to read the links in the story itself and discovered that they completely undermine the assertion: "The most fun of all, though, is the chutzpah -- the charge-for-the-guns testiculosity involved in flat-out cold lying, then linking to the documents that show beyond doubt that you're making it up as you go along."

(The HeadsUp post went up a little after midnight, which is about the time I was posting a little set of reflections on leadership, which I hope you haven't missed.)

A few days ago, when I linked to Stan Carey's excellent article on the futility of attempting to ban words and expressions, I hope you read that all the way to the end. But wait, there's more. The comments have been running along since, with recent contributions by our Wordville friends Alex McCrae and Picky.*

Picky thinks that the prescriptivist/descriptivist tussle has grown stale: "I think there are serious questions to be asked about how we help people to be comfortable in a standard version of their English, and these questions need us to put aside the language wars. ... The freedom one receives from confident performance in a standard version is something I would wish to be the possession of everyone. I don’t think the prescriptive v descriptive scraps help."

This is exactly right, and the thing I try to do with my students. A mastery of standard written English is, in this culture, a means to autonomy, power, influence, status. Once you've given up aspirations to be a pop star or a professional athlete, it may be the means.

But at the same time, I understand Stan Carey's response: "This business of banning words is a common feature of style guides and peeve-books, and it’s a popular annual university event – not to mention the countless ban-the-word cries in less formal contexts, such as blogs and social media."

If people are to master the tool of standward written English and wield it effectively, they need to roll up their cuffs as they step through the torrent of bad advice and outright misinformation.

To switch metaphors, it is a war on two fronts.

Go have a look.

*I am aware that many of you find the comments function here awkward, and the problem has been identified and passed up the line. I am hopeful that the boffins are dealing with it.

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