A Whole New Kind of Politically Incorrect

Sometimes I speak to men and women just as a little girl speaks to her doll. She knows of course that the doll doesn’t understand her but she creates for herself the joy of communication through a pleasant and conscious self-deception. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

In these times of poverty, foreclosures, fear, and anger, most people are somehow able to afford Smartphones and Kindles. I understand that Kindles come with a dictionary, with larger downloadable versions available should the default not be adequate. I envy those with Smartphones and the ability to quickly research any question on their mind no matter where they are. When I am reading a book I am never far from a dictionary, but what a joy it must be to have a Smartphone handy instead of a cumbersome tome.

Yet we are not smarter. Our vocabularies dwindle as abbreviated text and computer-driven writing advice increases. Error-ridden blogs, newspapers, and even books are now acceptable. I just read a post that began: So here’s some info about a blogging workshop I’ll be facicilitating next week. With a facicilitator like this, would you sign up?

We fear appearing intelligent. In a world of flamers, trolls, and Wall Street Occupiers, we don’t want to stand out. Eloquence has become politically incorrect. We’re afraid we’ll be seen as arrogant if we use any more than the several thousand words used by teenagers, if we publish works that we proofread first, or if we dare use a word that the least articulate reader may not know. We’re uneasy asking readers to learn something new. What a drag.

We need not pen periphrastic phrases or long-winded circumlocutions, recondite riddles or abstruse analogies, bombastic observations or cryptic correspondence. But I say, writers (and speakers): mutiny against the mundane. Not by making a spectacle of your composition with specious synonyms that have strayed from the concept you are trying to convey, but by choosing from the powerful array of options available to us all. Our language is the richest in the world. Lexicographers are reluctant to report a number, but with derivatives and inflections it is estimated to be around a million words.

We are free to describe our thoughts with unimaginable ardor, animation, and artistry. If readers are insulted by this, you have no need to apologize. Instead, instruct them how to use their Smartphones for something productive.

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35 responses to “A Whole New Kind of Politically Incorrect

  1. What makes me sick...

    Hey Debra, nice to see you back. I DO agree wholeheartedly. I read so many misspelt and ill conceived comments about VERY important issues, it is making Dum Dum feel a bit misspelt and ill conceived himself. I have some thoughts about computer generated phrases used to produce so called medical reports for our Work Capability Assessments over here, as well as the issues you have brought forward. I ‘failed’ such an assessment last year, appealed, and won, a week ago at a tribunal. The only thing that saved my ass was my 9 page submission of evidence ripping the living shit out of this “medical” report. Good thing too, because, in spite of all my research and preparation, I was a blithering idiot at the hearing. It didn’t last long, and I believe (as have others in similar situations), that the decision had already been made. They just needed to meet me and ask a couple of questions. Which is exactly what the Judge said. By the way, where do I sign up for the blog workshop that is being facilllitattedd by that genius? Pity you’re not doing it! Take care and fight the power. Or something 😉

    • Hi Dum Dum, people just don’t understand how easily their point can be misrepresented. I honestly can’t make heads or tails out of half of what I see online. People often write the exact opposite of what they mean. Would it be so hard to reread your text before submitting?

      I’m glad you took matters into your own hands and wrote your own appeal. Congratulations!

  2. Why does it bother me?

    This is a fabulous post. I am all for making people laugh with what you write, with old and new words, but this downplaying of intelligence through a fear of standing out is really not good. I have terrible grammar. Awful in fact. But I love words. I am also a fan of reading my books with a dictionary close by! Also if someone uses a word I do not understand, I ask. I see no shame in this. Even though so many others just look aghast at the thought of standing up and saying ‘I don’t understand’.
    If you are a fan of great language being used, try watching Russell Brand, he is pretty foul (not to look at… *swoons*) but in a most fabulous way. He is quite unique on the comedy circuit in the UK, purely because he uses language that has died out, and he single-handedly makes being ‘clever’ cool again in UK.

    • Hi WDIBM, never be afraid to ask. How else will we learn? Ask a dictionary, a reference book, a speaker, a writer—it doesn’t matter, just ask. Without curiosity we’re no better than the dung beetles who roll little pieces of dog shit along out in my yard.

      All I know of Russell Brand is that I have to look at his $%^#* wife on the cover of EVERY SINGLE magazine at the supermarket checkout. But we do have the new version of “Arthur” on our Nexflix queue. I loved Dennis Miller for the same reason, he was so cerebral.

      • Why does it bother me?

        Have a look at his stand up comedy if you ever get the chance, or just check out his website. I like him a lot. He just doesn’t fit into any ‘box’ if you know what I mean. Foul mouthed, clever, insightful, sensitive. But I agree his wife does seem to be dominating most of the media at the minute!
        This ‘dumbing down’ thing is setting a lot of people back. I have been thinking about it more and more these last few days. I can feel a rant / post coming on!

  3. This post is twisting the knife!
    Last night I cut “ubiquitous” from my manuscript and replaced it with “clogging”. It changes the meaning of my character’s thought, but it still works. I’m not so sure “clogging” can be used as an adjective the way I used it, but I put it in there anyway to ponder later.
    Now you’ve got me grieving for “ubiquitous.” It was perfect in meaning and sounds great in the sentence, but it stands out in the type of fiction I write. And that’s the dilemma. Poo.

    • Hi Kay, if your book isn’t for children, then any adult reading it should know a common word like “ubiquitous” by now. It was a word we learned in junior high (called middle school now I guess), because nothing says ubiquitous like ubiquitous. (We didn’t have YA.) If a person doesn’t know what it means, they probably won’t be reading your book anyway, they’ll be reading Hustler or the National Enquirer. Could you possibly be underestimating your readers?

  4. Inspirational!
    I can feel the heat. The intensity. I leave imbued with the tincture of passion for words.

  5. I have clients in a large high-rise with a bulletin board downstairs for postings and business cards, etc. Last week someone put up an ad offering child care in a “loving and homely” environment. Sounds like they not only need a fassa-sillitator but a deca-recarator!

  6. U doo c a lot of bad riting on net. Meks me glad I was skooled in speling and gramer. Meks me knot feal like succh a looser.
    I took that werkshop, it was good, lerned lots
    Hav 2 go now, smartfone wringing!

    (Nice post, Debra, thanks for trying to single-handedly save not only abused animals but the English language!)

  7. This is old stuff, but I remember sometime in the late ’80’s a piece in the WSJ on the decline of writing skills. It was a great piece then and now too.

    • Hi Expat, the eighties were the beginning of the current decline. It just went down from there. It’s just so depressing what PCs have done.

      Ever see those Civil War documentaries? Where they read letters from soldiers? Uneducated, raw, and from a battlefield—yet they are some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever heard.

      • Actually, I have photcopies of letters from an ancestor who fought in the Civil war (South) He wasn’t a Longfellow, but he did write well and his handwriting was straight out of a copybook.

        • Yes, the handwriting. Like artwork. Almost calligraphic. Before computers, part of my typesetting and illustration service included calligraphy for invitations, certificates, placecards, etc. I was always amazed how 19th century handwriting was rendered so effortlessly.

          We have computers for that now. Beautiful handwriting, just one more dead craft. I’m neither a Luddite nor a neophobe, but there are so many skills no longer necessary—it’s so sad. Why even breed?

  8. There is a fine line with flaunting intelligence and using it wisely. In writing the object is to communicate, sometimes complex thoughts or ideas, to the largest audience possible. Some of that is presentation, and some of it style. Although I do not claim to have perfect grammar I believe I know how to communicate with an audience that ranges from non-high school grads to graduate students. It’s very important we all share the same knowledge.

    Regarding intelligence I happen to have been born into a very poor family that had remarkable intellectual capabilities. Poverty and ignorance hid this fact until I was fortunate to have others recognize the potential and encourage me to reach beyond expectations. My sister was the first person in the history of our family to graduate from high school. I was the first college and post grad graduate. Now the norm for our family has changed. It just provides more opportunities. Even my mother got the idea and received her GED at age 65 and associates degree in legal studies at age 68. What I’m trying to say is that anyone who has the potential should strive to actualize that potential. It can be very self gratifying.

    • Hi Wild Bill, college wasn’t an option in my family. We were expected to go to work as soon as we were of age, which we did. But my parents were avid readers and well-spoken. Constantly corrected our grammar and loved words. We never read YA which is so popular today, we went straight from Dick & Jane to adult fiction. Always asking about words or looking them up. In school we were reading Charles Dickens in junior high—do they do that now? I doubt it. My goodness, it might make kids sad.

      Your posts include much nomenclature from your field, which your readers appreciate. I always have to look up words in your posts. Don’t ever stop using these terms because some readers will not know what they mean—we can damn well look them up.

      Lack of intelligence or vocabulary has NOTHING to do with education. It has to do with curiosity, something I see little of today. It’s easier than ever now to learn new words and ideas. I keep using the 19-year-old we had here over the summer as an example because it was so shocking. Sitting in front of a video game for 15 hours doesn’t necessarily make him a dumbass—but lack of interest in the outside world DOES.

  9. Yes, lack of interest. But is that a learned behavior? Or is it because he is just not too bright. I think, as you pointed out long ago, that the electronic culture dulls imagination, and hence curiosity. Given the right motivation he might show some, at least a glimpse of, interest in learning something other than the new moves in a video game. Hard to tell from here, but where there is hope……….

  10. Yes I am afraid that my grandchildren will progress to YA novels which may have limited vocabularies and limited concepts; thankfully my grandson has not taken the easy road but has gone at fifteen straight on to Stephen King and Richard Matheson.

    • Hi JL, there was a small YA section at our local library where I grew up, but we never used it. Didn’t see the point. If you have the choice to read anything you want, why not go for real books? I can’t believe what a huge genre YA is now. Why? Here teen pregnancies are at an all-time high and they’re reading YA? What’s the point?

  11. Maybe pointless escapism, but maybe some of those YA novels may deal with real issues teenagers face; I don’t know: just playing the role of the devil’s advocate.

  12. I would love to see you write an article about the phenomenon of trolling!

  13. Hi Westwood, hmm, now how to accomplish that without sounding like a bitter old bruja…

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