Our Americanish Language by Clyde N. Wilson • May 13, 2007 • Printer-friendly
It is sad to contemplate what the American Melted Pot and Deweyite education have done to the language of Shakespeare—which was also the language of the founders of America—the most beautiful and utilizable of all the tongues of man. In our country in our time it is stultifying, perhaps somewhat like what happened to Latin and Greek after the classical period.
More and more people speak English like it was a superficially understood foreign language. Here are a few samples I heard on the radio in the course of one week.
Nationally syndicated medical expert: “I am talking like a native New Yorker, which I once was.” There is no such thing as a former native. Once a native always a native.
Local radio reporter: “Since —— was arrested for child molestation, more and more victims are coming out of the woodwork.” The term “coming out of the woodwork” was meant to describe repulsive creepy/crawly things being unpleasantly revealed. In applying it to victims, this reporter (a Clear Channel carpetbagger reporting on a foreign-to-him community) is using empty verbiage without any consciousness of its meeting.
Financial reporter: “This week in the mutual fund industry . . . ” It used to be an industry was something that made things. It did not cover buying and selling pieces of paper.
News report: “An elementary school child was sent home for wearing a shirt with a pro-Christian message.” Why not just a “Christian message”?
News report: “Some 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance.” How many of these “Americans” are not really Americans? We are not told. Statistics become even more than usually vague and meaningless.
Abortion is routinely described in the media as a “procedure.”
The collapse of distinction between fact and opinion, information and entertainment, keeps company with the debasement of language. Nor is it confined to the media. I know people with Ph.D.’s from prestigious institutions to whom it has never even occurred that there might be a difference between facts and the opinions they were taught. For them their opinion predefines reality.
The sports metaphors that have taken over the reporting of political contests are another sign of debased public discourse. Recently I even heard this military metaphor: “Congress has passed a military appropriations bill that is sure to be shot down” by Bush’s veto.
The Bush was reported as saying at the same time that “politicians” were trying to dictate to military men. Is he not a politician? Does he not dictate action to military men, often against their military judgment? This type of statement is a sure indicator of a shallow intellect and a devious character. Say anything that sounds good at the moment, without regard for meaning. We all know people like this. Usually people trying to cheat us in a deal.
The Virginia Tech University massacre provided a bonanza of evidence on the debasement of our public language. On the third day it was reported that “Focus has now turned to the shooter.” News is supposed to report what happens. There is no “focus” and it did not “turn.”
This was followed by “The question now is why,” another imaginary event that exists only in the mindless verbiage of the speaker. More and more reporting resembles this. Its purveyors without thinking are adopting the tricks of advertising and entertainment to catch the saps. In fact, my “focus” was on the shooter the first day, but I was unable to learn much about him because the “news” was mostly about the intangible (if not imaginary) emotions of the survivors.
I think the collapse of English as a living language in this country has a number of causes.
English is not the inherited language of most people outside the South—the Midwest was swamped by Germans and their stolid mental processes in the 19th century and the East has been continually transformed by non-English speakers. Then there is the American thirst for middle-class respectability, which is accompanied by the heaviest prevalence of pseudo-intellectualism in the world with its stilted thought and artificial language. But that is my speculation.
I could go into the spread of timid, breathy, Valley Girl speech among young women and increasingly among young men. Goodbye Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster and hello Metrosexuals and National Review pundits.
Much more could be said along these lines. But right now I have to go find out why my invitation to the White House for the Haitian-American Heritage Celebration got lost in the mail again this year.
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