september 21, 2012. redwood city, ca
american journalism finally kills the english language.
i live in a country of approximately 80 million people.
in my experience, 0.1% of those i have met can properly conjugate the english verb to go.
the other 99.9% demand to know “where are you go?!”
oh, ethiopia. this country begins teaching its school-going youth entirely in english starting in the ninth grade. this of course means they expect all children attending high school to be fluent in english.
not even close.
what can you expect, really?
the school schedule covers the typical blocks of time – five days a week from late january to early june, then again from early september to late december – but children only attend for three hours a day. any national holiday is a reasonable excuse to take a full week of school off. any local holiday is as well, and guess what? every day of the ethiopian calendar is assigned a patron saint. st george day is an excuse to knock off a few days, george being ethiopia’s patron saint, and reigning over one day a month. a town’s local patron saint’s day is an excuse, and each family is free to select their own saint(s), whose days are also an excuse. if there is an athletic competition, citywide celebration, or a particularly sunny day, that’s an excuse, but who needs excuses? most children who attend school – in that they are within the boundaries of the campus – do not attend school in that they sit in a classroom where a teacher attempts to impart knowledge on them. further more, after the tenth grade, all students take aptitude tests. the results of those tests dictate which subjects they can study in university. anyone who fails that test outright is sent to teachers’ college, where they are trained to become teachers. applying logical principles to this strategy, we can assume that each class of teachers yields a class of future teachers less intelligent than they, so on and so on, ad infinitum, until… i don’t even know. idiot supernova (band name, called it!)?
what i do know, is that every now and again i get a clear signal that america is – albeit more slowly, and through different tactics – taking that same trajectory.
so it was on the night of september 21, 2012. as jenny and i enjoyed our last evening back in california with friends and family and a few beers…
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it used to be a rule in journalism. don’t bury the lead.
that means: tell your readers what they’re about to be reading, otherwise, you insinuate that there is nothing important to read. these days, that rule has been flipped on its head. scroll through huffPo, daily beast, or any other news aggregation site, and enlighten yourself of current events through gripping headlines like REALLY?!, and at it again…, and he said it. admittedly, this is an equally effective way to draw readers in. don’t tell them anything about what lies inside, simply give them a hyperbolic reaction to what lies inside. or, even better, lie about what lies inside. the shocking truth about why your favorite soda is literally killing you right now links to a single line of text: everyone knows sodas are full of unhealthy sweeteners, but who can resist treating themselves to an ice cold, bubbly beverage once in a while? this followed by a slideshow of ten soft drinks the writer saw at the store this morning, accompanied by articulate captions like “RC cola, still?!” and “coke. love it or hate it, it’s a classic”. well written, dipshit. i hope you’re getting paid amply for that contribution to the dumbing down of the american public. if it’s not instagrams and google images of the ten shiniest things a particular “writer” saw on the way to work, it’s scare pieces about how we all have eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, COPD, crohn’s disease, sexual inadequacies, marital inadequacies, or wheat allergies. and let’s cut out the terrifying moment that changed their lives forever: horrifying giant monster came out of nowhere during pleasant family vacation to the everglades. how officials plan to stop this rare menace. it’s an alligator. i already know it’s an alligator. it’s always an alligator. you know how i know? because they were in the everglades. if the story is from florida, it’s an alligator. if it’s from california, it’s a mountain lion. if it’s from anywhere else, it’s a bear. i don’t need to read the story, and i don’t care! if these rubes were so horrified by seeing an alligator in the everglades they should have stayed the fuck out of the everglades in the first place.
here’s a headline for ya: entire family of morons mercifully eaten by majestic prehistoric reptile. daves all across masha, ethiopia breathed a sigh of relief.
i could go on and on about my many linguistic pet peeves: the gross misuse of the phrase it’s all i can do to…, or the painful overuse of the word literally, or the teaching of students to put two spaces after a punctuation mark when MLA formatting clearly states to use as many spaces after a punctuation mark as you would put between words in the sentence. yes, i notice these things, and yes, it bothers me… and yes, i am slowly becoming my sophomore AP english teacher whether i like it or not.
here’s something else i picked up in sophomore english class: in formal writing, avoid contractions. typically, as a rule i don’t follow that rule. i’m an advocate for informal writing. injecting a bit of style into a piece of writing turns it into art. just ask e e cummings, who also put as many spaces between words, punctuation marks, and lines as he damn well pleased, capitalized letters seemingly at random, and wrote poetry that has no equal. i don’t hate contractions. i don’t hate the word y’all… when chelsea says it. chelsea gets to say it because she’s a southern belle with a lovely country drawl. y’all just sounds right when she says it. when someone from venice beach says it, it’s nails on a chalkboard.
why on earth am i going on about all this, you might ask.
because on the evening of september 21, 2012 i picked up the redwood city daily, and the headline of the front page included the word may’ve. as in OJ simpson may’ve been wrongly accused. i shouldn’t have called it a word. it is not.
for years i have dismissed the downward spiral of the american dialect with a snarky comment here and there, but i cannot overlook this.
i do not accept this “evolution” of language. i will look the other way on a lot of things, but when our headlines use words like may’ve we may’ve jumped the shark. we’ve nuked the fridge. we finally pushed the boulder over the hill, and it’s gotten away from us at a frightening speed.
the next day, i flew back to ethiopia.
i carry on with life in a country that thinks simply yelling FINE!!? at your back as you walk past, constitutes a american greeting. a country where kids sit outside in the grass chewing on garbage during class time and blurt out such sound bytes as “you money give me!” while i walk to work.
at work i get online and check out what AOL today thinks is news this morning, as i wait for my email to load on masha’s blazing fast internet connection (.18kbs per second? slow down trigger!). i’m not expecting the headlines to be intellectual fare – i save that for more respectable sites – hell, i just witnessed a professional journalist headline a newspaper with the word may’ve. at this point, i’m not even expecting the headlines to read as though they were written by a sober, literate person, over the age of ten.
i am expecting them to be stupid.
but not this stupid:
i don’t know why she had to swallow. i didn’t read the article. i don’t know what she had to swallow, or where she got it. i don’t know why AOL couldn’t find a picture of this woman wearing more than a one sleeve plunge neck fishnet shirt, or why they chose to place a photograph of a pile of phallic loaves of bread standing at attention below a photograph of this woman dressed like a porn star next to a headline that insinuates possibly decades of expertise in the field of swallowing, and i certainly don’t know what the fuck a traffic referee is. all i know is: whatever she’s swallowing, apparently she’s been swallowing it since she was ten years old, and her experience with swallowing whatever it was she swallowed affected the purchase of her new house. i sincerely hope it resulted in a discount.
in six months, ethiopia’s contractual death grip on my life is released. where do i go from here?
a person with as many linguistic pet peeves as myself… do i return to a country that allows headlines like why she had to swallow…, do i give up and stay in a country that memorizes the sounds what is your name, but has no idea what those sounds mean when shouted at a person who speaks english… or do i pursue other?
i would love to get a job as a writer somewhere, or even to publish my own stuff, but how? every day i scroll through “news” and various other published forms of the written word – alec baldwin explains the debt ceiling, mario batali op-eds about gun control laws, why men cheat written by some bitter old bag who was recently cheated on, huffPo ranks 50 public domain pictures of colleges we may’ve heard of, all infested with typos, glaring grammatical errors, improper word use – i scroll further, past the “related articles” – kDash finally wears opaque clothing, still manages to show entire world vagina, breaking science news: one easy trick to get flat abs today! – further… past hundreds of reader comments – obama is literally sodomizing the entire country with communist ideas, the GOP is literally raping the economy with upper class tax breaks – finally the little scroll bar on the side of my browser window hits bottom. contact us. contribute. jobs.
i click jobs. nothing lower than managing editor for divorce section: ten years experience required. ten years experience at what? being a managing editor for a divorce periodical? where the hell do i get that and why would i want it? i’m bitter enough without that experience, thank you.
i click contribute. as usual i’m greeted by the message: all unsolicited material will be disregarded. unsolicited mail and email will be thrown away, unread.
good lord. what may’ve i to swallow to get a writing gig around here?
that master’s program in australia looks better every day.
i may’ve too learn me an knew contraction:
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stay tuned for our next episode:
hey jugdish, what if i got my nose pierced? wouldn’t that be hot?