Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Correct Use of Language is a "Badge of Competence"

From the January issue of Prospect comes "Mother Tongue," a clear, well-argued piece by Richard Jenkyns, in which he argues that correct use of language is not a mark of elitism but rather a "badge of competence."

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Of two examples of awful prose: "One of the reasons that this is bad prose is that it is dishonest prose: in each of these passages the writer is trying to hide the fact that she has very little to say." Similarly, he notes, "the study of popular culture easily tends to statement of the obvious, and its practitioners naturally want to disguise that fact."

And the key point:

We should learn educated English, as we should learn to spell, if only because it is a certificate of competence. Mistakes like "should of" or "flaunt" for "flout" are literally childish: they are the result of people picking up language by imitation, as children do, and misunderstanding what they have heard. We should flaunt the rules of grammar, not flout them, if only to show that we know what we are up to. But there is a nobler reason for knowing the rules, and that is that it enables one to speak more variously and effectively.

Articles like this one gladden the heart of this former English teacher.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Scientists discover the Pokemon gene! No, it doesn't make you spend ridiculous sums of money on trading cards featuring pictures of cute Japanese animated characters :-) Pokemon in this case stands for POK Erythroid Myeloid Ontogenic factor, a gene that appears to orchestrate the process by which cells multiply out of control, thereby becoming cancerous. See for details. Let's hope this discovery is the beginning of new, more powerful treatments for cancer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Last month Nature published a fascinating news piece on the debate over embryonic stem cells. It delves deeply into religious views on the practice, providing an in-depth, balanced look at a topic that, like abortion, usually generates more heat than light in public discussions.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I just received an email newsletter from our internal corporate communications that included this fine piece of prose: "The project will be an impactful visual addition ..." "Impactful"????? It's bad enough that nothing ever affects anything anymore; instead, it "has an impact on" it. But impactful? Puhleeze.

In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "I can't stand it!"

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Now for a bright spot in this dreary winter--the Lake Superior State University Banished Words List for 2005. If only this list had the force of law...