As baby boomers, we’ve seen a lot of things get better in the course of our lives. But we’ve also seen some things get worse. That’s what’s bugging Larry Lefkowitz right now: the dumbing down of nothing less than the English language.
On most Sundays, you can find me at the local gym, doing my best to stay alive for as long as I can. I like going on Sunday mornings because I can see at least four different news programs at virtually the same time. Recently, I heard a well-educated and respected journalist describe an issue as being systematic of another issue. Of course, he meant “symptomatic.” When I got home, I watched a very articulate sports news reporter ask an athlete during a recorded interview to give him a “self-assessment of himself.” What? Remember, this was not a live interview. Every day I hear on the radio, see on television, and read in the paper, language transgressions bordering on English butchering.
I am a technical writer and editor by trade. Most of my occupational writing has been for manuals and guides. I do not possess a college degree. However, I have learned and treated the language with respect and, at times, awe. Our language is part of our history, our legacy, our means of providing tangible and intangible heirlooms to our successors.
So I do not understand why language is not treated with more respect and reverence. How is it that people who are paid to speak to us are so cavalier with their words? Laziness? Or ignorance?! Why isn’t more care and preparation done to communicate clearly and correctly? And, in the case of commercial media, where are the editors?
In my own business, I expect to see language misuse. Most initial information is provided by engineers and designers. Typically, they communicate best with their own kind, as it were. One of the ways I have been successful is in learning to understand engineer-speak, and turning it into proper English. These people are not expected to be articulate or to speak in public, but media people are, and increasingly, I find that they fail.
I cannot fathom the reason for this. I do believe there is a general dumbing down of society and I attribute it to, among other things, the reliance on computers to do more and more of our work and, arguably, more and more of our thinking. Texting on our handheld computers, sometimes referred to as smartphones, but seldom ever called telephones, uses an annoying but hilarious predictor application that tries to make sense out of what you input with your THUMBS. Many other devices use it as well, including PCs and tablets.
These latter devices are perhaps major contributors to the verbal apocalypse. The forte and attraction of the tablet is its point-and-touch interface. In other words, you fingerpaint your information. Do you remember kindergarten? I submit that there is far less thinking needed now with our super gadgets.
Do people ever even consider language when they are communicating with their forefingers and thumbs? Perhaps not so much. Maybe this lingual laxity is bleeding into our aural communications media. Radio is an incredible language wasteland. Listening to news and sports during my morning drive, I cringe listening to what amounts to a bunch of Norm Crosbys misspeaking in gleeful ignorance. I wonder how people get through college, much less post-graduate education, without knowing how to write or speak.
There is a local radio host I sometimes listen to on the morning drive, who has a Masters degree in communications from Columbia University. He habitually uses double-negatives, redundant phrases, and erratic tenses. How can this be? Is he trying to appeal to the great unwashed in his listener base?
Perhaps the greater question is why this upsets me so. When I was quite young, my aptitude tests indicated that I was best suited to be a car mechanic or an insignificant underachiever. I aspired to be neither. While I do love words, I don’t expect everyone to feel this way. What I do expect is respect for the English language, and a concern to perpetuate it in its proper form. Fortunately, as an editor, I have an opportunity every day to do my small part.