Friday, July 02, 2010

So I'm like, 'Dude!..."

Someone else has noticed, using the Laws of Rational Thought, that the loss of facility with language is related to the loss of the ability to think clearly.
Loss of language among the younger population -- that is to say, the ability to formulate and enunciate properly constructed sentences that reflect clear thought -- is growing at a staggering rate in the United States. Even among students whose academic aptitude is well above the national average, my years as an undergraduate business professor show that four out of five will make grave spelling errors in written assignments or exams, and about half that regularly commit grammatical blunders. The ubiquitous confusion between "there" and "their" may still be considered a quaint and negligible fluke that nearly creates a new orthographic norm; the inability to express lucid arguments must not.

The loss of the distinction (which I have suddenly started seeing everywhere, and in places where I really should never see it at all) between "there," "their" and "they're" is not just a language-snob problem. I don't know if any research could possibly be done to support my observation, but I have seen lately a terrible slump in the quality of writing, even by fairly intelligent people who claim to have attended decent schools.

Some time ago, I posted this that seems to have received some praise in various places.

(Aside: I received a very kind email a couple of weeks ago from a nice chap who asked me for a link. I have to say, and it should be noted by others, that I don't approve of link-fishing. If you have something that is of any quality it will be discovered and its merits will promote it for you. If you go around the web asking for links like a Romanian gypsy begging on the train, you are much more likely to get from me what they get. Which isn't money. But Edward seems like a nice chap, so here, just this once. I'm probably going soft.)

I see that Daniel Mitsui, whose website and work I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorse, has quoted me:

Nietzsche said, I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar. If only Nietzsche had lived long enough to see the 1970's and the new education he would have rejoiced at the final triumph of the human will over God...

The Restoration is not only a matter of politics, or even education qua education. It is an essential re-construction of ruined thought. Imagine Western Civilization not as a set of... precious cultural artifacts like the Mass or the Divine Office or legally indissoluble natural marriage or even any philosophical school. Imagine that it is a larger thing than that; it is a framework for our thought, our creative efforts. Imagine that it is the structure that makes something like Chartres or Salisbury Cathedral possible. The container for the idea of Chartres, without which no Chartres could be conceived.

I remember in Narnia, the worst, most horrible fate that the Talking Beasts could imagine was to lose language. To revert to being an ordinary dumb animal, to no longer have the spark of Divine Knowledge that Aslan had given them at the creation of their world.

I know I have written about this before, but I keep coming back to that scene in Prince Caspian when the children and Trumpkin are attacked in the forest by a bear. For a moment, Susan is filled with the horrible thought, "What if he is a Talking Bear, gone wild, who has reverted to the ways of dumb bears." For a dangerous moment she hesitates to fire for fear that she would be killing one of her subjects. When the bear is dead, Lucy, ever thoughtful, says to Susan, "What if, back home, the same thing had happened to men. That however much they may look like ordinary men on the outside, they had really gone wild inside." Susan tells Lucy not to think such horrible thoughts.

I think these horrible thoughts all the time. I think maybe it is what my mother was referring to when she wrote to me once of "the pain you seem to feel all the time."

Probably. It could be that these horrible thoughts have caught up with me, and this could be why I seem never to be able to be happy.

Here I am, typing this on my laptop, sitting in the midst of a glorious, fragrant, singing July day in Italy, 300 yards from the beach, on the balcony of my lovely apartment, surrounded by wonderful friends, employed in good work, in good health and safe. All these gifts, and yet my hope and faith barely clinging on.

I don't know. Maybe I've always been able to see that the facade of the world hides a cultural rot and despair that is only now starting to become visible to others. I remember even as a child, in the hippie-dippy 70s, knowing that the world was not what it seemed. That people were not as well as they pretended to be. That things were falling apart. Or, maybe I should say, being deliberately torn apart. I've always been an instinctual conservative.

I'm going into Rome today, just to hang out a bit. Maybe look at some monuments or art or something. It's important to try to remember that the world keeps going. People keep living and doing things, even when the barbarians are at the gates. Civilisations go up, civilisations go down. True things remain.

Maybe we should have a pop quiz for regular O's P readers. I wish Blogger would set up a thing where, instead of a word verification, you had to complete a literacy verification quiz before commenting.

What are the differences, for example, between the following?

Lay and lie.

Fewer and less.

Who and whom.

Flew and flown.

There, their, and they're.



Anonymous said...

I'll have a shot.

Lay and lie.

I lie down. I lay the piece of paper on the table.

Fewer and less.

Fewer people. Less smoke.
One is less than two. Two people are fewer than three.

Who and whom.

Never could quite get the hang of this, but who is nominative and whom goes with the genitive/dative? Maybe accusative?

Flew and flown.

One flew over the cuckoo's nest.
I have flown in an aeroplane.

(flown requires an auxiliary - so they are two different kinds of past verb/participle?)

There, their, and they're.

The gliberals are over there.
Their morals are stupid.
They're a pack of barbarians.

Anonymous said...

Here I am, typing this on my laptop, sitting in the midst of a glorious, fragrant, singing July day in Italy, 300 yards from the beach, on the balcony of my lovely apartment, surrounded by wonderful friends, employed in good work, in good health and safe. All these gifts, and yet my hope and faith barely clinging on.

Couls be partly temperamental. Although I am by nature pretty cheerful (sanguine, I suppose) and yet I find myself feeling similarly. My faith is okay, but my hope? It is seriously challenged. Why? Is Jesus somehow no longer the same today as yesterday and forever? Is He not still my Redeemer? Does He not always forgive me my sins - my many sins.

Perhaps you are a prophet, Hilary. Such an outlook as yours tends to go with the prophetic (I think). You can see things not all of us can. This would probably make anyone depressed. Your work is more important than you know. And you are loved more than you know.

Anonymous said...

I'll just say this, b/c it probably bears repeating. I am not an unhappy person by nature. I am cheerful and had a great childhood and was and am loved. Yet, things are such now that - in spite of the continuing gifts in my life - I am a regular curmudgeon. Or getting there. Is it The World, The Flesh, or The Devil? Or all three?

I am going to take up knitting. And tapestry. And finish my Illuminated Letters. And give birth to my sixth baby. Bugger the Apocalypse.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


1) grammar: you have given me examples, but not explanations.

Why do we say, "I lie on the bed" and "I lay the book on the table"?

2) propheteering: it's also called "Cassandra Syndrome" and it makes no one happy whom it afflicts.

3) the apocalypse: I may change the masthead to read "bugger the apocalypse".

Anonymous said...

Re: 1 - I know... it was the best I could do. :(

If I think about it a bit longer, it might come to me.

Re: 2 I've never heard of Cassandra Syndrome - I'll check it out. But I am inclined to think that there are prophets (not in the sense of "predicting the future" but just in the sense of seeing things as they are and telling people about that) in the Church.

Re: 3 I would be honoured.

I am looking at some beautiful tapestries online.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

It's only called Cassandra Syndrome by me. I think I made it up.

But the story of Cassandra has been with me ever since I started in pro-life work.

Anonymous said...

I really ought to head off to bed ASAP, but lie is intransitive and lay is transitive*?

*like "to choose"

PiusLad said...

Who's and whose...

Mark S. Abeln said...

Latin grammar counteracts the melancholic humour.

I recently met Daniel Mitsui and his family and had a thoroughly delightful time. Among many topics, we discussed the importance of harmony and harmonic proportion, which is embodied in Gothic architecture.

Steve Hayes said...

I think your waisting you're thyme. The barbarians are no longer at the gates, their sacking the city.

Tom Ryan said...

This will be much too difficult. I would settle for teaching kids how to use adjectives because they only want to use Onomatopoeias (not sure that's the plural).

It seems that this may be the point in history where the means to communicate are limitless and it has come precisely at the time when we have nothing to say. I thought about that on line in the grocery store behind a lady on a cell phone. She sounded feral.

Felix said...

but, if we're to be consistent, should we adopt the whole TFM style approach and eschew blue jeans?

it's not just how you speak; it's how you dress

BTW, Cassandra is my secular patroness

Binks said...

Not to be, like, totally pedantic, right? but, I believe the proper punctuation of "So I'm like, 'Dude!...""

is actually

"So, I'm, like, 'Dude!'.."

As in

"And so then, verily, I said to my former partner in conversation,'Dude!'"

Foiled Circuitous Wanderer said...

"Loose" and "lose". About 95% of the time these days, the former is used when the latter is meant.

(Just found and am enjoying this blog. Sorry to contribute only a pedantic peeve. Perhaps I shall loose my inhibitions later.)

acbellon said...

Hi Hilary

Orwell's Newspeak word "bellyfeel:"

"The word bellyfeel means a blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea.
The word likely comes from the idea that any good Oceanian should be able to internalize Party doctrine to the extent that it becomes a gut instinct – a feeling in the belly.

Consider, for example, such a typical sentence from a Times leading article as 'Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc.' The shortest rendering one could make of this in Oldspeak would be: 'Those whose ideas were formed before the Revolution cannot have a full emotional understanding of the principles of English Socialism.' But this is not an adequate translation. ... Only a person thoroughly grounded in Ingsoc could appreciate the full force of the word bellyfeel, which implied a blind, enthusiastic, and casual acceptance difficult to imagine today."

In other words, impoverish the language and so impoverish thought, just have a programmed "good gut feeling" about your rulers.

It's happening, starts with all those inabilities to make homophonic distinctions....time for a review...