My Street Just Went Stupid: Now What?

The Stupiding is coming...

The Stupiding is coming…

For the last 34 years I have lived on Westminster Place in Alexandria, Virginia. The address, a cul de sac, was a happy accident, as a wonderful, affordable house just happened to be there and for sale the day after I asked my wife-to-be to marry me, but it has always given me pleasure. Westminster Abbey is third among my five favorite and most cherished places on earth, the others being Fenway Park, The Alamo, Disneyland, and the Gettysburg battlefield.

Protecting my address’s integrity isn’t easy. Everyone, from clerks to salespersons to the people who address our junk mail try to change the name to Westminister Place, only to be corrected by me, or when it happens to her,  my anglophile wife. “It is Westminster Place, no “i”—you know, like the Abbey,” we say politely. The number of times the response is, “Huh? What abbey?” is a fact too depressing to relate.

Nevertheless, we refuse to let this constant attempted error pass. We have seen what can happen when illiteracy and ignorance are permitted to prevail and fester.

Just a few blocks away from us is the intersection known locally as Stupid Corner, where for decades the Waffle House there has sported a sign reading “WAFLE HOUSE.” The sign immediately lowers the IQ of anyone nearby: there mothers push their baby carriages into traffic, and pedestrians mysteriously forget where they were headed. (I just made four typos even writing about it.) When they repainted the traffic lanes—I’m not making this up—there was an arrow turning LEFT painted in the far right lane, an arrow point RIGHT in the middle lane, and an arrow pointing STRAIGHT ahead in the far left lane, when in fact no lane could go straight, since the road ends there. It was like a Stephen King story. “The Stupiding.” Continue reading

Feel Smarter Now? Don’t.

There’s been a lot of gratuitous Harvard-bashing lately, lately being defined as, oh, the last two hundred years or so. The latest plot to embarrass Harvard, my alma mater, came from the campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. This also isn’t a new development: I often found the Crimson embarrassing to Harvard back when I was student, when its staff was as often as not on a picket line chanting “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?

It’s latest effort was to send a roving reporter out with a video camera to show how ignorant Harvard students are. The question featured: “What is the capital of Canada?”  Here is the video:

Sure enough, none of the students shown could answer the question, except a Canadian. How humiliating! I can only imagine how many people will be flush with pride because they know that the capital city is Ottawa, and Harvard students don’t.

Of course, the video is meaningless. One Crimson reader, a student, wrote in to point out that he was interviewed for the stunt, gave the right answer, and turned up on the cutting room floor. He theorizes that there were others like him, and I wouldn’t be surprised: “Only six out of 19 Harvard students know the capital of Canada” isn’t much of a headline, is it? “Lame” was this student’s verdict for the Crimson’s rigged version of “Jaywalking.” I agree. Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Please watch the above, and listen carefully.

How does someone like this become the spokesperson of a major political party, much less get elected to Congress?

  • Her response to Marco Rubio’s undeniably accurate statement was a pure ad hominem attack.
  • Her explanation for why the President’s intentional misrepresentation isn’t the lie that it obviously is consists of nothing but assertively delivered double-talk and irrelevant talking points that do not address the issue.
  • She thinks “misled” is pronounced “myzeld.” Let me repeat that…

She thinks “misled” is pronounced “myzeld!!!!”

I am not surprised at the first; the second is standard operating practice for this Congresswoman (and she has lots of company these days, on this topic), but the last is the canary dying in the mine. Continue reading

Language Ethics: Letting The Inarticulate Control Expression


I know, I know.

Tell me about how the English language is dynamic. Next, “irregardless” will be in the dictionary—heck, maybe it is already; I’m afraid to look. Baloney. The fact that “everybody does it,” defined as “people in high places, like Joe Biden, who should know better but don’t,” does not justify treating inarticulate, lazy, careless, embarrassingly stupid language as acceptable. If “literally” means figuratively, then nothing means literally. When someone says that “her marriage was literally destroyed,” thanks to Google and the rest, the only way we know whether her marriage was destroyed or not is if we can find out whether or not the speaker is literate, and maybe not even then.

Call me a stickler, call me a crank, but making the public dumber and communication harder by declaring that those who are poor speakers and lazy thinkers are right and those who champion expressive and accurate language are wrong is not ethical. It is literally irresponsible.


Pointer: Fark

Perspicacious Ethics: The Media Has A Duty Not To Make Us Dumber

Gore Vidal once said, “As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too.” Certainly the media is accelerating the decadence of society; does it have to intentionally do in the language as well?

On ABC’s This Week, host Christiane Amanpour casually used the word “perspicacious.” Discussing the Constitution,  one of Amanpour’s guests mentioned that Benjamin Franklin wrote that he wouldn’t mind being preserved in a vat of Madeira wine in order to see if the Constitution held up 200 years later. Amanpour responded that Ben was amazingly perspicacious when the Constitution was signed.

Apparently  the word perspicacious stumped the 7th grade drop-outs in the booth, because suddenly a box appeared with the definition and pronunciation of the word under Amanpour. Then, commenting on the incident, the web site Mediaite wrote that Amanpour “might avoid using such fancy language so that viewers in the future don’t mistake her show for a Rosetta Stone class teaching the English language.” Continue reading