Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

The Plural, the Possessive, and Contractions   Leave a comment

With Ruminations About Students, Technology, and Pre-College Education

The atrocious writing of many college students alarms me.  I wonder how they got into college without knowing, for example, that “it’s” is not the same as “its.”  “Its'” is not “its” either.  I know whereof I write, after years of teaching U.S. History survey courses (mostly the first part, through 1877) at a public university in Georgia.  To be fair, many students also write beautifully and understand English usage and grammar well.  This post is not about them and their delightful essays, however.

Many students seem confused about how to make a singular word plural.  Consider, O reader, the word “colonist.”  I am tired of reading essays and quiz answers in which pupils use it as if it is plural.  As they should have learned in elementary school, “colonists” is plural and “colonist” is singular.”  The way to make many words plural is to add an “s” to the end.

Many students confuse the plural and possessive forms of words.  Some of them labor under the delusion that “colonist’s” is plural, not singular possessive.   Alas, they are not alone.  One needs to go no further than the comments sections of websites to find examples of mangling the English language.  An example off the Internet is present in every weekly sales paper for a small chain of grocery stores in an around Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where I live.  The sales papers indicate the stores “with deli’s.”  You, O reader, can probably think of local examples easily too.

As a matter of fact, one should use an apostrophe to create the plural forms sometimes, as in letters.  For example, I might calculate the percentage of students I assigned A’s at the end of last semester.  I would have “as” without the apostrophe.   The problem regarding apostrophes is using them when one should not.

I do not know what is so confusing for so many people regarding “it’s” and “its.”  “It’s” is the contraction for “it is.”  “Its” is a singular possessive pronoun.  This is simple, is it not?  It should be.

Although I teach history, I also have to teach some English usage and grammar, unfortunately.  I make students write essays, not take tests.  Each student has about a month to write 8-10 pages on a prompt he or she selects from a list of three or four options.  I also provide the pupils with detailed instructions and writing guidelines.  When I add the book report to the list of writing assignments, I assign each student to write 28-36 pages during the course of the semester.  This is hardly draconian, except on yours truly, for I have to read all of this writing.  (Do the math.)  Yet some pupils, as they write in course evaluations, consider 28-36 pages to be “a lot of writing.”  The length of the writing assignments (28-36 pages spread across four papers in one semester) is not excessive, but the accumulation of their bad writing and their complaining is.

I refrain from criticizing teachers who have preceded me in these pupils’ lives.  Not only do I lack sufficient information to arrive at a conclusion, but I also understand that teachers have inattentive students.  Many factors can cause students not to pay attention.  Life at home might be troublesome.  A pupil might be hungry.  One might be fatigued.  A student might have an especially short attention span.  Or one might simply not care.  Regardless of the reason or set of reasons applicable in any given case, a reality teachers know well is that what they taught and what certain students learned bear little or no similarity to each other.  Communication is, by definition, an interactive process.  Whenever Person #1 sends a message to Person #2, who receives it and understands it as Person #1 intended, Person #1 has communicated with Person #2.  A number of factors might garble the message, even if Person #1 has sent it as best as possible.

I do not blame teachers overall.  Yes, some teachers are better at their jobs than others are, but teachers deserve much more credit than they receive.  We, as a society, require that they do more than they ought to have to do.  Parents and guardians, for example, have much responsibility; we should not shift any of that to teachers.  Yet we do.    Not only do I blame many parents and guardians, especially those who do not accept their share of responsibility and make like needlessly difficult for educators, but I also assign blame to inattentive and lazy students who rely too much on technology.  “Technology” is a blanket term for tools, from the wheel to smart phones.  Technology is not the problem.  It is, after all, neutral; how one uses it is good or bad.  I know from one-on-one discussions with certain students that they rely on their computers (word processing programs, to be precise) with regard to writing.  These pupils have not, therefore, internalized English usage and grammar as well as they should have.  These students’ writing would be superior without computers; they would know how to write in a literate manner without word processing programs.  The fault lies with these pupils.

The technology, in fact, can be overwhelmingly positive.  I recall the electronic typewriter I used during my undergraduate years.  I remember being grateful when the professor required end notes, not footnotes.  I also recall having to retype pages because of a few mistakes.  Word processing programs are godsends in my life.  I do not, however, mistake the spell check function for proofreading.  Many students do.

I harbor concerns for college students who write poorly, as evident in their difficulties relating to the plural, the possessive, and contractions.  Many of them will apply for employment that will require them to write in an official capacity.  For some the application and interview process will entail going to a room and writing on paper.  Or perhaps they will, as part of the process, have to write a statement on the application itself.  There is also the matter of the cover letter, assuming that the employer in question reads it.  The process will expose these applicants’ inadequate language skills, unless they improve those skills in the meantime.

I recall having excellent teachers as well as parents who valued my education.  I also remember being an attentive student.  The factors of school, home, and pupil are essential in education.  They are crucial to one knowing the difference between lessons and lesson’s.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Posted July 1, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Education, Language

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Personally   Leave a comment

Or, Why We Should Strive Not to Label Obviously Subjective Statements Unnecessarily

I admit readily that many others are better English-language stylists than I, but I strive to be as skilled and elegant a stylist as possible.  I also encourage others to improve the quality of their speaking and writing, for I apply one standard to them and to myself.  If one is a literate human being, one will hopefully speak and write as well as possible.  Reality frequently dashes my hope, unfortunately.

Whenever I hear or read “in my personal opinion,” “personally, I,” and other needless uses of “personal” and “personally,” I object, at least to myself.  Related to that issue is “in my opinion” when a statement, even in the absence of that qualifier, is obviously subjective.  With regard to “my personal opinion,” of course my opinion is personal.  What else would it be?  The use of the first person indicates the personal.

The interpersonal reason for using redundant qualifiers in obviously subjective statements is to practice diplomacy with regard to people who object to the subjective content.  You, O reader, might know the experience of receiving the

THAT’S YOUR OPINION!

reaction.  I do.  The essence of my measured reply is

Of course it is my opinion, for it is obviously a subjective statement.

That does not soothe ruffled feathers much of the time, of course.  I know from experience that responding calmly to someone who is irrational (A) demonstrates maturity and self-control and (B) makes the other person angrier.  Someone has to model good behavior, however.  My simple question about people with such objections is:  Since they take offense to easily, why would anyone want to engage them in conversation unnecessarily?  I prefer to speak and correspond with calm people.

Shall we listen to each other, notice that certain statements are obviously subjective, and strive to avoid redundant words?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted June 30, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Language

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Impact   Leave a comment

Or, Why We Should Influence and Affect Instead

I take the English language seriously.  When I see a

10 Items of Less

sign in a store, for example, I struggle to resist the temptation to comment that the sign should read

10 Items or Fewer.

Sometimes I choose not to resist the temptation.  I object to confusing “further” and “farther.”  It is not outside my experience to erupt into profanities in private while reading students’ writing in which they have used “it’s” (the contraction of “it is”) in lieu of “its” (a singular possessive pronoun).  I roll my eyes when I hear people say “very unique” of “most unique,” for degrees of uniqueness do not exist.  (For that matter, no woman is ever “very pregnant,” for degrees of pregnancy do not exist either.)  I understand the distinction between the subjective and objective cases well enough to realize that it is whom one knows, not who one knows, that matters.  Oxymorons such as “instant classic” and “new tradition” lead me to conclude that some people do not understand classics and traditions are old-certainly neither instant nor new.  And I cringe when I read or hear “impact” as a verb, in lieu of “influence” or “affect.”  I am a beneficiary of some excellent English teachers.

I realize that language changes.  I know, for example, that “prevent” used to mean “precede.”  It makes sense, after all; the combination of “pre” and “event” gives us “prevent.”  Yet I am no postmodernist.  No, I am an unabashed modernist (in the sense of Enlightenment modernism) with regard to language and other matters.  I affirm that words mean what they mean.  So, for example, when I consult the Merriam-Webster website and read that, according to those linguistic lords, I may use “literally” hyperbolically to mean “figuratively” without being incorrect, I object.  Most dictionaries describe, not proscribe, the meaning of words, as popular culture determines those definitions.  My inner linguistic Federalist chafes against the Jeffersonian Republican character of most dictionaries.

In old dictionaries “impact,” as a verb, means (A) to become wedged in somewhere and (B) to collide with something or someone.  Note, O reader, the physicality of the verb.  The main example of the correct use of “impact” as a verb in media that comes to my mind comes from Endgame (1997), an episode of Babylon 5 (1994-1998).   Captain James, aboard the E.A.S. Agamemnon during the climactic battle against forces loyal to the dictatorial Earth Alliance President William Morgan Clark, shouts that missiles are

impacting on all sides.

I seldom hear and read correct uses of “impact” as a verb, however.

During the last few years I have noticed with much dismay and gnashing of teeth the increased frequency of people using “impact” as a verb (and, by extension, the gerund “impacting”) in popular culture, in casual conversation, on National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation, on academic websites, in job descriptions, and in academic writing.  In more than one book (of mine) I have crossed through “impact” and written “influence” or “affect.”  I have also written an anti-impact policy into my college syllabi.  Based on essays I have graded, I have concluded that many students have not read my syllabi.

I enjoy a certain elegance of language and encourage a healthy respect for the English tongue.  The evisceration of English that I have been witnessing for years disturbs me.  Perhaps the best I can do is (A) to encourage the proper use of language and (B) to model that use of English.  I do the best I can.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2017 COMMON ERA

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This is post #1500 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.

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Posted June 30, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Language

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The Definite Article   Leave a comment

Above:  The

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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One should use the definite article (the) cautiously.  I argue this point, for I prefer to speak and write accurately.  I also like for others to do the same.  The misuse of “the” renders one’s argument objectively false by overstating one’s case.  Such shoddy discourse annoys me.

As I have noticed, many college students have been (and are) overly found of “the.”  During my years of teaching U.S. history survey courses in college, I have emphasized the fact that many colonists in what became the United States remained loyal to the British Empire during the American Revolutionary period.  In stating this plainly I have manifested fidelity to objective reality.  I have also instructed pupils both orally and in writing not to write of “the colonists” as if all colonists were of one political mind and warned these students.  Nevertheless, many students have not heeded my instructions to write of the past accurately in their essays.  I have graded those essays accordingly.

Another fault of misusing “the” is applying it in the spirit of invective.

The ______s insert negative stereotype here.

Infamously, for example, the Gospel of John mentions “the Jews” (in most English-language translations), although the Greek word is actually a geographical term sometimes.  Whether the term should be “the Jews” or “the Judeans” in English in any given verse, the issue of invective remains.  In the case of the Gospel of John, how can one avoid reading those passages without considering the millennia of Christian anti-Semitism inspired partially by the invective in that text?

In 2017 we continue to have problems with invective, often expressed with the misuse of the definite article.  Human nature is constant, after all.  One might engage in partisan invective, for example.  Or one might be a racist or some other variety of bigot, perhaps with regard to religion.  Or maybe one might be merely an unrepentant ethnocentrist and Nativist.  Either way, one engages in stereotyping, thereby overlooking the diversity inherent in any population.  One therefore engages in the sin of judging others.  One also makes objectively false statements.

Shall we strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and to think, speak, and write objectively correctly?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Regarding Political Incivility and the Denial of the Humanity of the Opposition   Leave a comment

On Tuesday, June 6, 2017, Eric Trump, son of Donald Trump, appeared on the alleged FOX News Channel (perhaps the greatest oxymoron since jumbo shrimp, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada) and denied the humanity of Democrats, especially those pressing the Russia investigation:

I’ve never seen hatred like this.  I mean to me, they’re not even people.

I, writing as a member of the resistance to Donald Trump, a man with a disturbing affinity for strong men (such as those of Turkey, the Russian Federation, and the Philippines), affirm the humanity and corresponding dignity of all people, including those with the surname “Trump.”  I refuse to stoop to the mean-spirited level of Eric Trump, who, in that interview, went on to accuse Tom Perez, the new Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, “a total whack job” then to decry the increase in political name calling.  I am well-acquainted with the desire to engage in political name calling, for I have done so.  I conclude, however, that I ought to be a better person than that.  This is a spiritual discipline.

I do not know what the conclusions of a full, professional investigation of the Russia-related allegations will be or what paths for further investigation they will open.  No, I reserve judgment, for I prefer to stand on the solid ground of objective reality.  I wish for people to recognize me as being what I am–one who speaks and writes cautiously, based on accurate information.  More information relevant to the Russia issue and its spin-offs seems to become available daily, as the stories develop.  Objective reality is what it is; so be it; I side with it.  To insist on a full disclosure of objective reality in matters affecting the governance of the republic then to follow objective reality where it points is wise and patriotic, although inconvenient for many.  I, as a patriot, hope that there is nothing detrimental to the United States for any investigation to unearth; I do not want my country to suffer a political trauma needlessly.  If, however, such skullduggery is reality, may it become public knowledge and the chips fall where they may.  I support the integrity of the constitutional system, which is greater than any person or persons.

I do write and speak of what I know.  Donald Trump is his own worst enemy.  He, despite his advanced age, is immature.  He is also impulsive.  He uses Twitter too much, doubles down on inaccurate Tweets, demonstrates his affinity for hare-brained conspiracy theories.  He, behaving immaturely and impulsively, undercuts the efforts of his staff and cabinet secretaries, appalls not only Democrats but principled conservatives, makes life more difficult for himself by giving political ammunition to his opponents, and complicates the efforts of many supporters to defend him.

Regardless of what professional investigators will learn, Donald Trump will remain his own worst enemy.  Will he learn this lesson and cease to blame others and not himself?  The passage of time will tell.

If publishing this post places me in the class of people whose humanity Eric Trump denies, so be it.  I continue to affirm his humanity and his corresponding dignity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2017 COMMON ERA

Against Xenophobia and Other Sins   2 comments

Above:  Superman on Diversity, 1949

Confirmed here:  http://www.snopes.com/superman-1950-poster-diversity/

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I tend not to be shy about expressing myself on my weblogs.  Usually I make comments in the context of a particular saint, some passage of scripture, or a theological or ethical principle that comes to mind because of that saint or scripture.  This post belongs to a different category–thoughts that simply occupy my mind.

Xenophobia, nativism, racism, and homophobia are sins.  They violate the highest principles of ethical monotheism and the ideals of the United States, as well as mere human decency.  These four sins are also endemic in human history and current events.  Holding up ideals is far easier than living according to them, after all.  Fear–not the variety that prevents one from touching a hot stove, but the sort that leads to hatred and flows from misunderstanding–is ever with us.  It leads us to deny our fellow human beings the civil rights God has granted them.  Even worse, we frequently engage in these sins while justifying them with religion.

May we respect the image of God in each other.  May we love one another as we love ourselves.  May we eschew bigotry.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted April 18, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Language, Political Statements

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The Hitler Analogy   Leave a comment

Above:  The Front Page of Stars and Stripes, May 2, 1945

Image in the Public Domain

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Just leave Hitler out of it.

Morning Joe, April 12, 2017

As Sean Spicer has learned this week and, to his credit, he should have just left Hitler out of a discussion of the crimes of the dictator of Syria.

The Hitler analogy is one I hear people of various political stripes invoke against their opponents frequently.  The analogy applies well to only a select group of individuals that includes Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, the body count of each of whom exceeds that of the Fuherer, responsible for the Holocaust.  I recall that, in one statement, my Paul Broun, Jr., my former Congressman, compared Barack Obama to Hitler and Stalin–one a Fascist and the other a Communist–representatives of two opposing ideologies.  I remember hearing someone say “Hitlery Clinton” years ago.  I also recall hearing more than one person liken advocates of gun control to Nazis.  Oddly enough, I do not remember hearing anyone condemning the ownership and driving of Volkswagens, vehicles of which Hitler approved, due to the Nazi connection.

The crimes of the Nazis–especially Hitler–were of such magnitude that one should never trivialize them.  If every other thing is as bad as something the Nazis did, how bad could the Nazis have been?  The answer to that question is or should be obvious:  (1)  The Nazis were especially evil, and (2) Very little has ever risen to the level of evil of the Third Reich.  Evil of a magnitude lesser than that of the Nazis has long existed; examples have included Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad.

As Jeffrey Toobin has said, “arguments are easy at the extremes. ”  I conclude that the comfort level with the simplicity of easy arguments makes many people want to avoid the messier arguments between the extremes and leads them to resort to fallacies such as the misuse of the Hitler analogy.  Doing so also weakens their arguments and reveals them to be idiots.

Can we just leave Hitler out of it when he does not belong there?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 13, 2017 COMMON ERA

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