Jewish World Review March 20 , 2012/ 26 Adar, 5772
Nation wondering: what happening to language?
By A. Barton Hinkle
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Something funny going on across the country. Verbs disappearing. Other speech parts, too. Meanwhile: sentence fragments, participial phrases running amok – starting in New York and Los Angeles, then blanketing the entire nation.
Law enforcement puzzled. FBI, no leads yet. Investigations ongoing.
And now a theory: Nightly news to blame. Anchors talking like machine guns – firing words in short bursts. Three to a dozen at a time. Not a new phenomenon – but happening more and more often.
Some recent examples:
Taken out of context, sounding pretty funny. Sounding pretty funny even in context, for that matter. Speak like that? Real people in real life? Never used to. Not without dramatic consequences, anyway: Men in white coats, chasing you with nets. Nice private room with padded walls, no door handle on the inside. Kindly faced psychiatrist dropping in, showing ink blots. Group on Thursdays.
Some people making excuses for this: Headline-ese. TV broadcasts sounding like newspaper front pages. Space constraints in both cases? Little room for grammar? Not buying it. "Is" not exactly a long word. "Are" either. "We have"? Short also. Shave half-second off Geritol commercial. Problem solved!
Another reason for not buying headline excuse: Phenomenon not happening just at top of show. Here excerpt from middle of March 3 CNN piece on presidential race: "Oliver and Shannon Travis earlier in the day out at the caucus site." Oliver and Shannon what? Reporting? Waiting for candidates to arrive? Playing tubas while sitting naked in giant tub of Jell-O pudding? Without verb, audience not having any idea.
Here further transcript excerpt, few seconds later same show:
Shannon Travis, CNN political reporter: "John, Washington state very important in this contest."
John King, chief national correspondent: "Could conceivably be battleground state in November."
Sounding like 1950s movie dialogue: Me Tarzan! You Jane! Heap big trouble, kimosabe! Get doctor! Him know how bad Clarabelle hurt!
Not just CNN, either. Here ABC's Katie Couric talking to correspondent in field: "Anthony, four straight months job growth now."
Four straight months job growth now? What kind of sentence that? No subject. No verb. No object. Word salad!
Other people viewing this with alarm, too. Example: PBS NewsHour, several years ago. Terence Smith, beginning his story as follows: "Today in Washington, around the country, television reporters, talking like this." Smith quoting Tom Brokaw. Tom Brokaw saying, "I pull the chain, you know, when I catch it … I have had a talk with a couple of our correspondents about … speaking in complete sentences with a beginning, middle and end, with all of the component parts."
Brokaw's lecture not sticking, apparently. Even NPR doing it. NPR! Home of 43-minute segment on precise meaning of musical term "appoggiatura," 10-hour segment on physiology of wine tasting, and 71-part series on kickback scandal affecting fair-trade sandal collective in Uruguay. Nowadays hoity-toity NPR correspondents sometimes sounding like Incredible Hulk after couple of dozen beers. Any morning expect to hear: "Pope, Catholic bishops meeting! To talk! About things! Enough now! Too many words! Make brain hurt! Me Sylvia Poggioli, NPR, Vatican City!"
Trying to imagine everyone doing this. Colonial forefathers: "Dissolving bands with England, holding truths self-evident. King acting like big jerk. Not taking it any more." Jane Austen: "Everyone know bachelor with money need bride."
You get idea.
Making matters worse: This coming on top of text-message emoticons, TMI, BFF and Twitter truncation mking ppl drop ltrs 2 stay w/in 140 chrctrs. English language not dying – being slowly hacked to death. Soon everyone sound like funny cave-man talk seen on Internet: "Man hungry! Woman kitchen!"
Good thing Themistocles not around to see this. Long time ago, man named Plutarch write: "Themistocles said that a man's discourse was like to a rich Persian carpet, the beautiful figures and patterns of which can be shown only by spreading and extending it out; when it is contracted and folded up, they are obscured and lost."
What people say now? "Meh." Pretty soon, height of eloquence flinging poo. That OK! Fine by newspaper columnist! Win poo-fling contest every time. LOL!
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A. Barton Hinkle is Deputy Editor of the Editorial Pages at Richmond Times-Dispatch Comment by clicking here.
© 2011, A. Barton Hinkle