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Evil surrounds us

The latest threat to the English language, public discourse and the intellectual development of children is — wait for it — Twitter. Language Log rounds up some of the most egregious examples of threat-or-menace writing, but that post is two days old and almost certainly out of date.

Nancy Friedman has gotten some attention with a delightful send-up of Maureen Dowd on Twitter, “Ms. Dowd Interviews the Inventor of the Telephone.” In doing so, she reminds us of the multiplicity of these threats to Civilization as We Know It.

There was also radio (“Red Rubber Ball” as a specimen of the richness of metaphor in pop music). There was broadcast television insidiously weakening the minds of the American public (Gilligan’s Island). Now we have cable television accelerating the rot (reality shows, Donald Trump). And Facebook. (Of the “five most” quiz selections, the one that appeals the most is the Five People I Want to Punch in the Face, but, unfortunately, I do not know the identity of the inventor of Facebook’s “five most” quizzes.)

Twitter, like the telephone, radio, television and Internet, affords multiple opportunities for wasting valuable time with inane stuff, and, like the telephone, radio, television and the Internet, it is useful within limits. It’s up to people to arrive at sensible limits. People who waste their time and yours on Twitter would, lacking Twitter, waste their time and yours in some other manner.

I thought that the silly season fell in the summer, but perhaps global climate change has sent it out of whack. In addition to the nonsense about Twitter, we have the governor of Texas apparently advocating secession — an issue we thought was settled one April morning 144 years ago at a little town in Virginia. We have Rod Blagojevich talking about starring in a reality TV show, which would out-Trump Trump. We have George Will carrying on about the evil cultural influence of denim — and providing fodder for Stephen Colbert and half the bloggers in the known world.

Take a break, people. Close this page. Get out of the basement. Turn off the TV. Make yourself a cup of tea. Pick up a book. The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell’s breezy account of our half-loony Puritan forebears, can give you a little perspective. You need it.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:33 PM | | Comments (9)


It's not about secession; it's about whether the original annexation of Texas in 1845 was legal, and if so, what special rights it may have conferred on the new state (beyond all question, Texas has the right to divide itself into five states, thus giving it ten senators). There's a difference.

Similar things can be (and have been) said about Hawaii, where the monarchy was essentially overthrown by a cabal of American citizens who promptly demanded and got annexation.

I've since lost the link, but I came across a blog post a while ago that promoted the use of Twitter in training copy editors. It would improve their writing skills, the post said, by forcing to trim their writings to a mere 140 characters. This taught them to write concisely, and how to condense wordy phrasing. So, while it can certainly be a time waster, when used properly Twitter can actually enhance its users' language skills.

I don't twitter, so maybe I'm talking out of my ear here, but I talked to someone who does twitter extensively. I asked him about the learning to write concisely thing, and he said, no, it doesn't work that way. People are mostly writing inane crap. I asked him, what about you? And he said, never mind.

If there are to be five Texases, I'll require something a good deal stronger than tea.

u rock jmac.

I remember seeing something about summarizing one of Shakespeare's plays in 140 characters or less. Sort of like the explanation for most Jewish holidays: "They tried to kill us. They failed. Lets eat."

There was once a fashion for railing about novel-reading (especially by women) as a time-wasting and injurious practice.

My guess is they would have called it Hooter, but:

1. There were — if you'll excuse the expression — "intellectual property" considerations.

2. They didn't want to sound snooty.

How did I miss that Sara Vowell has a new book???? Thank you!

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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