Please explain: At the risk of losing what we mean to say

February 2019 Posted in Columnists & Opinion, Community

Maybe it’s just me, but the English language seems to be fading into a mash-up of emojis, slang, jargon and gibberish.

It breaks my heart when I read some “writing.” It’s nonsensical, pointless, lacking in organization and inexact.

Most writers appear to have been absent that day in second grade when the teacher defined a sentence as a complete thought. They appear to be unable to assemble a complete thought – or any other thought, for that matter.

Grammar, sentence structure, word choice – they have all been dumped into a huge Shake ‘n’ Bake bag and turned into nonsense. Interestingly enough, the level of education appears to have little to do with it.

Some years ago, I was the editor of a daily newspaper. The letters I received ranged from poignant, fascinating and heartfelt all the way to unintelligible. The good letters were from folks who I knew worked for a living. They were linemen for the electric utility, retirees, professional hunters – he always delivered his letters with a venison roast – or other down-to-earth occupations.

The poorly written letters generally came from lawyers, Ph.D.s or politicians. Their thoughts would drift from one subject to another, and they would say as little as possible.

My favorite letters went directly to the point. I remember one addressed to me that began, “Dear Scum of the Earth.” That got my attention. The letter writer pointed out that I was on the wrong side of the debate over capital punishment, an important topic that deserved to be discussed. I should point out that the rest of the letter was clearly written, well-reasoned and made the point that capital punishment should be banned. And he may have even been right about me being the scum of the earth.

Another problem I see in writing is fuzzy language. For example, I saw the phrase “weather event” the other day. Good God. What, precisely, is a weather event? Is it rain, or snow? Is it a hurricane, tornado or lightning storm? Just saying weather event is virtually meaningless. It’s like saying, “We had weather yesterday.”

Another similarly vague word is “vehicle.” It is common for people to say, “The two vehicles collided.” That says next to nothing. Was one a Mack truck and the other a Yugo? Was one parked and the other going 100 mph? How can a person’s command of the language be so feeble as to say almost nothing?

Another shortcoming of today’s writing is courtesy of social media, which manages to express a lot of things but not information. I said before that I believe most of the well-written posts on Facebook are likely from Russia, where grammar – and Putin – are king.

I have no doubt about it. Americans seem unable to say anything more than “That sucks.” They apparently are trying to say they don’t like something. Unfortunately, they have left out why they don’t like it, or why I should care that they don’t like it. Maybe I wouldn’t like it either, if they could only explain it to me.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in Stayton.

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