Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Too Much Talk, Not Enough Thought

I was driving home from work, sitting at a stop light, and noticed the man in front of me carrying on a somewhat animated conversation on his cell phone. He wasn't doing anything illegal--he was talking hands free (except that he was waiving his hands around a bit). But it occurred to me that this guy, driving an older model Saturn and wearing a beat up baseball cap, was just the kind of guy who would rarely talk on the phone before the advent of cell phones. Now, like this guy, everyone seems to talk all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. Seriously.

I STILL don't own a cell phone. I don't want to talk. Why? Well, there's not very much I'd have to say to anyone that's so urgent it can't wait until I can send an email or see the person up close and personal. And sometimes it's nice to have a quiet, peaceful interlude when I can just think about things without interruption.

Did you see the news the other day about the Plain Writing Act? In case you missed it, there's now a law that requires governmental agencies to write their publications in plain language so the public can understand what's written, instead of throwing in all the legal gobbledegook we've seen in the past. Perhaps it won't surprise you that the government also wrote a 118 page guide telling itself what language to use and what language should no longer be used.

I'm certainly not adverse to documents that are easier to understand. Even with my background working in the law and, more particularly, with privileged health care information, when I recently received a HIPAA notification and tried to read it, I didn't understand at least half of it. So, yes, I think some reform is necessary. Language shouldn't be convoluted. Notices meant to inform and advise should actually DO that--inform and advise, not confuse.

But you know what bugs me? I don't want to see our language dumbed down. There's beauty in words, and I don't want to see the written word diminished.

I read a little of that 118 page guide. It said to use contractions in writing. That goes contrary to everything I've ever been taught when it comes to any kind of formal writing. Maybe I'm just a dinosaur. The guide went on to recommend documents be written as we speak.

Have you listened to the way we speak now? Really, we don't do very well. I guess we speak well enough to get our general ideas across, but I can't tell you how many times I've cringed when I've been watching TV and heard news reporters use the wrong words. And they don't even realize it! I always wonder what kind of education they've had--speaking in public is their JOB; is it too much to expect them to do it well? Or at least above average? There's a commercial currently running on television, and I think it's for a cell phone provider, where a guy refers to the "white elephant in the room." What a mixed metaphor! And how does that kind of thing make it past editing?

Okay, so I'm an English snob. But it's my language and I've been writing it for a long time now. And it's my JOB to do it fairly well. But I don't speak as well as I write. People rarely do. From years of transcribing dictation, I know that the spoken word almost always needs to be cleaned up when it's written down, because the written word and the spoken word are never quite the same.

Yes, I think we can write plainly so that what we write is easier to understand. But I also think we should strive to speak better and expand our vocabulary. How about legislating clarity in the SPOKEN word? No, I guess I can't truly expect politicians to get behind that kind of legislature. But maybe if we are all just a little quieter now and then, we'd have time to think before we speak.

13 comments:

Kris said...

Yes, there is a LOT of talking nowadays. Much of it is completely unnecessary I think. Remember when we just used to eat breakfast? Now it seems we have to facebook it and tweet it as well as eat it! I do have a mobile phone, but I don't give the number to anyone. My family can get hold of me if they need to and that's about it. I do think that any piece of writing should be clear. Otherwise what is the point? I think we learn in school and university to pad our writing and that tends to follow us forever after. My daughter once handed in a piece of writing that was 300 words short of the word count. Her tutor told her that he couldn't give her a good mark for it because it was too short. She pointed out that he had asked them to be precise and clear and not longwinded. She asked if she had answered the question well. She had. Crazy, isn't it?

taylorhw said...

Your comment reminds me of an incident in '95. I was teaching at a middle school, learning disabled students, when a teacher who had been teaching since she was 18 (Laws then were way different than now and she was grandfathered into the system in the 80's)came into the lunch room saying that the English language was dead. Again she has been teaching since she was 18, mainly English, and was now in her mid-sixties. Apparently the rules for grammer were changed by the Weights and Measurment Society in England, and we could now split infinatives. She was certainly not going to change her teaching style just because someone wanted grammer to be more accessible.
Wendy

roselady said...

AMEN... enough said

Ila said...

Well said. And enough with the f-bomb, too, in conversations and entertainment. It makes folks appear that they don't have the vocabulary to express themselves any other way.

Cory said...

Kim, Thank you for your elouquently written thoughts on the english language. I completely agree. Far too much in our society is being dumbed down and people are not being required to use common sense or their brains. Take care and God bless, Cory

Nancy, Near Philadelphia said...

Preach it, sister! MOOOO!

Suzanne Kistler said...

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Kim West said...

I don't "dumb down" my conversation for my kids. I talk in my "normal" level of vocabulary. If I say a word that they don't know - they ask me what it means - or I ask them if they know what it means. Sometimes my daughter (7) will (not really) surprise me and use the word later in a conversation... correctly. I think as parents, we should talk normally to kids and not dumb our vocabulary down (when the kids are younger). It is our job fore-most to educate our children and if we dumb-down the conversation it will be a perpetual cycle.

Angie said...

AMEN!!! Well-'spoken'!

Julie said...

Watch the news and you will hear reporters and anchors refer to Avenue as Ave

There has been an accident on Madison Ave

as opposed to There has been sn accident on Madison Avenue

Like speaking the very last syllables will ruin the news cast....

Nancy said...

Maybe ... just maybe... we could get people to stop saying incredibly stupid words like irregardless. That would be a very good start to getting back to speaking English instead of dumb-ish!

Vicky said...

I was just recently was cc'd on an email that one of my employees sent out to a customer. "I seen that...This will effect the..." When I talked to her about it, she replied that someone else had read it before it was sent and they didn't say there was anything wrong with it. I give up -- wait, excuse me. My bad!

Janet said...

Boy, are we ever on the same page! I will admit to having a cell, tho. Rarely use it, just feel safer having it.

Thanks for the great post.