I have previously written about haunting a website called  Since I started blogging, I visit less often, but still stop in at least once a day, to do my on-line crossword.  I also use it to translate foreign words and phrases, sometimes to get an idea of the meanings of non-English names.  Johnny Carson commented one night about the awe and fascination Americans have for foreign names.  “There’s a fancy new restaurant in town, named La Fourchette.”  It’s a French fork!

I used to read a couple of articles a week about the development of the English language.  There were discussion threads under them for people to make comments, ask questions or disagree with the post.  I was amazed by a couple of things.  I would have thought that those coming to a dictionary site would already have a fairly good grasp of the language.  I was hugely disappointed to see grade six level usage by people who mentioned jobs.  Even a McJob these days requires decent language skills.

I also thought that only those interested in improving their English would show up, but read posts like, “im Amanda and im going to miss upshalls grade five math class at xyz elementary school.”  This isn’t Facebook chicky.  Take the time you spent formatting this non-message and study the word-of-the-day.

Another thing which perplexed me would be an interesting word usage discussion, followed by one or more yahoos posting things like, “you guys are dum who gives a shit”.  Obviously we do, but if you don’t, why are you hanging around an English site?  Why don’t you go to a NASCAR site, or watch a fishing show, Bubba?

Some of the comments showed real (illiterate) antipathy for anyone trying to improve themselves and their language skills.  I’m obviously not the only one to notice or comment on this phenomenon.  I read a post the other day where the writer said, “It is a seriously scary thought that there are sub-sets of American society that think being intellectual is a BAD thing!”

We sometimes blame teachers, or the education system, or even society, when Johnny can’t read.   Johnny’s immediate society may have something to do with it, because he’s obviously been raised with the intent not to learn – reading, or anything else.  In an article about food served to children at schools, the government had decreed that, for the purposes of nutrition, pizza was (contained) a vegetable.  The following is Bob Johnson’s considered opinion.

“i think that pizza being a veggy is hoped mostly because it only has a veggy dose not mean that checan pot pies should be a veggy!!!!  if pizzas a veggi then cows are envolpopes”

I only hope that Bob Johnson is a school student, and not the student’s father.  Actually, a real McJob doesn’t require you to read.  Some fast-food places have had to install cash registers with little pictures of the foods, so that geniuses like this push the right buttons.

There was a story that Webster’s Dictionary was removing 20 words from its smallest, abridged dictionary, to make room for new words and usages.  They based this decision on their counts of how often these words were accessed on their online dictionary.  The discussion thread was immediately full of comments from people who thought that these words were somehow being removed from the entire language.  One of the clearer thoughts on the subject was the following.

“why do people have to think that have to rid of these words when it it the people who chose to say what they say and half the time it is what they have grown up listening to”

I saw a suggestion today that people who are caught texting or talking while driving should have their cell-phones impounded, the way we impound cars for DUI, or racing.  I’ve been told that, despite the stupid abbreviations, texting actually improves teens’ spelling and composition skills.  Ladies and gentlemen, check your children’s language skills.  If your kid’s writing skills look like either of the above, confiscate the cell-phone and stick it up….where it will make them sit tall to study their English text.  Confiscate the game console and the TV in their bedroom too, and don’t give them back until they can submit a clearly written letter, requesting them.

Do school-kids even have English texts anymore?  In a conversation about language, I was asked, “Why do you study English?  We all speak it.”  And then the native-born Canadian asked the immigrant from Chile to help him fill in his production report.  Am I repeating myself from a previous post?  It bears repeating, and at least I’m doing so with correct construction and spelling.

I don’t know how to inspire our youth to study and learn our home and native language.  I don’t know how to change our schools and education system so that students actually acquire skills and knowledge.  I’d like to eliminate the feel-good, lib-left bureaucrats who design basket-weaving curricula and promote students who don’t know subjects.  I’d like to go back to solid rote-learning, and tough-love teachers who expect, nay demand, that students learn something, and can prove they did.

We’re on the slippery slope kids, and the bottom of the handbasket has been greased.  Something needs to be done.  Does anyone have any informed opinions?

19 thoughts on “Intelligentsia

  1. Kayjai says:

    Great post, Archon and obviously there is some gaps in our education system that requires attention. Having three kids put through the system and still going, English seems to be the most neglected subject as of late. All of mine have been/are going through the French Immersion stream, thus English is second to them in terms of writing and reading, although, with instruction at home, they have managed nicely. I’m not above blaming the parents for their lack of attention to their child’s/children’s studies and with full-time mothers and fathers, the scale of being busy has hit its limit. I would like to point out the rise in cases of LD’s. Not just that Learning Disabilities weren’t present years ago, they just went undiagnosed and untreated leaving a whole population of people unsupported and unfortunately struggling to keep up.
    In saying that, the general population has lost it’s ability to think or write intelligently with the rise in texting language and computer lingo. It’s all crap, however, the youth seem to think that this language is the only way to write appropriately. Spelling tests are no longer given in school and kids are not taught to use proper grammar or sentence structure in their everyday life. It’s lost on them, I’m afraid.


    • Archon's Den says:

      I suffered with my own learning disabilities when I was in school, and being deficient in one area does not preclude brilliance in others. Not knowing where Calgary is, (under water) or Hong Kong, doesn’t mean you’re not a great baker, or auto-parts fabricator, but the English language seems to be such a basic building block. You can’t bake cakes or build cars if you can’t read the instruction sheets, or write down the quality control problems to be fixed.
      Observers don’t usually know that you can’t calculate a square root, but as soon as you speak, or write, they start making judgements based on your facility with the language. The judgement is often not, “Stupid”, it’s lazy, or indifferent, and these are not the type of people to be hired.
      Even “education” is not a foolproof indicator. At my plant, the university degree needed his girlfriend to pick for him from menus, while the Newfie with a Grade 8 certificate read a book a week, and did crossword puzzles. 😦
      With manufacturing jobs sliding offshore, we need to increase the average, not put up with the Bob Johnsons, or soon we’ll have Bangladesh pointing fingers at us.


      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Amen, and not only that, but there’s this. My wife is currently in hospital and her roommate is a Hispanic woman who is on permanent dialysis. She is intelligent, garrulous, and fluent, in both Spanish and English. She and her now deceased husband, she mostly, put 8 kids through school, all apparently successful. Several have college degrees. She has a third-grade education and earned an income all her life as a worker in a nursery (landscaping variety.)


  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    I don’t know how to inspire our youth to study and learn our home and native language. I don’t know how to change our schools and education system so that students actually acquire skills and knowledge. I’d like to eliminate the feel-good, lib-left bureaucrats who design basket-weaving curricula and promote students who don’t know subjects. I’d like to go back to solid rote-learning, and tough-love teachers who expect, nay demand, that students learn something, and can prove they did.

    Your summary paragraph reflects my opinion too, Archon.

    I am reminded of the complexity of the human brain by your post, and a particular example comes to mind. There is a fellow alumnus of mine, Captain X, who frequently comments on my posts and some others’ I visit. This man has a master’s degree (certainly not in English), was captain of a nuclear submarine and for a couple of years a top executive of a company contracting for government projects relating to nuclear waste.

    I give this background because of the contrast with X’s deficits in writing skills. Despite the availability of spell-checkers and even grammar checkers, X habitually and consistently mangles both. He also uses ALL CAPS to emphasize his points, a practice which presents as SHOUTING. His grammar indicates that he’s dyslexic. In his reasoning he regularly uses straw man arguments and ad hominem attacks, liberally (an oxymoron) sprinkled with intolerance for people with backgrounds different from his.

    X’s strength in my opinion derives from an intense obsessive/compulsive need to see all problems as a competition between ideological viewpoints. He admits to having symptoms of PTSD (as do I), but not to being disabling. When he responds to one of my comments, what is an exercise in reasoning for me becomes a battle for him. He compulsively always has the last word in any exchange.

    What’s the moral of this tale? I think it is that there is a place in the hierarchy of jobs for such people as X and that perseverance, grit, and determination can trump communication skills. Clearly this served him well as a naval warrior, but I can also say that he paid a high personal price for living in that pressure-cooker of a profession. (He is divorced and has remarried.) I wonder, was it nature or nurture that most formed him? Would a different education have made him a different man? What do you think?


  3. BrainRants says:

    Archon, I completely agree and sympathize with your argument and your disappointment when you encounter people who don’t take the time to learn their own language. I don’t speak Canadian very well, but I’ve made an effort to learn. All jokes aside, though, sometimes I speculate about whether technology is acting as a forcing function on English (and on Canadian) in terms of the evolution of the language.

    I do appreciate your rigor in your writing, however. Keep it up.


    • Archon's Den says:

      When singers, from places like England, or Alabama, sing, they all sound like I do, that California neutral. I had hoped, over the years that radio and TV would do away with the Y’alls and foshizzles, but it hasn’t happened. Even those are just colloquialisms, quaint, but comprehensible. I rail about those who are incompetent in any dialect. 😦


  4. Sightsnbytes says:

    The biggest problem I see with kids is the fact that schools have taken spelling out of the school curriculum. The kids are told to spell words the way the word sounds to them. My ten year old can barely spell his own damn name, whereas a few years ago when schools still had spelling, he came home with straight ‘A’s every week. Some numbskull figured that because some kids were not being creative because they had trouble spelling, then every kid should be on their level. I think I may have already written a post on how mad this makes me..Great post as usual


    • Archon's Den says:

      Yes, I’ve read your post about spelling. Years ago, there was a joke(?) about a teenaged boy who asked his English teacher if the word “stacked”, when applied to females, referred only to the chest area, or the entire body. The teacher replied, “When you pile firewood, to you start in the middle?” This is where education has failed us and our children. I’m all for creativity, but you can’t be creative without the foundation of the language pile firmly in place. 😉


  5. benzeknees says:

    We need to promote reading & phonics – this is how I learned to spell so well. The year I attended Grade 1 my father learned they were no longer teaching phonics, so he got a book & after school each day I had a phonics lesson. I can now spell almost anything. My Grade 5 spelling average for the year was 99.8%.


    • Archon's Den says:

      The wife missed almost half of grade 1 for medical reasons. Only the fact that her 20-year-older, nun, sister was the teacher, who home-schooled her, got her through, but she didn’t get taught phonics, and has great trouble spelling.
      I haven’t been on my digital rounds again for a week. I hadn’t seen a comment from you and was worried. I was about to set off on an electronic journey west, when I spotted proof of life, and internet access.


  6. Holy crap! You speak my language – I wrote a post last night about cursive writing being dropped from the Canadian elementary school curriculum. I’m following your blog now, and looking forward to your take on life.


    • Archon's Den says:

      Thanx for stopping in, commenting and following! Feel free to repeat and promote any time. I have a post about the physical act of writing, from quills to computers, coming up in about a month. It contains a small section on the decline of cursive writing. Now I’m off to see what the left coast has to say. 🙂


  7. Shimoniac says:

    I too have noticed the decline and fall of literacy and the caring about being correct. I call it the `Bart Simpson Syndrome’, i.e. underachiever and proud of it. I don’t blame Bart for it though, he’s merely a symptom, not the cause.
    How can we change this? I don’t have a clue. Maybe it’s too late.


    • Archon's Den says:

      King Canute could not keep the tide out with a broom, but if enough of us grab virtual brooms, perhaps the government might notice and build a seawall, before we all drown in illiteracy. 😕


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