Walter Williams writes on some of his petty grammar annoyances:
I recently made Microsoft Outlook my default email client, but I’m having a bit of a problem with it. When it’s initially turned on, there’s a message that reads, “Trying to connect.” Similarly, on a cloudy morning, I hear weathermen say that the sun will try to come out later. So if Microsoft Outlook didn’t connect or the afternoon didn’t turn out to be sunny, could we say it was because Microsoft Outlook or the sun didn’t try hard enough? But it’s not just computer software technicians and weathermen who use teleological explanations that ascribe purposeful behavior to inanimate objects. Recently, I listened to brilliant lectures on particle physics by a distinguished physics professor, who said that strange quarks want to decay. In a cellular respiration lecture, another professor said that one mole of glucose wants to become 38 units of adenosine triphosphate.
I’m wondering how these professors know what strange quarks and glucose moles want to do; have they spoken to them?
You say, “Williams, you’re being too picky! What’s the harm?” There’s a great potential for harm when people come to believe that inanimate objects are capable of purposeful behavior. That’s the implied thinking behind the pressure for gun control. People behave as if a gun could engage in purposeful behavior such as committing crime; thereby, our focus is directed more toward controlling inanimate objects than it is toward controlling evil people.
I have another grammar annoyance. How about when people make a statement such as “He is taller than me”? Whenever I hear such an error, I visualize Dr. Martin Rosenberg, my high-school English teacher during the early ’50s, putting both hands on his waist and sarcastically asking the student, “Do you mean ‘He is taller than me am’?” “Am” is the elliptical, or understood or left out, verb at the end of the sentence. The subject of a verb must be in the nominative case. To be grammatically correct, the sentence should be, “He is taller than I.”
Considerable evidence demonstrates that most people are not bothered by my petty annoyances. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. It may be that it’s I who is getting old and out of touch, having been educated during ancient times when nonsense was less acceptable.
This is important. It seems unimportant. But really, language is the means by which truth is communicated (and thus without language we cannot even be saved!) and it is the bedrock of civilization. With no language, there is no human interaction, there is no voluntary trade, there is no prices, there is no economy.
The Mises Institute’s Jeff Deist recently commented on the rise of what he referred to as “Junk English,” which is a phrase borrowed from Ken Smith who authored a book with that title. Ken Smith, in the book wrote: “Junk English is the linguistic equivalent of junk food. Ingest it long enough and your brain goes soft.” In his video, Deist gives a couple examples of phrases and words that are utilized by the political class and its proponents to convince the public of the need for more government intervention into the economy. It is important to recognize these examples of linguistic manipulations as means by which the State accumulates power and authority in our culture.
Our civilization is overrun by “Junk English.” It is everywhere around us. We have no idea what we are talking about. As Walter Williams indicates, nonsense is accepted en masse. And not only that, nonsense is praised. Clarity and rationality are dismissed, cast away as if a socially unacceptable beggar.
Beyond economics and political theory, the Christian religion is one communicated and known by the Word of God. Since the Word of God is propositional in nature, the death of language in society, or at least the popular rejection of its proper use, actively threatens the preaching of God’s eternal truth. God communicates to the human race, not via emotion or feelings, but through logically structured languages.
Let us pray for God’s mercy.
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4)