Does Literacy Matter?

I spend a lot of my time dealing with Internet issues.  For the past few years, all the buzz has been about the social networking sites like My Space and the social bookmarking sites like Digg, which are part of what’s called [tag]Web 2.0[/tag].  But have you ever read the stuff that’s being posted on these sites?

Misspellings, misuses, fragments, run-ons, jargon and slang–you name it. A lot of the stuff resembles what an illiterate Madison Avenue might produce.  In fact, that might be the exact result we’re seeing on these sites–an attempt to employ Madison Avenue marketing, promotion and advertising techniques for personal gain, but without any effort at literacy.

So this reality begs the question: Does literacy matter anymore?

Maybe it doesn’t matter in a pop culture sense, but in a survival-of-the-culture sense, literacy certainly does matter. It’s like those barbarians who overran the latter-day Roman Empire. They weren’t any less cultured than many of the Roman citizens they overran.

They just had more to gain. Ooh, scary thought.

A New Theme

On certain computer monitors my previous theme, named Magellan, looked fine, but on others it was just too hard to read. So, after considerable research, I’ve switched over to this new, more open and "whiter" theme named Rockin’ Big Idea. 

I hope you enjoy it. Now if I can just figure out how to get my RSS feed working again.  Anybody got any solutions?

Beyond NotWords: Since v. Sense

I’m not sure if this word usage qualifies as a NotWord, but it certainly qualifies as incorrect. As a university instructor, both on-ground and online, I read a lot of papers. One great mistake I see a lot and which surprises me is the use of since when the author means sense.

Someone will write, for instance, that "his since of timing was off." Clearly, the word here has to be sense. The spell checkers of the world will normally not catch a misused word that is spelled correctly, so even if these students are relying on built-in word processing features, their misused words can easily slip through.

I’m not sure how students make this mistake since the words since and sense sound quite different when pronounced.  I can understand typing out one word for another when they sound exactly the same, such as there and they’re, but to use since repeatedly instead of sense tells me something. 

And what I think it tells me is that these people didn’t have enough "drill-and-kill" spelling exercises when they were in school, or if they did, they didn’t pay close enough attention to them.

Since this is Monday, that’s my sense of frustration for the week.

Parts of Speech: A Primer

I’m no longer surprised when native English speakers (Americans) cannot define or locate in a sentence any of the eight parts of speech used in English.  It just reflects the sorry state of education in the U.S. 

The educational establishment starting in the 1960s or so developed this "drill and kill" mentality that rejected the teaching of anything that needs to be memorized and repeated–and then put into action with worksheets and quizzes.  Supposedly, if you "drill," you "kill" the students’ precious little creative minds.  Unfortunately, you also end up not teaching them anything.

Anyway, enough on that, here are the eight parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections.

I found a neat site for you to "drill and kill" yourself learning these.  No, really, it teaches and then quizzes you: ESLUS.com .

NotWords: ‘I Graduated’

Now, you hear this all the time:  "I graduated high school in 1982."

No matter what year you use in there, the construction is still incorrect. The active verb form of graduate refers to what the school or institution does:  It graduates students.  Thus you are graduated or were graduated from high school, college, prison ([tag]Paris Hilton[/tag]?) or wherever.

However, this sloppy and misunderstood use of English, "I graduated," has been tacitly recognized as "informal" by dictionary folk, proving once again that, if people use it, the dictionaries will honor it.

When Is Silence Golden?

This may be a bit off track for my audience, especially for those outside the United States, but I have simple advice for Yankees baseballer [tag]Jason Giambi[/tag]: "Shut up!"

I appreciate what Giambi has said publicly so far–especially the part that everyone in baseball should apologize for the sham of the steroid era when unbreakable records were routinely broken–but now that he’s being confronted with an ultimatum by [tag]MLB COmmissioner Bud Selig[/tag] to ‘fess up to investigator [tag]George Mitchell[/tag] or face a suspension, the time to zip the lips is here.

Selig is out of his mind. Giambi has already spoken. Baseball (Selig) doesn’t need to make a sacrificial lamb out of him. Selig is the very one who stood by actionless with full knowledge of the steroid abuse by players who were then shattering records and did nothing, absolutely nothing, but revel in the increased crowds and TV rankings.

Silence will be golden for Jason Giambi. Departure would be noble for Selig.

D-Day: Back When Things Made Sense

Today is the anniversary of the 1944 invasion at Normandy Beach, France, more commonly called [tag]D-Day[/tag].

The world back then had many virtues we’ve lost, including a need to use the English language in written form with correct spellings and grammar usage.  However, the biggest virtue may have been that the world itself, no matter how tumultuous, made sense.  There was good and evil, and good was on its way to victory.  Even the D-Day nomenclature somehow sounded right.

Since then we’ve been deluged with fantastic technological innovations and conveniences that were hardly imaginable in the dark days of 1944. Are we now better off scribbling ungrammatical e-mails with ridiculous acronyms, abbreviations and emoticons, or somehow did actually having to write letters with pens and paper make us more complete persons? Up to you to decide.

(By the way, letter writing is one of the best ways to learn English, or for that matter, any language.  There’s an old saying used when someone has writer’s block:  "Just imagine you’re writing a letter to a friend." Trouble is, we can’t say that anymore since no one writes letters, and the updated advice to "just imagine you’re writing an e-mail to a friend" would result in gibberish.)

Sportslish: Not Needed

Not only do [tag]sportscasters and radio jocks[/tag] abuse English grammar, but they also make a mockery out of tone, inflection and our ear drums.

Heard in the final few moments of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ victory over the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Eastern Finals from the arena announcer as [tag]LeBron James[/tag], 22-year-old phenom, made a difficult basket:  "Le Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaames!"

Give me a break. Does some idiot screaming in our ears in excruciatingly and overbearingly long pronunciations make the on-court action any more interesting? Silence would be golden.  Let the crowd speak in appreciation.

A Number, The Number, Is/Are…?

Let me jump into the fray here and confuse you even more.  Actually, maybe I can clarify matters. Is this sentence correct:  "A number of us is going downtown to watch the baseball game"?

I would say yes, but most modern grammarians/English teachers would say it’s incorrect.  My reasoning is that "a number" is singular, so it must take the singular verb is. They would counter that "a number of us" refers to a collective group and should take the verb are.

Let me settle it by saying you’ll raise fewer eyebrows by using the plural form are, so you should just stick with that (while I continue to use is). However, and here’s where all of us would probably agree, if you said or wrote, "The number of people going to the baseball game is great," that would be correct. The reasoning here is that "the number" refers to a single entity, which is the number, whether it’s 32, 13 or whatever.  Therefore it commands a singular verb.

Clear as mud?  A number of you are (is) probably still confused.

Foul Play on the Fowl at the Park

Am I getting more cautious or just older and nearing Alzheimer’s? 

I find myself more and more checking the spelling and meaning of words at dictionary.com. The latest example came when I wanted to e-mail a couple of friends about catching a baseball that went into the stands at a game I attended.

On one e-mail I wrote about catching a "fowl ball," but by the time I got to the second missive, I was scratching my head, so I looked up fowl and foul. Foul was the clear winner, but the momentary confusion is what had me worried. 

I had clearly caught a foul ball and not a bird. I guess as time wears on me, it becomes clearer why people have such a hard time with the English language.