Tuesday, December 07, 2004

That Freakin' MLA!

Just about every year I find out what the Modern Language Association has done to make our language more user-friendly. For example, in 2003, they decided that long quotes should no longer be single-spaced in a double-spaced document. In order to make papers seem longer (hurray for students), long quotes, that are already indented on both sides and are called "long" for a reason, are now double-spaced. So a ten line quote that would have taken up a third of the page now occupies over half of the page. Ugly, but useful, I suppose.

My current complaint is actually not new. However, it's bothered me for so long that I've decided to rebel and I ask you, my curious readers, to support me in my campaign (speaking of campaigns, remind me to do another post about my new political party, okay?).

The word is small, but perhaps the most powerful word in any language: is. Specifically, I have a problem with the use of the past tenses, "was' and "were." Normally, one uses "was" with singular subjects I, he, she and it. One uses "were" with all of the pulrals, they, we, and with you. Yet some time ago, some moron decided that, if the condition of the sentence is not likely to be true, I am you or you are me, then EVERYBODY uses "were:" "If I were you...," "If he were to resign as President of the United States..." and so on. Well, maybe I MIGHT become you some day. Maybe he WILL resign from his presidency. Why does a conditional statement have to change the rules of grammar?

For answers I went to several awesome grammar sites (Perdue Universitie's Online Writing Lab [OWL], Bartleby.com's link to the American Heritage Book of English Usage). My books at home are too far away from my computer :-) Anyway, there is a verb tense called the Subjunctive that is hardly in use today except for this one, the conditional phrase. But it's convoluted. For example, if the condition is not necessarily false, then, everything's okay: "If he was impeached, then fewer Americans would flock to Canada." There is no explanation as to why all subjects use "were." It's just a part of the stupid, ancient, outdated subjunctive. Some academics use the present subjunctive to sound smart: "Whether he be on our side or not, we still have to include him in our little charade." And we unwittingly use it in cliches: "Be that as it may," "God help him." We also use it when we're being snooty and bossy: "I insist that she do the windows as well as the litter box!" Notice, though, that all of these other subjunctive sentences use the infinitive form of the verb. So, someone decided that, in the past, we'd all just use "were."

Yet, even the scholars say that there is more than one way to say something. We don't have to use the subjunctive at all! But you know what? The other uses don't bother me. I don't use them much, anyway. I use the unrealistic conditional statement all the time, though, and "were" JUST DOESN'T SOUND CORRECT! We've changed so much of the English language since Milton. Why should this one, stupid, pointless, dying verb tense stand the test of time? I say it should DIE A QUICK AND PAINFUL DEATH! The MLA's mission is to simplify English. Why continue with this confusing notion? I teach grammar. Believe me, it's confusing to sudents. Truth is relative! Join with me in the fight against Were! Say, "If I was you," "If he was to resign as President of the United States" and "If the Moon was made of feta." Tell Tevye that he should have sang, "If I was a rich man!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

...and the home of the fray

I wanted to thank those of you who have welcomed me into this "unpatriotic" area of the web. My husband is a blogger, too. He got me in to this because I think he's tired of hearing me scream and shake my fists menacingly at the television.

It is interesting that I was welcomed "into the fray." Fray is so very appropriate for defining a group of people who are tired of the way things are and have decided to spend their rage in the only venue still mainly unsensored. We're not using foul language (at least, not to intelligent people), we're not using words or images to entice little boys and girls to meet us in empty churches or playgrounds (what you do in your non-blog time is none of my business) and hopefully, we're all using common sense and analytic thought to avoid too much slander (an expensive passtime if one is caught).

Not only are we "fraying" with distaste for what has been happening in America lately, we see those happenings as the "fraying" of American society. How dislocated we all are from what Democracy was supposed to be. Those of us on either side of the political see-saw who can step beyond the labels can see the fabric of "America" thinning and falling apart. It's scary dangling at the end of one of those threads.

Fortunately, we can look around (here at Blogspot) and see everyone else swaying in the breeze at the ends of our threads. Perhaps we have the power to pull ouselves back together to mend the mess.

If not... well... we can always take our threads somewhere else and weave a pretty rug.

By the way, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, Husband!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The First and Not Only Official Blog

I wouldn't say that I love words, but I respect them. I respect them a lot. If not for words, we would be living in caves and non-the-wiser. If not for words, our wars would be fought with sticks and rocks. If not for words,... you get the picture.

I am a writer and a part time professor of English at a community college here in southern California. I'm also a student in graduate school (again), where I am learning how to be a rhetorician. A rhetorician, you ask. Or maybe not. If you do ask, rhetoric is what you do every time you open your mouth or type on a keyboard. it is the study of how people use language to persuade. I have a profound respect for the power of words, so I have made it a habit of using them to defend themselves against people who misuse and abuse them.

Most people who abuse the power of words have no idea they are doing it because they don't know the meaning of the words they use.

Like Bush.

And the media at large.

Unfortunately, because so many people in the center of our society misuse words, too many of us, adults and children, think that it's okay to say it that way and then before we know it, our society begiins to splinter and we have arguments about what it means to be "good" or "bad" or "moral" or "amoral" and thn the Supreme Court has to step in to decide if the separation between church and state is just a guideline...

This blog will generally be about the misues of specific words or phrases as they come up in my life. I truly believe that knowing what one is saying gives that person immense power. We can not know what we are saying if we don't understand the word. Knowledge is Power, says SchoolHouse Rock. If we knew how silly it was to rely on television newscasters and politicians and advertising agencies to tell us how to think and speak, we as citizens of the United States of America would take back most of our power and be a true democracy again.

It all starts with the power of language.

So, I think it's fitting to have my first offical post (that one before was my husband testing the page) be about the use of the word, "first."

We heard that the debate between Cheney and Edwards was their "first and only." We heard that from the newscasters: even the seasonsed ones! If one person is running down the street, it is not a race and there can be no winner. No one comes in first. The only debate between Edwards and Cheney amounted to ONE, not first.

That was short. I doubt my future rants will be that short. But then, it took me a couple of weeks to decide to blog about it.

Next time, perhaps I'll write about the use of "ironical" by Celine Dion.


This is the beginning of it all.