By Ken Adachi <Editor>
July 9, 2006
During the summer, libraries often have book sales to get rid of excessive volume; mostly donated books I would presume. While walking out the door of a local library the other day, I happened to notice a cart filled with used books which had a sign that read: "10 cents each." I had to stop, of course, to see what treasures may be languishing there.
Among the two bags of books which I took home that day were Webster's Pocket Spelling Dictionary, The Oxford Essential Dictionary, and The Essential Writer's Companion. After emptying my treasure trove on the living room floor, I impulsively picked up the Writer's Companion and started reading it. It was so enjoyable, that I couldn't put it down for a couple of hours! The Essential Writer's Companion is essentially an English grammar book, but with a nifty title designed to improve sales.
Now, I know that it's nearly impossible for a younger person to imagine themselves willingly studying an English grammar book.
After you've finished high school or college, it's something that you never want to think about again-like calculus or algebra. However, English is a skill which you are forced to use everyday, and unlike an unused ability like calculus, the more skillful you are with the language, the more effective you are within society. That means you gain more of everything- influence, persuasiveness, attractiveness, earning power, etc. It also means that you gain greater clarity of thought.
The brain is like a muscle in that if it isn't exercised regularly, it becomes weak and flaccid.
I see glaring examples of that weakness in the e-mails that I receive everyday from people who simply slaughter the language. There is no concern for correct spelling, capitalization, punctuation, verb tense agreement, complete sentence structure, etcetera. Little do those folks realize that there is a correlation between their sloppy English and the problems they are bringing to my attention (or attempting to bring to my attention). If you can't use the language correctly, you can'tcommunicate effectively. If you can't clearly convey your needs and concerns, you aren't going to get much help from people who may be in a position to assist you. And you certainly won't have much influence over other people. If you can't explain yourself with precision, then you are destined to live your life with a third class coach ticket on a slow train to nowhere.
Unlike some, I don't equate low intelligence with low education. There are plenty of uneducated, intelligent people and just as many dim witted, educated people walking around the planet, so innate intelligence is not the issue. The issue is the ability to communicate your thoughts with exacting precision, and that's the reason you want to gain a strong command of the language. Studying the rules of grammar is a way of disciplining the mind to follow your will with greater cohesion and subtlety of expression. This sort of work exercises the brain and you will gain more mental strength as a result of that exercise. Greater mental strength allows you to fathom deeper levels of comprehension (in other words, it will make you 'smaah-der' as we say in Bensonhurst).
If you read my Letters to the Editor page, you will notice that many of the letters are written by people who are seeking my opinion about something that they can't quite figure out on their own. They are confused or befuddled by clever deceptionists who skillfully use the English language to promote their agenda or propaganda. If I am skilled in the use of language, I can convince you (or nearly convince) you of just about anything under the sun.
This is precisely what the British Israel Christian evangelicals, Rush Limbaugh, and the entire Executive branch of the United States government, for example, do all the time on TV, radio, and in print. If you can't speak and write the language with clarity, then you certainly can't understand it with clarity, and therefore my friend -you are ripe for the pickin'.
If you can express the language with skill, then you can easily see how others are using the language to manipulate and deceive you; thus, your powers of discernment will go up.
If this essay applies to you, then isn't it time for you to get out of coach and move up to First Class?
How difficult can it be to lay your hands on a new or used grammar book and start reading it? If you read and practice a little each day, you're going to begin to enjoy reading and writing much more. Writing, like playing a musical instrument, is an art. At first it's tough, but after you get the hang of it, it becomes pleasurable and stimulating. You can't really get tired of writing because it's a creative experience.
Once you learn how to use the language correctly, you can then draw on a very wide palette of 'colorful' words, phrases, and sentence structures to paint exactly the 'picture' you want your readers to see. And then the world will become your oyster. You will no longer be manipulated, intimidated, or cowed by others who have a stronger command of the language because you will be in a position now to debate, counter, or rebutt their arguments with equal or perhaps even superior skill!
Good luck on your journey.
(PS: If there are any grammarians out there who discover some boo boos that I may have made here, don't hesitate to let me know. I've never claimed to be anything other than a student, you know :-)
Subject: English Grammer & Mental Acuity
Date: Sun, July 9, 2006
To: Editor <E-mail>
Amen! Amen! Amen!!!
With my poor grammer I occassionaly slaughter the English language. My poor
composition is the result of laziness in the study of English in my high school
years. I have paid dearly for that. It has taken me years to come up to the
speed I'm at and even then I don't consider myself proficent enough.
I own fifteen dictionaries and I use all of them to some degree. My favorite,
though not the one I use the most, is "The Americian Dictionary of the English
Language" by Noah Webster - Fifteenth printing.
Have you noticed how the defination of words have changed over time?
Subject: your latest article
Date: Sun, July 9, 2006 8:20 pm
okay, i usually don't capitalize my e-mails as i'm lazy. but i do try to be
meticulous with my spelling unless i'm in a rush.
anyway that was a timely and useful article you wrote on reading, writing and
comprehending english. i was actually going to write you about it when you first
posted that article by phil ledoux on how history is forgotten and covered up by
the powers that be to control what people know about the past.
i just wanted to add that in the last ten to fifteen years the spelling in
mainstream publications and even tv news shows have gone way down. the most mangled
words are: effect/affect and principal/principle. very important words with
different meanings. i thought it was just part of the growing illiteracy in the
country but i'm beginning to think it's part of a deliberate effort to dumb down the
and another thing, the quality of writing from the applicants for employment in my
business have definitely dropped in the last twenty years. spelling, grammar, and
handwriting quality have suffered badly. let's not even start with how effectively
they convey their thoughts. (we have them write a short essay on their aspirations
in life. just to see if they can coherently think and communicate it.) it's just so
terrible nowadays. that's why when i know someone is not too sharp with his english
in oral or written form i don't even bother about arguing a point with them. it's
just not worth it trying to change someone's opinion when their thinking is limited
just thought to add this in.
Subject: English Grammar & Mental Acuity
Date: Mon, July 10, 2006 11:45 am
Your article is long overdue! (Was that second comment a joke? It had so many
flubs in it that it was jarring to read. They really need to strengthen their
little fingers so they can learn to use the shift key for capitals.)
When in the 8th grade I was our school's representative at the county spelling
contest. As I studied for it, I learned some things. I took a newspaper and a red
pencil and began to underline every letter that did not sound like it was spelled.
(I could only do this for two or three paragraphs at a time or it drove me crazy.)
Then I went back to re-read it all again. It was an intense way to learn the
EXCEPTIONS in our language.
Memorizing effect and affect was a little different. Effect was both a noun and a
verb, Remember that the first letter of the word, an "e" was also in the word "result" which is a synonym for effect. The word affect begins with an "a" which
is also in the word "to change."
As for the others, the school principal is NOT your PAL, and I would ask the bank
teller, "PLEase don't lose the principle in my account as I want to be able to stand
on it, the principle, that is."
Another tangle of words is there/their. "There" is a place, just like "here.""Their" is a possessive pronoun, just like "her" -- and they both end in R.
"There are" can become a contraction such as "The're many reasons for it..." But
this sounds awkward in speech.
When I first began writing, I kept mixing up singular nouns and plural verbs. The
ONLY cure for that is to go back and re-read what you have written. Unlike speech,
you CAN take back your written words, that is, BEFORE you send them.
Ken, I sent your article to a young lady who wants to be in sales on the internet
and she was very grateful for it.
P.S. No I didn't win the county spelling contest, but I came in third. Not too bad.
Subject: Use of language to effectively communicate
Date: Mon, July 10, 2006
I read with pleasure your article about effective use of language to convey thought
and to justify intellectual positions and I couldn't agree more!
I was recently working as a computer support professional at an "institution of
higher learning" and I decided to have some fun with the people, students and staff
alike, who ventured into my work area. I posted a sign on the wall that consisted
of two words: "eschew obfuscation." Reactions fell into one of three camps: either
folks would ignore it totally in an attempt to not display their ignorance; they
would ask what it meant; or, and I have to respect their curiosity, they would ask
what language that was, being sure that it couldn't be English!
My response was pretty uniformly the same: "This is a university. I've left this as
an exercise for the student. Look it up!" It occasioned many discussions about the
nature of language and our ability, through correct word choice, to exactly convey
our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
We all tend to get intellectually lazy when not challenged. This wasn't designed to
be an exercise that could leave someone nodding in agreement to some worn-out
aphorism. It was designed to shake someone out of their complacency. It did that
for some and for others it merely irritated them, because it wasn't easy.
The phrase, by the way, contains a sublime irony. "Eschew" means to shun, to turn
away from and "obfuscation" means confusion or obscurity. These two words, when
combined together, concisely and powerfully say that we should avoid confusion but,
because they are so esoteric, obfuscate the meaning themselves!
I know this is really off-topic but I wanted to share it as someone who loves the
power and nuance of language, skillfully used.
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