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The Fourth Wall: The 7% soluition just might be enough to reenergize this debate

Every now and then, those who dictate grammatical style decisions reexamine the state of the English language and reenter the debate over which changes it has become time to make.

It’s bugging you, isn’t it? You just desperately want to dig into that previous sentence and hyphenate “reenter” and “reexamine.”

Well, allow me to preempt your best intentions because the preeminent deciderers at The Associated Press have made a reevaluation and decreed that words containing the frustrating “double e” construction no longer require the hyphen.

“Preempt”??? Really? It sounds like the name of a pimple prevention product that would be used by teen-agers teenagers teens.

Imagine how e.e. cummings would respond ... and in how many staggered line breaks with syllabically split words he’d take to do it!

What next? Will the AP considah replacing –er with –ah at the end of words to stay current with the way people slur their speech? Will we have regional spellings, so that New England natives will no longer be mocked for coming up with a clever idear?

(Asking for a friend.)

Aren’t the blurred lines of the English languish (wait for it) sufficiently anguished, before this apparent decision to accept defeat over defense, before details dumb it down for the benefit of those who’d rather not use words in the first place?

But the AP’s style changes didn’t just drive a stake through the heartland of Hyphen Nation; it went so far as to acknowledge the losing battle against the twittering away of language – exemplified by a distinct loss of character – when it approved the use of a percent symbol (if proceeded by a number) in the midst of text, instead of using the perfect good word “percent” nee, per cent.

Whereas, previously, we would write “three percent” (three being a number less than 10 and therefore is spelled out) the AP has decided that “3%” will henceforth be standard usage.

A pretty low standard, if you ask me. The ink-stained wretches left among us haven’t been this distraught since we were told that, according to the AP, “more than” and “over” could be used interchangeably although it’s doubtful that anyone would consider singing “Somewhere, more than the rainbow ”

Speaking of songs, the %age decision makes the opening lines of Oregon folksinger Todd Snider’s “Statistician Blues” even more appropriate:

They say that three percent of people

Use five to six percent of their brain

Ninety-seven percent use just three percent

And the rest goes down the drain

Consider Ricky Ricardo attempting to differentiate between the pronunciation of bough, rough, through, cough and enough when trying to read a children’s book. It’s a good thing the story didn’t include ought, borough or hiccough.

Perhaps The Associated Press needs a champion to stand up and fight the good fight for maintaining some level of faith for the hapless, hopeless and helpless word-users among us. Someone like Dr. Alfred Yankovic, in his battle cry “Word Crimes”:

Just keep in mind that be, see, are, you...

Are words, not letters

Get it together, use your spell checker

You should never

Write words using numbers

Unless you’re seven, or your name is Prince

Aren’t the blurred lines of the English languish (wait for it) sufficiently anguished, before this apparent decision to accept defeat over defense, before details dumb it down for the benefit of those who’d rather not use words in the first place?

Consider Ricky Ricardo attempting to differentiate between the pronunciation of bough, rough, through, cough and enough when trying to read a children’s book. It’s a good thing the story didn’t include ought, borough or hiccough.

Things could have been worse: Lucy could have made Ricky read from Howard Chace’s 1956 collection “Anguish Languish” (there it is), which included this classic children’s story:

Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull

hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage,

honor itch offer lodge dock florist.

Disk ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck

wetter putty ladle rat hut,

an fur disk raisin pimple colder

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

Evidence the weather graphic from the oxymoronic Accuweather that appeared in Wednesday’s edition of what, in Fattigian terms, was known as the Muddy Tributary.

Yonder nor sorghum stenches, is that stylization something you want to foist upon an unsuspecting learner of English. It combines the inability to read Chaucer aloud with the inability to read Joyce to yourself.

The attempt to say the same thing, using different words, can lead to found poetry. It can also lead to unintentional humor.

Evidence the weather graphic from the oxymoronic Accuweather that appeared in Wednesday’s edition of what, in Fattigian terms, was known as the Muddy Tributary.

The forecast for Wednesday was “Cloudy with a shower in places.”

Thursday? “Cloudy with a few showers.”

Friday, however, there’d be a significant change, as the forecast called for “Rain, at times,” followed by the “Periods of rain” expected on Saturday.

I mean, even in meteorolgical circles, that’s funny. Chace, on the other hand, was on the hunt for intentional humor. Other authors treat changes in the language as an experiment in linguistic gymnastics while holding a mirror to a society of syntax slackers.

Mark Dunn’s “Ella Minnow Pea” is set against a totalitarian regime that controls all facets of communication – to the extreme of a systematic disavowing of letters of the alphabet, a device the book itself follows as it fights for freedom of speech.

Currently, I happen to be reading Alena Graedon’s “The Word Exchange” which takes Dunn’s storm warning further, in a tech-controlled world where Communication is defined as the “threat of spreading disease something foolhardy, to be avoided” and Words themselves as “a human relic, now obsolete.”

Next Friday is Drop Everything And Read Day – celebrated yearly on April 12, the birthday of beloved Oregon children’s author Beverly Cleary. Given what passes for writing these days (irony accepted), perhaps we should start a week early and give words a fresh start.

A reemergence, if you will.

Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin can be reached, wither ladle basking winsome burden barter an shirker cockles, at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.

Robert Galvin