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Below the Beltway / Entertainment

A Comity of Errors: Gene Writes the Wrongs

WASHINGTON -- Several months ago, I challenged the widespread assertion that the Internet has ushered in an age of bad writing. Writing is not getting any worse, I said, it is just becoming different, adhering to a new set of laws that I began to identify, codify and even celebrate. I have since continued my research and present my findings here.  

(1) The Voyages of the Jargonauts. Before the Internet, obfuscatory language was mostly limited to the small world of the interoffice memo, where everyone conspired to be as vague and process-driven as possible -- promising nothing concrete while sounding businesslike. Today, however, terms such as optimize, prioritize, initiative, parameter, implement and effectuate have become common parlance on the Web, used unabashedly in endlessly intriguing combinations. There are thousands of instances of prioritize the implementation of, implement the prioritization of, effectuate the implementation of, etc. The expression implementation of prioritized initiatives alone appears on the Internet 2,100 times, more often than some of Pablo Nerudas lesser-known love poems. 

This brave new world, however, is not without its own poet laureates, such as Joseph Bitran, a New Jersey businessman who informs us online that he helps his clients assess, optimize, prioritize and implement strategic initiatives. He goes on to say his experience also spans conceptual design of enterprise models, as well as strategic projects and initiatives for both profit and nonprofit enterprises, including the assessment, optimisation and prioritisation of governmental job creation and enterprise development initiatives and policy options. After a half-hour on his website, I became reasonably certain that Mr. Bitrans work has something to do with computers.

(2) Dawn of a New Error. Skeptics have long bemoaned that language evolves in part through the acceptance of ignorant misuse. This is true -- most dictionaries now accept infer to mean imply -- but it is nothing to be ashamed of! Language is a living, breathing organism vulnerable to infection and mutation; the Internet has merely accelerated this natural process! Therefore I am proud to report the near complete extinction of a correct phrase and its replacement by an erroneous version of itself. The self-evidently incorrect declaration of dismissal -- I could care less -- is now used twice as often as the correct I couldnt care less. Good riddance, and good work, people!

In a related matter, we have an exciting new development! The illiterate but common formulation less people (as in Less people know how to write) is catching up to the snootily correct fewer people and may overtake it by 2015.

(3) The Rise of the Sillyble, or extraneous syllable. In pre-Internet days we saw this with the pointless tacking on of ir to regardless, creating a brand-new word meaning, uh, regardless. The Web has accelerated this process. Preventative has just about overtaken preventive, to mean preventive. Orientate is moving up on orient to mean orient. There is work yet to be done, though: The Web reveals that ironical has just begun its assault on the summit of Mount Ironic. We wish it Godspeed.

(4) The Ascendance of the Universal Superlative. We have previously shown how the number of reallys placed before a simple adjective has added varying degrees of emphasis, effectively eliminating the need to come up with new, nuanced adjectives. This development, I said, was really, really, really, really good. It is perhaps ironical that I have now discovered that it is no longer even necessary to measure the relative goodness of things, so long as they pass a basic, subjectively unverifiable and fluid threshold of best ever, expressed through the concise formulation of: Best. (Thing). Ever. There does not appear to be a minimum gravity to the nature of things so designated. The Web reveals that best-ever declaration has been made for a spork, lint, a yawn, a nipple, a toothbrush, nachos and a tumor. The last is my nomination for Best. Superlative. Ever.

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Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten(at)washpost.com.

Copyright 2013 Washington Post Writers Group



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