In the steady dumbing-down of the English language, there is little dumber than the convoluting fandango that began about twenty years ago to achieve political correctness by avoiding gender. Today’s Wall Street Journal story about efforts to protect the pre-publication sanctity of the new Harry Potter book quotes Potter’s inventor, J.K. Rowling:
I’d like to ask everyone who calls themselves a Potter fan to help preserve the secrecy of the plot for all those who are looking forward to reading the book at the same time on publication day.
“…everyone who calls themselves a Potter fan…”
It shouldn’t be too difficult for a professional writer to figure out ways of avoiding singular-plural disagreement. How about, “…people who call themselves Potter fans…” or “…those who call themselves Potter fans…” Ms. Rowling could work around the generic “himself” by using “herself.” That’s not an ideal solution, but it doesn’t make my teeth hurt. Perhaps it is inevitable that “they” will replace “him” and “her” in the English language, but I’m not going to let it happen without a fight.
What kind of sentence is this?
President Bush saying we’ll have to wait for General Petraeus’s report.
It is not a sentence. Nor is:
Officials telling Fox News the fire is eighty-seven percent contained.
Fox News and, I regret to report, established news organizations that don’t use the slogan “fair and balanced” have adopted this imbecilic way of writing and talking, evidently in the interest of imparting a sense of urgency and immediacy to the news. If you haven’t noticed, the news these days is urgent and immediate all by itself. It doesn’t need hypeing at the expense of further deterioration of English usage.
Children may be listening. We wouldn’t want them to think that’s how to speak. People who know good English may be listening. We wouldn’t want them to suffer apoplexy.
Michael J. West says
Ken Dryden says
Newspapers are no better. I often find obvious grammatical errors in stories, whether they were written locally or obtained from wire services.
The lack of editing in many jazz books is frightening; your Paul Desmond biography was one of the few in recent memory that must have been edited with extremely sharp eyes.
Two gems from recent memory:
One author felt the need to toss in irrelevant trivia and made this gaff: “…born in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Jack Daniel’s.”
Another commented about Woody Herman being hassled by the “Inland Revenue Service.”
J. MIchael Yates says
Truly, but that is the nature of language. Change. And the direction ain’t always pretty. But no attempt to change language has ever succeeded.
FWIW, here’s a good article on it from RandomHouse.com: