Ignorance comes in all shapes, sizes, places

Posted by Tom Camfield

Ignorance, merely a lack of knowledge, is not basically a derogatory word; read on . . . ignorance sometimes is voluntary, sometimes not. It’s not to be confused with “stupidity,” which is a whole other story. And then there is just plain carelessness. Ignorance and perfection are two sides of the same coin. We all may continue to pursue perfection in various degrees (or not at all), but none of us ever reach it.  By the same token, ignorance is preserved to various levels in accordance with our chosen philosophy and life style. 

The words of our president continually remind me that “a little learning is a dangerous thing . . .”—Alexander Pope (1709). He seems to operate under the misconception that he was imbued by birth with all knowledge. He actually tends toward stupidity; “Behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgement.”—Oxford English Dictionaries

Meanwhile, here at the grass roots, will a comma, misplaced in reporting the day’s news, affect the future of humankind in some disastrous way? Surely it’s not a wayward apostrophe, but the misuse of the language in general for self-serving purposes that today is eroding our quality of life—tweets by Donald Trump a prominent example. Jumping on a newspaper writer for a slight grammatical faux pas that got past the copy editor is ridiculous misdirection of serious concern or pompous indignation.

Punctuation is far from the main tenets of journalism, although it is important to the writing craft.

Donald skipped classes and had a disdainful air when present, while enrolled at the college with which he associates his self-proclaimed “genius” (as documented in one of my blogs last year). He misspells in his tweets. His well-known book of earlier years was ghost-written. He has speech-writers—and spokespeople to put a desired spin on his mangled use of the language.  By comparison, a regular citizen who uses multiple exclamation marks together or uses a comma in place of a period is a mere minor (use “toot” here, says censor) in a major storm wind, language-wise. 

Degrees of importance are my point—from innocence to malevolence.

For instance, when we discuss local government, national government—or such things as misogyny, poverty, racism, voter suppression or whatever—in this letters/blogs forum, is it really worth quibbling over the fact that someone should have paused to drop in a period here or there? Certainly not.

When a news reporter’s lazy little finger hits an extra key on the computer keyboard, should it ruin our day? Good grief, no! (Was he/she even, perhaps, betrayed by sometimes-evil spell-check? It ambushes me occasionally.)

I began studying journalism and English more than 70 years ago. I’ve been represented in a couple of nationally-syndicated columns on use of the English language (i.e., The Writer’s Art by the late James J. Kilpatrick). As a writer, author, publisher, etc. of long standing, I know a little about it all. But I still make occasional mistakes at the keyboard. However, I now have the luxury of great gobs of discretionary free time and can self-edit at my leisure. My only looming deadline is my age.

I also have ghost-written and edited outside my own normal bailiwick over the years, beginning as a college freshman and continuing up to the present. In the beginning it was for beer money. Few boys had learned to type those 71 years ago—and I, with the only typewriter in the dorm, had a corner on the market. Neatness alone was enough to boost anyone’s grade from a C to a B+. I made a penny a word for grammar/punctuation and typing, 10 cents a word for actually composing from textbooks.

In later more adult times it all has been voluntary and out of respect for the reality that my life took me through a different maze than that endured by others. So often as not others didn’t learn English grammar and punctuation as well as I did. So what? They learned other things where the inertia of life carried them, and they didn’t spend every day of their life writing. I’ve been dependent numerous times on people who know the ins and outs of auto mechanics when I’ve been a klutz stranded in the wilderness. And thank God for those who devoted the major share of their learning to medicine! Suffice here to note that they’ve saved me from death on occasion.

There was, I’ll note in semi-humorous passing here, a time when as an adult I actually charged for ghost-writing. I composed a brief to the State Supreme Court for a disbarred attorney. I charged him heavily for the effort involved. (The justices were not impressed by pseudo legal language.)

I may grimace a bit at someone’s writing, but I blame any imperfections on their life’s circumstances, a flawed educational system—and the values scale that was forced upon them in various ways. Their opinions on the human condition, daily survival and the state of the world are of importance equal to mine—as are their votes. their lives. 

Written communication can be accomplished without commas and apostrophes placed with precision. There are some tremendous stories out there all around us that could be told without the frills of elitist English grammar. But packaging, of course, is important on the selling side when writing is  involved.

When someone here in Port Townsend leaps in with a letter to the editor on grammar or punctuation miscues by a  Leader reporter/writer, what is served? Why a cheap shot such as that when the world is crumbling around us and he/she just might be trying hard to keep us abreast of it all.

I’m not about to jump all over a young reporter on whom I have 50 years’ experience who merely whipped out a line of awkward sentence structure. I’m not that needful of someone to whom to assume superiority. I’m secure. And what’s the big deal when—for comparison—a low-intellect being such as Donald Trump screws us up one side and down the other, day in and day out, with his fake news, outright lies and butchering, self-serving use of the English language?

These small-town reporters here today well could wind up manning the bulwarks big time on behalf of the public against the evils of the Donald Trump sorts in the near future. We can only hope . . . while providing  more help than hindrance. I myself became a Leader writer fresh out of college in 1954. Three and one-half years later, I was publishing my own paper in California.

As for most self-styled experts on punctuation, I’ll take them more seriously when they display proper use of a semicolon; it’s “the most feared punctuation on earth.” Like the prevalence of guns throughout the country, there now is a prevalence of grammar ignorance (and I say “ignorance” in its proper usage referring to a lack of knowledge, not basic IQ) that is too great ever to completely overcome. There always will be those with signs on their houses reading “The Smith’s,” or “The Johnson’s.”

In any case, there are all manner of larger battles to fight in today’s world.

Meanwhile, I had an uplifting journalistic moment in the grocery store the other morning. A woman I’d never met before and may never see again stopped cold with her cart, rushed up to me and said: “I love your t-shirt! You should wear it every day!” And we then passed on like ships in the night.

The t-shirt reads: “Journalism MATTERS, today more then ever.” Yes, indeed, what with Delusional Donald  on the loose ever turning over rocks to let his sycophants “out of their closets”—and, like some demented  mad-man, screaming “fake news!” every time he can get a camera or microphone turned his way.

Fast, loose and incorrect: a current tweet by DJT. While there is a general outcry across the county about young children being taken away from their immigrant parents at our southern border, Donald’s tweet (early morning, June 18) says, “It is the Democrats fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder Security and Crime.” Not only a misspelling but also a missing apostrophe from our “genius” president. Thing is, this is not a young journalism student intern. It is the President of the U. S., supposed leader of the free world, a lifetime public figure now in his 70s, And it’s not just that he statement is grammatically garbled, it is fallacious—which is the more critical aspect.

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