Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I have written before about my annoyance at sloppy language and at the laziness that sloppy language frequently betrays.  (This is not the same thing as obscenity, as there are times when "naughty" words are the right words; "darn" is what is done to socks, not an appropriate response to a sharp and sudden pain.)  I still find myself annoyed by the lack of concern people display for what comes out of their mouths, the lack of thought for the implications and connotations of their phrasings.  (They, of course, find themselves annoyed that my mind ranges ahead and untangles those associations, that I break down the clichés and trite utterances that "sound good."  But I am an English professor; I am supposed to do such things.)

It occurs to me, though, that people take little care because they expect at some level that nobody else will care.  They know, somewhere and somehow, that the things they say will not be regarded seriously by those who hear them, that their hearers are more concerned with themselves than with those to whom they are purportedly listening.  Knowing that their audience cares not, they do not expend the effort to make sure that the utterance is as it ought to be.  The laziness, then, suggests itself as one born from a growing despair and disconnection.  Speakers and writers too often speak and write with the understanding that they may be heard and read, but they will not really be heard and read, that their efforts are futile, and it is easy to see why they might not expend the energy to craft well what they say and write therefore.

I am hardly exempt from this.  I am sure that even in this little piece, there are places where I show not having paid enough attention to what I am doing.  I know that I do not always attend sufficiently to my speaking; daily and more often, I open my mouth and let words fly before I consider how they will fall upon the ears of my hearers.  (And I am in positions such that my words are more likely to be attended.  I really should know better.)  It is not something in which I am alone, certainly, but that I have company does not mean that I am in the right for not working to be sure I am in the right.  (I apologize for it, by the way.)

Vigilance is difficult, certainly, and there will be times when the limitations of humanity intrude upon the best intentions of its members.  These are understandable and forgivable; they are errors, yes, but they are errors proceeding from that of which people have no control.  What is less acceptable is that people do not make the attempt--although, if it is the case that the lack of trying comes from a perception that none really pay attention, it is hard to find much fault.  As such, if the problem of sloppy language and sloppy underlying thought is to be corrected, it seems that the correction must come by way not only of actually attending to the words of others but in demonstrating that attention--tasks for which those of us in the academic humanities are singularly fitted.

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