THE fact that people now talk about “content” as if it were simply a synonym for “filler” speaks volumes.
I picture “content” as the literary equivalent of the soy protein that convenience food makers stuff into their frozen entrees to stretch a teaspoon of ground beef into a Hungry Man dinner. A lot of publishers, producers and even writers apparently think of it that way, too. Words don’t get no respect.
Recently in the magazine My Vancouver, for instance, David Spaner wrote of actor Jennifer Beals that she had “activated for Obama” during the presidential campaign. I guess he meant that she had been an activist, but put his way, it sounded like somebody had pressed Beals’ “on” switch in front of Barack Obama and she’d burst into her routine from Flashdance.
More recently, Globe reporter Sarah Boesveld asked us readers if having our girl babies mistaken for boy babies was “harshing (our) baby bliss.” Nonsensical, trendy “verbing” is now routinely perpetrated by print journalists.
Frankly, I’ve never expected much from TV hosts -- like most people, I’m more interested in what they’re wearing than in what they have to say. We fixate to an insane degree on a broadcaster’s hairdo. I suppose that’s why ageing cupcake Joan Lunden, who co-hosted Good Morning America for 17 years but is now the spokesperson for Resurgence skin products, got away with the following claim on an infomercial: “Dr. Howard Murad was recently named one of the top 50 men in the world who understands women.” It takes a while to track down who named him, which was an English magazine put out by the Guardian called Observer Woman. There you’ll find that another of the top 50 men who supposedly understand women is Bill Clinton. News to Hillary, I expect.
But meaningless statements are par for the course on television commercials. There, a pretty young woman can currently be seen hiking along a river pathway in short shorts, telling us, “Healthy skin is the journey.” Most people are looking at her lovely gleaming legs and couldn’t care less what she’s blathering on about, so the fact that she’s suggesting that skin, an organ, can be a journey, an activity, doesn’t matter a whit.
I was recently watching that TV show The Doctors, on which four physicians natter about health issues. (I know I mentioned the show last week, too -- obviously I have too much daytime on my hands.) That particular episode coincided with the U.S. presidential inauguration, so the doctors announced that four years as president have the ageing power of eight years as a regular Joe.
A current photo of Barack Obama was flashed onto the screen alongside a version that had been artificially aged. (He still looked hot.) That’s when the woman playing the Paula Abdul role on The Doctors -- the artificial-looking sole female on the team, who never says anything worth listening to -- remarked, “Of course, we wish our president the best, because he’s a historical figure….”
“Really?” I said to myself. “That’s why? Not because your country is in utter turmoil and desperately needs all the decent leadership it can get? Wow.”
I guess Abdul II simply thought, “My turn to say something. What are a few words I can bang together before we go to commercial? Well, everybody’s using the term ‘historical’ today. That should be safe. It’s got a few syllables -- or is it syllabus? -- and I am supposed to be a doctor.”
Presumably she’s one of the countless folks who don’t know whether a person is a “who” or a “what” -- “he was a doctor that did such-and-such” has officially taken over from “he was a doctor who did such-and-such.” They can’t figure out whether they’re driving “on” or “in” a road, or riding “in” or “on” a ferry, either. Metaphorically speaking, they just close their eyes, fling out a preposition, and hope for (of?) the best.
There is some comfort this year for language nuts -- President Obama’s natural eloquence. Every word in that inauguration day speech had been puzzled over before he opened his mouth. Whether the president wrote it himself or had somebody write it with his guidance, he respected his listeners. Obama was equally compelling in his speeches in Europe last week. He understands that words can have enormous impact if you weave them together thoughtfully.
There was a lot of fanfare before Obama’s inaugural address. Several media outlets, noticing after eight years of Duh-bya that oration was one of the new leader’s gifts, launched their inauguration day coverage with great quotes from previous leaders. Among them was JFK’s 1961 command, “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.” I can just imagine how your average TV writer might rephrase that one now -- probably something along the lines of “Dude. Don’t ask. Do.”
Such shorthand is obviously becoming the rule. Maybe it’s the brevity encouraged by “texting” that makes people turn timeworn phrases into formless mulch. One TV commercial for pet food, for example, suggests that if you buy a certain product your dog’s coat will be “so shiny it can see itself.” I can puzzle out what the ad is trying to convey. But simply tossing a few of the words in a familiar expression against an image and hoping they’ll stick is just dumb.
With words slumping into meaninglessness, I suppose it’s no surprise that punctuation is increasingly deemed irrelevant. In England (hello, home of the “English language”?), the city council of Birmingham has decided to remove apostrophes from its official signs. There are several rationales for this, all leading to the same point, which is that Birminghamians are too stupid to figure out where the apostrophe should go in the name St. Paul’s Hospital.
“Who cares?” you may ask.
“Only those of us who look to words as a source of information,” I reply.
heres an example of a paragraph in which punctuation is discarded if you say it doesnt matter youre harshing but dont worry after all meaningful words are historical figures punctuation is the journey