Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Corpseman resurrected: correcting Betsy DeVos

Jerry Stratton, January 25, 2017

When discussing correct usage in any particular language, we have prescriptivists, who say that correct language is defined by the dictionary; users must follow the dictionary. And we have descriptivists, who say that correct language is defined by its users; dictionaries must follow usage.1 Now that there’s a Republican in office again, we shall have to add a third approach: leftists, who say that correct language is defined by them; everyone else is wrong, and must be corrected by the left.

It looks, that is, like the left is once again prescribing a single language in the United States, and denigrating anyone in politics who deviates from that language. Regional pronunciations and linguistic variations will once again be evidence that the speaker or writer should be excluded from public office, as they were during the Bush administration but were not during the Obama administration.

When the left’s icons use a different dialect, it’s folksy or down-to-earth. When a George Bush or a Sarah Palin speaks in a Texan or a Northern dialect—or, now a Michigan dialect—that’s a different story. Like owning a family business, this is another one of the walls that the beltway class wants to erect to keep the beltway free from attack by those not of the establishment.

The left’s current target is Department of Education nominee Betsy DeVos. DeVos wants to reduce the administrative burden currently imposed on teachers and the lack of educational diversity currently imposed on parents, and the left will have none of it. Therefore, her tweets are going to have to be corrected:

The Left Corrects Betsy DeVos: The left corrects a Betsy DeVos tweet—incorrectly, of course.; Betsy DeVos; language police; grammar nazis

There are certain dialects in New York I wouldn’t advise you to correct.

This pedantic correction meme is truly emblematic of the left. It is stuff like this that is a big part of why Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism rings so true. There is nothing wrong with DeVos’s tweet. Even ignoring that it’s a tweet and not formal writing, the only part of it even slightly odd is the capitalization of inauguration. But as a fan of Douglas Adams, A. A. Milne, and Lewis Carroll, capitalizations for emphasis are familiar to me in great stories; and the technique is not unknown in the United States.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Capitalizing words for emphasis is a valid technique in at least some dialects (read just about any British author for examples) and capitalizing individual things is also a valid choice; she is speaking specifically of a particular inauguration, the Inauguration of President Donald Trump.

And that’s only the most sane correction in that meme. All of the “corrections” are mere personal preference or are, to the extent they are used as evidence that DeVos should not be Education Secretary, literally saying that some cultures in the United States are comprised of lesser citizens who should be excluded from public office.

  1. Historical is commonly used for what pedants call historic; it has a long history as a synonym for historic and “historic” even shows up in dictionaries as one of the meanings of “historical”.2
  2. I can’t tell what the meme-writer is complaining about by removing the phrase “swearing-in ceremony”. There is a swearing-in ceremony as part of presidential inaugurations. They can’t be claiming that there isn’t. And the swearing-in is but one element of the inauguration. Many people will be present for parts of the inauguration but not the swearing-in. So it isn’t redundant, either. There is nothing wrong with the language “inauguration and swearing-in ceremony”.
  3. Nor does “for” need to be “of”. The swearing-in ceremony is for swearing in the President. That is its purpose. Here, I think the corrector is in fact just plain wrong: it is “the swearing-in of the President”, but the “swearing-in ceremony for the President”. But having studied the completely wild uses to which the ostensibly “of” word in French is put, I would not be at all surprised if some English dialects use “for” and “of” differently than I do. I would not say that people using those dialects should be barred from participation in public life.

But that is how the left views the world. It is filled with people who they need to correct, and who should not be allowed to correct them. If the left had their way, they would police everything we do, down to the way we speak and write. They would invade every part of our lives, from our health to our language. From the food we eat to the news we watch. When they look at what we do they see only things that need to be corrected, and at the point of a gun if we don’t listen to their superior opinions.

The very act of disagreeing with their corrections is proof that we need to be corrected. For example, when alerted that some dictionaries include “historic” as a synonym for historical, the response is not even to claim that those dictionaries are wrong, but to ignore such evidence and accuse those citing the dictionary as “resorting to name-calling when the facts don't fit your pre-conceived notion.”

That's right: pretty much just as Reagan said, it is name-calling to acquaint the left with evidence. Providing evidence contrary to the left’s attacks is ignoring facts. Because the most important fact is that the anointed are always right.

That is pure Leftism.

In response to Election 2016: Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.

  1. This is, of course, an extreme simplification of the competing camps in linguistics.

  2. Merriam-Webster, for example, which lists “historic” as the second meaning of “historical”.

  1. <- Trump bluffing establishment?
  2. How compromise works ->