If you visit this site regularly, you know I despair over the decline of the English language. The public servants we hire to do our bidding pay a lot of lip service to education, but invariably that means mathematics, science, and technology. Those things are indeed important, but I have two observations.
First, not everyone is born with an inherent capacity to excel in one of those fields. I, for one, was not born with an inherent capacity to excel in… Oh, hell. I can’t even grasp the fundamentals of any of those fields. To paraphrase Somerville and Ross, I subscribe to Irish math, where two-plus-two may equal three or five or nothing whatsoever. Science tends to smell bad. And I have learned when I flip the switch the light will come on, usually, so how much more technology do I need?
Second, it makes no difference how brilliant you may be at math or science or technology, or how earth shattering your discoveries: if you can’t communicate them effectively and accurately, you might just as well have spent the time on the sofa watching reality TV. And the very schools that specialize in teaching communication, all those journalism schools that are supposed to attract the brightest and the best, are failing miserably. Case in point: the coverage of the recent conventions.
Did you watch the conventions? If you didn’t, you have my sympathy because you missed some high theater in both parties. It is well known that a politician cannot move his lips without spouting lies faster than water comes out of the Trevi Fountain, and that’s fine. They know they lie, you know they lie, everybody knows they lie, so nobody believes anything a politician says. But it’s the description of those lies, the words used to describe them by the brightest and best of the mainstream press, that bothers me.
A gaffe is either a social blunder or an instance of clumsy stupidity. When Joe Biden tells a senator who is confined to a wheelchair to stand up and wave to the audience, that’s a gaffe.
Misspeak, a verb, means to speak or pronounce incorrectly, or to fail to convey one’s intended meaning with one’s words. When Mitt Romney, speaking of America, says he wants to “…make sure this company deals with its challenges…” he misspoke.
To “twist the facts” or “twist the truth” means to change a fact, by omission or inference, so that it is no longer entirely true. When (fill in the name of any speaker in either party) says (fill in any speech or any portion of any speech by any speaker in either party), that’s twisting the facts.
But why does the press insist on using these euphemisms when they are clearly inappropriate and inaccurate? When Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chair, denies making a specific statement and accuses a conservative newspaper of “misquoting” her, when the reporter in question has the recording of the statement, that is not a gaffe. It is, however, mind-bogglingly dumb. When she goes on television and accuses Republicans who support voter ID laws of wanting to “…literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws…” and then appears on television a day later and denies making that statement, she hasn’t misspoken. On the other hand, she has demonstrated monumental stupidity. And when she deliberately misquotes the Los Angeles Times on Romney’s stance regarding abortion, that’s not just twisting the facts. That’s moronic.
There are other fine old English words for all of those things: lies; mendacity; falsehood; untruth; prevarication; whopper (informal); gross, flagrant, shameless, barefaced bullshit (informal).
See what I mean? I never heard or read any of those words in the convention coverage of either party. English is dying.