Language Crimes

Go ahead, call me a Grammar Nazi. But, actually, t’s not grammar. It’s vocabulary. Here’s a heading for a story I read recently on CNN.com:

“Man breaks in to rob a Florida Wendy’s but stops to make himself dinner first.”

The heading, as well as some of the story’s content, just set me off. The guy did not “rob” Wendy’s. He burglarized it in the wee hours of the morning, when no one else was there. Robbery is defined in law as: “the felonious taking of the property of another from his or her person or in his or her immediate presence, against his or her will, by violence or intimidation.” Breaking into a fast-food joint after hours, when no one is present, is not robbery; it is burglary. It might be vandalism. But it is NOT robbery. Journalists who call such an act “robbery” should be summarily fired and their credentials snatched from them and publicly burned, along with their reputations.

Less than two weeks ago, a woman in Hot Springs Village posted an alert about a “robbery” that took place after hours at a local business. The “robber” was the only person present during his break-in and subsequent efforts to purloin goods from the business. Despite the woman’s lack (I assume) of a journalist’s credentials, my immediate response to her post was to want her ejected from the Village for commission of a language crime. I believe she should have been arrested and imprisoned for a period of no fewer than two months, during which she should be subjected to an intensive lexical intervention.

Despite my sensitivity to monstrous misuses of the English language, I realize I commit such blunders myself. But I do not believe my infractions are as serious as those that cause me such consternation. And my offenses tend to be typographical blunders, rather than ignorance of proper usage. Ignorance of the law of language is not an excuse.

I can’t say why some of these breaches cause me such distress. They do, though. They really set me off. I have little to no compassion for people who break certain rules out of illiteracy or its cousins. Assuming illiteracy has cousins.

My sensitivity to language misuse runs counter to my understanding that language is in a constant state of flux. Definitions evolve, spellings change, usage adjusts to changes in population, etc. I know these things. So my requirement that a certain set of rigid rules be followed is somewhat hypocritical. On the one hand, I defend the flexibility of language; on the other, I am intransigent in my insistence that my rules be followed. I laugh at myself, sometimes.

I make a mockery of linguistic integrity. I wonder if the sentence I just wrote has ever been written before? Well, if one assumes Mother Google knows everything, the sentence is unique to me. Finally, I’ve written something new! I make a mockery of linguistic integrity. I hereby chronicle my accomplishment. If I see those words in print again, in the same order, I will expect to be credited with the manner in which they were ordered.

Actually, I think it’s a crime to attempt to harness language for one’s personal benefit. That being said, novelists and poets could be considered criminals. If one assumes they exploit words for personal gain, that is. If their use of words is for the greater good of humankind, on the other hand, they may be benefactors. It’s all a matter of motive, isn’t it? The same might be said of an assassin. If the killer takes a certain politician’s life out of personal acrimony, the actor is a murderer. If he acts out of patriotic regard for his fellow countrymen, eliminating the politician’s treacherous march toward dictatorship, he may be called a hero. Yet is it the assassin’s motives that matter in this case, or is it the public’s perception of the consequences of the act?

***

I went to the gym this morning for the first time in approximately forever. My intent is to begin rebuilding my stamina and, then, rebuilding my strength. I spent only fifteen minutes on the treadmill, achieving only three-quarters of a mile at a speed of 3.2 miles per hour. I set the machine’s incline to one percent for about half the time and one-half of one percent for the remainder. By the time I’d spent fifteen minutes on the machine, I was beginning to sweat profusely. After I got home, I started coughing. And coughing. And coughing. I have a long way to go before returning to my “old self” in terms of stamina and endurance.

***

In honor of all the people trapped and caged at our southern border, I opted not to make a traditional American breakfast this morning. Instead, I made migas (Spanish for crumbs), a popular dish in the Mexican community in Texas. It’s a simple dish of scrambled eggs, fried strips of corn tortillas, cheese, jalapeños, onions, and crumbled bacon. I made a salsa to go with it; roasted tomatillos, onions, garlic, cilantro, and serranos, mixed at medium speed in a blender. Nice meal, if I say so myself.

 

 

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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