What's happening to our beautiful, nuanced, complex English language?
What's happening to our living, evolving, extraordinarily adaptable system of symbols and sounds that has served us so well over the centuries, a system that can bring tears to our eyes with its delicate beauty and inspire us to action with its bold resonance, that can make us fall in love or lead us to hate?
Do you wince as I do when you hear, "There's two reasons," and grimace when you read, "Our network of canvassers are well organized"? Do you worry when you hear even our most educated, articulate and intelligent speakers say tuh and gonna for to and going to?
Beyond the debasement of our language, are you concerned by its power to deceive as well as inform, as was George Orwell, who wrote in his 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language," that political language "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind"? Do you believe as Orwell did that intentionally vague language is used to hide rather than express truth?
Well, if you share my outrage and concern, there's only one solution: Vote for me for president.
My platform is as simple as the English language is robust: Make certain your verbs agrees with their subjects (or should they agree?).
As a proud and unapologetic member of the upper 1 percent, I don't need your donations (though I appreciate the thought). Whether you think of me as "a job creator" or "a wealth hoarder," what I need from you is your dedication to the precise and correct use of the English language.
To launch my campaign, I'd like to organize you into a cadre of language lovers according to the following categories: Followers and Doers, Middle of the Roaders and Masters and Commanders.
Did I mention there's an entrance exam? Here it is. Choose the correct word in the following sentences, some of which are adapted from examples in William Sabin's "The Gregg Reference Manual".
Followers and Doers:
1. There are/There's two sides to every argument.
2. One of my backup drives are/is broken.
3. Twelve years is/are a long time.
Middle of the Roaders:
4. A majority of only 90 votes are/is not exactly a ringing endorsement of our candidate.
5. The number of abortion clinics in Texas has/have declined in recent years.
6. A group of 700 climate scientists are/is meeting in Geneva next month.
Masters and Commanders:
7. Many a liberal and conservative has/have objections to that proposal.
8. Neither the hopeful voter nor the disaffected have/has all the answers.
9. The director of campaign finances, as well as the publicity team, makes/make decisions on spending.
Scoring is as simple as casting your vote on Election Day. In the odd-numbered sentences, the first choice is correct; in the even-numbered sentences, the second choice is correct.
Whether you're a follower or a commander, I urge you to take a stand. Cast your vote for clear, precise and correct use of language. Vote for me.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.