A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 :::
AOL Instant Messenger is telling A Mind That Suits that he can get a personal horoscope sent to his cell.

He is not tempted, in part because he figures that the matter was settled late in the 4th Century AD, when the father of the man who was to become St. Augustine and a neighboring farmer made a deal. They both had slave women who were pregnant and due at about the same time, so they arranged to have other slaves run and say when each child was born. The slaves met each other mid-flight, meaning the two children were born as close to the same time as makes no nevermind. And the two children turned out to be radically different.

But, even if he were concerned about his horoscope, a certain pudgy, balding English teacher could not accept the offer in good conscience. He is not in prison, you see, so he has no cell to which horoscopes could be sent.

This is an example of a practice that came to his attention some years ago: the use of adjectives as nouns. It is common in some tongues, notably any of Latin's modern descendants, but it is not natural to English. (Yes, language is a natural phenomenon, just as bird calls are.) But it is natural to what the French Protestant Marxist philosopher Jacques Ellul called the "technique society." (That was badly translated into English as The Technological Society.)

Now, A Mind That Suits has no trouble quoting Protestants or Frenchmen, but does everything he can to avoid quoting Marxists. It's that "defense of mass murder" thing that gets him down. But in this, M. Ellul was quite correct: we have figured out how to do things, and so people who know how to do things are elevated in esteem beyond their true worth to other human beings. The correct translation from the French, you see, would probably be "The Know-How Society." He means roughly the same thing that Oscar Wilde meant when he had a character in The Picture of Dorian Gray say that "people nowadays know the price of everything, and the value of nothing."

Some time ago, among technical folks--to be more specific, perhaps, among technical folks in the military--it became a sign of technical sophistication to use adjectives without their accompanying nouns. "Let me give you this hypothetical." This was a new usage. In any version of Latin, to give you an Italian hypothetical, if you have to choose between two ties, you might choose "il rosso," whereas in proper English that should be "the red one." (Actually, that wasn't a hypothetical. That was what the wife of an Italian friend said when a certain pudgy, balding English teacher presented her with two ties he could not decide between. And actually actually, "one" is not in this case a noun but a pronoun. Still, you get the point.)

It should be, "let me give you this hypothetical situation."

But no longer. A "cell phone" is now a "cell," an "e-mail adress" is now an "e-mail," and, horribly, Washington's magnificent Union Station is now routinely referred to as "Union." Perhaps the most radical truncation has transformed your Social Security Number into your "social," eliminating not only a noun but a noun-serving-as-an-adjective.

All by people who are pretending to know far more than they actually know.

English-wise, this is a negative.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 2:49 PM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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