Just Bill and the Mister

March 1, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — bknister @ 5:28 pm

As Bill has pointed out, it’s really too late to be talking about New Year’s Resolutions.  Even so, a general assessment of recent letters to the editor published in my local newspaper convinces me the subject should be taken up.  Let’s all agree this time around to have New Year’s Reservations about what to put in letters to the editor.

Example:  “God-given.”  This is a great favorite among those writing to newspapers.  God-given rights, talents, freedom, etc.  But, really, does this make much sense?  For believers, God is the creator.  He is the source of all life, objects and qualities.  Believers need no reminder of this.   Non-believers, on the other hand, believe in a godless universe and scoff at the very idea of God-given anything.  This being accepted, telling newspaper readers that God has given them something serves only to inform them that the writer is a believer.  Why does the writer want others to know this?  God alone needs that kind of  information, and He may be assumed to have it already. 

Hitler, Nazi (or Nazism) Stalin, communist (or communism), liberal, socialist (or socialism), right wing, ultra (fill in the blank), diabolical (fill in the blank), patriot (or patriotism), etc.  Again, these are hugely popular references, especially among older writers with still-vivid memories of World War Two and the Cold War.  But in fact the use of such terms serves principally to align the writer with those who have used them in previous letters. 

In so doing, what useful goal is achieved?  A neuroscientist would say repetition works to fix ideas more firmly in the reader’s mind.  But repetition also works to convince thinking readers that such writers are intellectually and emotionally bankrupt, that they are unable or unwilling to employ fresh words.  Or, that regardless of how fresh their recollections of WW2 may still be, other parts of the brain have atrophied. 

But however many symptoms of dementia often seem present in people writing letters to newspapers, it is not likely very many of them actually suffer from a clinically diagnosed condition.  For the rest, exhausted language always reveals one thing about the writer: he or she is lazy.  So this year, let’s all get on the composition treadmill and avoid cliches.  Let’s try to think more originally before hitting the Send button.


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