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The Expansionist
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
 
English Under Attack — by 'English'
Note: Italicized pronunciations shown in this post employ the conventions of Augméntad Fanétik, my spelling system for pronunciation keys in English, which can be found a few screens from the top at http://fanetik.tripod.com/.

I drafted the headline for this blogpost as simply "English Under Attack", but soon realized that some people reading that might think I was going to attack bilingualism in which Spanish is given much more prominence than is warranted either by the numbers of Hispanics who do not also speak English or in terms of helping immigrants assimilate and integrate into the economy and body politic of the Nation. That is NOT, however, what I address today. (Still, there is too much Spanish on U.S. children's programming. If it is directed to Hispanic children, it is entirely misconceived, because it is not for the mainstream culture to teach Spanish to Hispanic children in the United States. Rather, the top priority for the U.S. regarding Hispanic children is to teach them ENGLISH. If children's programming in Spanish were intended to teach Spanish to English-speaking children, that would be harmless enuf, and could give us a workforce that is better equipped to make sales and provide services to Hispanics in the U.S. and Latin (Spanish) America. I seriously doubt that that is the intent of the creators and broadcasters of Spanish-language children's programming in the United States.)
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Rather, I am talking about the disintegration of spoken English in U.S. broadcasting. Every day, broadcast English becomes worse, and influences people who hear such misuses to adopt those despicable defects. Here are a few of the problems that are ravaging American English today.
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Eng-lish. What could more clearly illustrate the idiocy of so many people on TV today than that they don't know how to pronounce the name of the language they speak, English. There is only one correct pronunciation of "English". The American Heritage Electronic Dictionary shows that pronunciation as "ĭng'glĭsh". The Augméntad Fanétik spelling for the same pronunciation is íng.glish. Note that there is a sequence of the NG-sound first, followed by a "hard"-G sound. The hard-G is not dispensable but mandatory. It is NEVER correct to drop it. But myriad people born and raised in an English-speaking society say íng.lish — because they pay no attention to what every educated person around them says, or are just plain stupid.
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Dialectals Replacing Speakers of Standard American English. For reasons beyond my ken, a large proportion of all the commercials we hear in the United States today employ people, as actors or narrators, who confuse the two separate speech sounds AU and short-O (commonly spelled, respectively, as AU (aura) and O closed by a following consonant (got). There is a formal term for the eradication of the AU-sound in favor of short-O in hordes of words: "the cot-caught merger". That is, some people pronounce the two very-different words cot (narrow bed) and caught (past and past-participle form of "catch") the same, as tho both were written "cot".
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Examples are easy to come by. Law becomes "la", walk becomes "wok" — in both cases, an altogether different word; and office becomes "ah-fis". On February 18, 1978, Canadian comedian Dan Aykroyd did a skit on Saturday Nite Live in which he performed a satirical commercial for a [Ronco-like] Moth Masher. Instead of saying moth with an AU-sound, however, he mispronounced it as tho it were written "mahth", over and over again. No visual of a moth was shown. And the director and producer of SNL did not tell Aykroyd to say mautth, but permitted him to say motth. We had only Aykroyd's incomprehensible pronunciation with which to try to make sense of that nonsensical satire. It is as tho we were treated to a satire in which "taught" was pronounced "tot", and "tot" might actually have made sense in context — not very good sense, but some conceivable sense. Pronunciation matters.
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The one location in which most speakers of the cot-caught merger continue to make a distinction is when the sounds fall before the letter R. In that location, the confusion is reversed. All occurrences of either the AU- or short-O sounds are merged into the AU-sound, which might also be regarded as the OR-sound, as in the words "more", "for", and "orderly". These people mispronounce "Florida", "forest", and "orange" with that sound, whereas the proper sound is actually short-O (as tho the spellings were "Flahrida", "fahrest", and "ahranj"). In the word authority, which is properly said as au.tthór.i.tèe ("au.tháh.ri.tee"), myriad speakers on TV treat the written AU in the first syllable as a schwa and replace the short-O in the second with an inappropriate AU-sound, so the word ends up being said a.ttháu.ri.tèe — one word wrong in two syllables. How much clearer could we make it that the first syllable of "authority" is to be given the AU-sound than by actually writing it "AU"?
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On isolated occasions, you might hear a real hick say a short-O in an inappropriate place, which produces weird pronunications like kor nie.yal (or 'car Nile') for corn oil, in that the OI sound is a diphthong that comprises an AU-sound followed quickly by a long-E sound of brief duration (a Y-glide). Such oddities are, for the moment, rare.
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The basic problem among semi-educated people is simplemindedness: the inability of stupid people to draw distinctions but the tendency instead to obliterate distinctions because that is easier than to learn the difference between things, words, concepts — anything.
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Why, they 'reason', should we pronounce (for example) some words spelled with the letter sequence O-R with an AU-sound, but others with a short-O? Why not just pronounce them all the same? Because the words' sounds are different, that's why. The spelling means nothing.
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Language = Speech. Language is, first, foremost, and always, sound: speech, not writing. Writing is just a way that people try to convey speech across space and time. The writing, that is, spelling of English is notoriously absurd. So why do some people try to conform their speech to idiotic and ambiguous spellings? Do these people pronounce every letter of spellings like knight and through? Do they pronounce though, through, and thought all to rhyme? If not, why not? How about rhyming taught and laugh? (Note: sign "language" is a system of symbols, some of which move, to convey their sense. Although the term "language" is used for this system of symbols, that is more an analogy than a proper use of the term "language".)
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Intelligent people don't try to do any of those dopy things because words like knight and through are unpronounceable in current English; and though, through, and thought do not rhyme but are pronounced drastically differently.
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The/the. There are two pronunciations of one word spelled in one way. Here is the explanation from the American Heritage electronic dictionary:
(thē before a vowel; thə before a consonant)
That's simple, isn't it? Apparently not, because a very large number of the utterances today of the before a vowel sound are pronounced with a schwa (thə) — the short, unstressed, neutral vowel sound of the A in about, the second-E in telephone, O in offend, and U in circus — which is flat-out WRONG. The proper pronunciation of phrases like "the egg","the age", and "the only" has a long-E, then a Y-glide, then the vowel sound that starts the next word. That is the way natural speech works: a long-E at the end of a word glides into a vowel sound at the start of the following word, with what sounds exactly like a consonantal-Y. It is the simpler, easier way to speak. The people who substitute a schwa at the end of the before a vowel then have to employ a "glottal stop", that is, completely cut off the flow of air between words, to show where the first word stops and the second begins. That is a more arduous way to speak. So stupid people make their lives harder by mispronouncing the before a vowel sound.
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The long-E is not optional. The quotation from the American Heritage dictionary above does not say "sometimes", nor "optionally", nor anything like it. No. It's a hard-and-fast rule: EVERY time the occurs before a vowel sound, it is pronounced with a long-E. Every single time. You wouldn't know that from the speech of the ignoramuses who dominate today's broadcasting.
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It makes no more sense to say 'tha evening' or 'tha immediate' than to say 'a address' or 'an table'. Astonishingly, I am now hearing "a authority" and other phrases in which the proper "an" is supplanted by "a". Oh, I could see that happening by accident every now and then, and someone who makes that mistake not going back to correct it because of pressure in newscasts that are timed down to the second, but I fear there may actually be a drive underway among morons to dispense with the a/an distinction and just use "a" everywhere. Will society simply cave on that too, as it has caved on "tha" before a vowel sound? I hope not.
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Finally. The great preponderance of broadcast utterances of this word are wrong, two syllables, as tho written the same as the adverbial form of "fine", as in "finely diced garlic". Why are so many people so stupid? And why aren't they corrected by the program's or commercial's director, producer, or production assistants?
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Our. A very large proportion, if not an absolute majority, of all utterances of the adjective "our" on television today are pronounced as tho the speaker is intentionally saying an altogether different word, the verb are. Why 'are' people so stupid and lazy? How do they not know that they 'are' saying the wrong word? Are they too tired, or lazy, to have to deal with two syllables rather than one?
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Wer. The contraction we're, which is always supposed to be said with a long-E, is all too often said, by careless, stupid people, as tho written "wer", with a short-E or ER-sound as in better, ermine, and permanent.
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Coitus. There is a running joke on the Nation's most popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, in which the three-syllable word co-i-tus (kóe.wi.tas) is pronounced as tho two syllables, the first of which contains the OI-sound of "joint": kói.tas. Every single utterance of that word, by every character of the coterie of supposed geniuses around whom the program revolves, is wrong. Not one person — not even people hostile to the central group of friends, ever corrects that idiotic mispronunciation. Not even "Kripke", who has his own speech problems (he talks like Elmer Fudd), and despises "Sheldon", ever explodes, "It's co-i-tus, not coi-tus, you moron!" Appalling. Is this actually a running joke, or is every single person on that program an idiot who just doesn't know that the word has three syllables? I guess only people inside that show could say for certain.
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Online. This is one of many adjectives (or adjectival phrases, if the spelling "on-line" is employed) in which syllabic stress differs depending upon whether it precedes or follows the noun to which it applies. If the adjective precedes the noun, the stress falls at the beginning of the word ("ónline community"), but if it appears after the noun, or adverbially, the stress falls toward the end ("go onlíne"). Perhaps the most prominent pair of pronunciations of the same sort is employed for the adjective pristine ("prísteen wilderness", "the river still runs pristéen near its origin"). It's not exactly a subtle or mystical usage, but some people don't know to draw the distinction.
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Syllabic stress often serves to distinguish between parts of speech (e.g., the noun cóntent and verb contént, noun cóntract and verb contráct). We have probably all heard the redneck mispronunciation of "a pérmit" as "a permít". But there are other words commonly misstressed by stupid people, such as "we need to cómbat", rather than "... to combát". And then there are just plain wrong syllabic-stress assignments, as are also commonplace among rednecks but not heard only from rednecks, such as "ínsurance" and "Únited States".
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Paths, Houses. Many people do not understand what they dismiss as "fine points" or "needless distinctions", and thus say moronic things like "paths" with a voiceless-TH (as in thing) rather than the proper voiced-TH (as in "this") and "two houses" with an S-sound in the base word, and Z-sound only at the very end, for the plural. These distinctions are no more subtle nor unimportant than pronouncing the noun a house with an S-sound but the verb "to house" with a Z-sound. They are not "fine points" nor "needless distinctions". The plural of paatth is paathz. The plural of hous is hóuz.az. These different pronunciations are given to make clearer whether we are talking about one or more than one path or house. They are meaningful and important, and are of a type termed the "check morpheme", in which language gives an extra little distinction so that if someone does not hear all sounds of a word, the sense might still be clear. That is, if you hear only paatth you will know that the word is singular, but if you hear only the start of the word, but not the end, and what you do hear is paath..., you will know that you did NOT hear the plural ending.
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An Historic. The same people who ignore some "fine points" and "needless distinctions" insist on making a fine distinction of their own in the solitary case of "an historic". They don't say "an" before any other word that starts with an H-sound, not even "history". Why, indeed, is it that you never hear anyone say "an history"? Because that would be WRONG. As the American Heritage Dictionary says of an:
The form of a used before words beginning with a vowel or with an unpronounced h.
Note that American HERITAGE does not make any exception for the pronounced-H of "historic". Saying "an" before it, or before any other word that begins with a PRONOUNCED-H is a pretentious absurdity. But you can hear that pretentious absurdity in all auditory media, because morons heard that one "should" say "an historic". They have no idea why, but they don't want to sound like the idiots they are, so affect the dopy usage "an historic".
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Stuff vs. Things. Sugar, sand, wheat, snow, and cotton are stuff, which is measured in bulk but not enumerated as individual items. Things, by contrast, can be counted individually. "Stuff" can encompass "things" in only a few limited uses, such as (according to the Ameican Heritage Electronic Dictionary,
3. Informal. a. Unspecified material. b. Household or personal articles considered as a group. c. Worthless objects.
The Media Is. "Media" is a plural of the word "medium". It is NEVER singular in that sense, but is used with a singular verb by myriad idiots in, you guessed it, media.
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Guys. It was bad enuf when stupid people started calling girls and women "guys", which should have been universally condemned as an insult to everyone, especially girls and women but more generally to everyone, male and female alike. Now, inanimate objects are being called "guy"! In a cooking show, the host might, insanely, speak of a sweet potato or a kitchen gadget as a "guy". Will no one speak out to stop this madness?
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Often, The simpleminded are uncomfortable with ONE silent letter. They will accept debt, sigh, freight, and hundreds of other words with silent letters, and make no effort to restore those letters to speech. But, inexplicably, for some morons, the silent-T in the word often is a step too far. They draw the line at the T in that one word, of all the thousands and thousands of silent letters that litter English spelling, and refuse to be silent on it. Never mind that they do NOT pronounce the T in the parallel word soften, even tho the main word, soft, dies have a spoken-T. They don't see a problem with their simpleminded insistence on pronouncing ONE letter that should be silent. Just one.
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Gargled-L. NJ Governor Chris Christie is one of those people who pronounce, everywhere, the letter L as a "dark-L", at the back of the mouth, as in the word cold. The proper pronunciation of most L's is "lite-L", articulated toward the front of the mouth (and thus closer to any external lite source; "dark-L", of course, is pronounced farther back and away from external lite that might enter the mouth). Tom Brokaw is the most notorious person in public life to have that detestable, idiotic speech defect. Why does no one call them on that?
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'Court/er' for "Quart/er". The American Heritage Electronic Dictionary, which is a fairly permissive authority, does not accept any pronunciation but kwôr'tər (kwáur.ter) for this common word, nor any pronunciation other than kwôrt for a shorter, related word. So why do we often hear a pronunciation without a W-sound? How did it ever occur to anyone to drop the W of the KW sound combination that is the usual pronunciation of QU (quit, quack, quirk, etc., etc., etc.)? Who knows? Let us just suppress the ignorant pronunciation without a W-sound.
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The IN' Crowd. The -ING ending is both a grammatical form to show the present progressive and a natural part of many ordinary words, such as something. For some 'reason', people in media who want to appear to be 'just plain folks' affect what they assume is the stupidity of ordinary people, by saying IN rather than ING in some, but not all, locations. Nobody says "flin" for "fling" or "blin" for "bling", but idiocies such as "bein", "doin", and "somethin" are heard all over broadcast media. The bulk of newscasters and such who say "doin somethin" do not "drop the G" everywhere. Of course, "dropping the G" is entirely incorrect, because the N and G in the -ING ending — which essentially no one would say as "endin" — are not separable. That would be like trying to "drop the H" from the digraph TH as in this or thing. I don't hear anyone on television news, even here in the NY Metropolitan Area, affecting old-style Brooklynese "dis" and "dat". Why do so many people, however, affect "doin" and "tryin"? On March 30th, WNBC sportscaster in NYC, Bruce Beck said both "tryin" and "trying" within seconds — so you know that "tryin" was a stupid affectation. Why would he do that?
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NG is the spelling convention to convey a single speech sound, as in ginseng, sing, song, wrong, flung, among, etc., from which no one "drops the G". Why is that? Because it's a stupid affectation to "drop the G" in -ING, not a natural speech pattern at all. In some places, people affect the speech of their 'betters'. In the United States, people affect the speech of their 'worse-ers', or lessers — people who really are stupider than those who want to sound stupid. The question for which I can find no answer, however, is "Why would anyone want to sound stupid?" Indeed, why do so MANY people in media want to sound stupid? Producers should crack down on this stupid affectation, that is, an affectation that is both stupid and an attempt to SOUND stupid.
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There are a few words in which a word ending in NG is pronounced with an additional hard-G when a suffix is added. The most common are the adjectives long, strong, and young, which, when -ER is added to create the comparative form, are pronounced láung.ger, stráung.ger, and yúng.ger. Those two words must always have a hard-G sound. It's not optional, any more than would be retaining or dropping the hard-G in finger or linger. As to whether "wronger" in "You couldn't be wronger" should or should not have a hard-G, there seems to be no guidance in dictionaries. The logic of analogy would argue for a hard-G, but cannot condemn people who don't use it. (The issue is confused in that some dictionaries do not recognize a comparative adjective for "wrong", and "wronger" is an agent noun, where there would not be a hard-G.)
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Buh-hind, Ruh-liable. Why are so many people nowadays pronouncing the prefixes BE- and RE- with a short-U rather than either a long-E or, at worst, short-I sound? Where did this bizarre notion come from? No matter. It needs to be suppressed.
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You Know. Not so long ago, if someone in an English-speaking country couldn't come up with a word right away, s/he would say "uh", "um", or some such time-filler to show that they weren't suffering from what we might now call "brain freeze" but would soon continue with whatever it is they were saying. In the past decade or so, however, the little phrase "you know" has replaced almost all "uh's", "um's", and the momentary silences that so many people find so uncomfortable that they have to fill them with some kind of noise, no matter how meaningless and annoying it may be. (A few people do, alas, say both "you know" and "uh".) Some careless speakers may say "you know" three and more times a minute, hour after hour. If everyone were fined $1 for each such utterance (not counting legitimate uses of the phrase in its actual sense, not as a meaningless time-filler bomb that drops over and over, ripping myriad little holes in conversations), and all that money were donated to an educational foundation, we could send every (economically) poor but worthy high schooler to a quality college for four full years. Instead, those trillions of "you knows" merely dumb-down public discourse and form a maddening wall of stupidity between people. This maddening habit has now invaded the speech of people who learn English as a second language in dozens of non-English-speaking countries.
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Dollars Cents. Monetary amounts are supposed to be phrased as "8 dollars AND 95 cents". Why, then, do we hear so many idiots saying "8 dollars 95 cents". Because nobody ever corrects anybody anymore, so idiot after idiot is free to say idiotic things and drag the language down.
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Between ... To. Aside from the idiocy "between you and I", there is another commonly heard idiocy, using "between" with "to". "Between" takes "and", not "to": "between ten and fifteen thousand dollars". ("Between you and me", not "I" is correct, of course, because "between" is a preposition, and the first-person object of a preposition is "me", not "I".)
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Television Inflection. Commercials have dispensed with the customary way that a series is intoned. This is hard to convey in writing, but let me try. "This, that, and the other" would be said so that the first two words start on a higher note, dip a bit, then return to the starting tone; then the "and", at a single, middle tone; then the third item in the series is said, as the most emphatic. Not in television commercials. No, there, each item is given its own emphatic stress. The result is that the first item is given stress as tho it stands on its own, which ends the sentence. The next two items in what is supposed to be a series are said equally, with no indication that they are part of a larger group. So the sense that several related items are to be listed is broken: "Call now to experience all the benefits of this! That and the other." What on Earth was wrong with the standard intonation of a series? Three things: Nothing! Nothing and nothing.
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One-Year Anniversary. People today seem not to understand that the concept of "year" is built into the word anniversary, so we are constantly hearing people say stupid things like "four-year anniversary" (Jimmy Fallon on The Tonite Show March 31st) rather than simply "tenth anniversary".
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Two Times. The word "twice" has almost disappeared from American advertising. Somehow that isn't clear or emphatic enuf. Now everything is "two times"! And if it is the strength of a medication, it is always "two times stronger", never "twice as strong". What does "two times stronger" mean, tho? Two times stronger than what? Two times as strong as it used to be?
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Free Gift! What other kind of gift is there? I'm afraid we have to give up on any hope of removing the word "free" from this omnipresent term in television commercials, no matter how redundant it may be.
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Experteess. Mispronunciations of many individual words abound, such as expertise with an S-sound rather than Z-sound at the end. In this era, when all media professionals have access to computers, this is inexcusable. Everyone whose voice goes out over television and radio can have a dictionary open in the background, such as the American Heritage Online Dictionary which fits within a computer's own hard drive, and various other dictionaries, such as the Random House Unabridged Dictionary Tempachur. I keep hoping I have heard this wrong, but I often hear the word temperature pronounced without an R-sound in the middle. Shockingly, many of the instances I have noted are from professional weather forecasters on television news shows. How can it be that people whose job requires them to say a word central to their occupation mispronounce it?
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Theater. The same phenomenon holds for theater professionals in serious discussion programs, such as PBS's Theater Talk, who say the single most important word in their occupation, "theater", as two syllables, the appallingly ignorant and grating thée.ter, rather than the absolutely required three syllables, thée.ya.ter. How on EARTH can anyone in the theater be so STUPID as to mispronounce the word "theater"?
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In lite of my endless anger at young 'theeter' people who mispronounce the name of their own occupation, I was very pleasantly surprised in the wee hours of March 31st to hear on CUNY-TV a 1974 interview (under the title "Day at Nite") by James Day with Marc Connelly (the white author of the black (then "Negro") play The Green Pastures) in which almost every single word both interviewer and writer spoke was said correctly, including, of course, "theater", as three syllables. (The only error I noticed was Connelly's saying hór.aur for horror.)
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What a relief! On the other hand, tho, how is it that both of these people in a 1974 TV interview had excellent speech , but a comparable interview nowadays with an equivalent playwright would likely be shot-thru with pronunciation errors? Why has American speech deteriorated so starkly in 40 short years?
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I suspect it is due to misconceived democratization, in which every moron is allowed to say whatever he or she wants, and no one dares to correct them. We must return to a system of gatekeepers — editors, speech advisers, dialect coaches, producers, production assistants, and other serious professionals who catch and correct errors before they can go out over-air (or cable). Morons must be stopped from destroying the language thru promoting ignorant errors acrss society by their uncorrected example.



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