The slippery slide to sophistry.

Not all communications from readers are complimentary. There was a reader the other day who accused us of the dastardly use of comma splices. It was only by Googling ‘comma splice’ that we found out the nature of the problem. It seems we were being pilloried for using commas where you really need a colon or semi-colon.

The specific complaint was about our comments on a television interview with Conrad Black. As you might know, Lord ‘Cross-the-Pond’ has a penchant for ‘veddy-veddy’ correct grammar. He acts like he was the guy who taught the late Henry Fowler ‘Modern English Usage.’

But what the former newspaper publisher does not understand is that there is no standard for English in Canada. And there is ample evidence of the disarray this has caused. It used to be that Canadian Press would try to help news editors but fewer newspapers subscribe to Canadian Press services today. Periodically University English Departments try to do something but nobody appears very interested.

And from once being the bulwark of English language pronunciation in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation seems to have surrendered to Americanized mumbling. (We actually woke up the wife the other evening by shouting: “Did you hear what Peter Mansbridge just said?

“So, what,” she mumbled and went back to sleep. It was some minor mispronunciation that you might have expected from an American announcer but never from the CBC’s lead guy.)

But who cares. The only reason you want to have a standard is so that people can understand each other. Americans figured that out years ago and decided they did not want to be understood. Never, ever try to get into an argument with an Alabaman and a Bostonian at the same time. It will drive you nuts!

Even the English stopped talking the same language many years ago; after giving the world a common language for science and international air travel. English was the ideal alternative to Esperanto.

Anyone who relies just on their computer’s spell check operation is very foolish. And, by the way, anyone who chooses to capriciously argue the case is guilty of sophistry.

But we responded to our critic with an appropriate ‘mia culpa.’ We told him that we really do try to edit our work, though not always successfully. We had looked at the original copy of the Conrad Black piece and felt embarrassed by the colons and semi-colons that were used. It was as though Conrad had written it himself. So, we followed normal newspaper practice today and changed them all to commas.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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