Of English usage, education and civility
Maybe it is because my mother and father, both UNH English majors and an English teacher and a magazine editor, respectively, thought proper English usage important that I am irritated by certain trends and contrivances of late.
First, I am a partner in a law firm. I do not partner with my partners. I am a partner. Partner is a noun. This, as many words, is increasingly made into a verb and it cheapens the language.
Second, broadcasters are wont to say “Keep it here” when they mean “stay tuned.” This is like fingernails on the blackboard!
Third, broadcasters cannot use a declarative sentence in describing what is coming up. Rather, they increasingly feel compelled to use questions like, “Will the weather be good through the weekend? Hear what our notable meteorologist has to say, coming up.” Why not just say, “Mixed weather predicted for the weekend. Stay tuned for the weather report …”?
Finally, when stories appear in the press about missing persons, there is a trend by reporters to say that “when John Jones went missing” or “since Sally Smith went missing …”. Why cannot the appropriate grammatical formulation be used, e.g., “when John Jones disappeared …” or, “after Sally Smith disappeared …”?
At a fascinating May 18 breakfast forum sponsored by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Evan Dobelle, president of the New England Board of Higher Education, was the speaker.
Dr. Dobelle, former president of Trinity College and the University of Hawaii, as well as the former mayor of Pittsfield, Mass., stressed the contribution of institutions of higher education, but the main thrust of his message was the importance of early childhood education, and the paramount importance of training children outside of school.
He indicated that the success or failure of a student in school generally is determined by age 4, an age before most students have gone to school at all.
He also pointed out that by the time a student graduates from high school, even if that student has been in school every single day, he has only been in school 19 percent of his life. That means 81 percent of a student’s experience is shaped by external factors. Notwithstanding this, Dr. Dobelle rightly pointed out that parents, politicians and journalists blame schools for the failure of students, instead of looking at what goes on in the community, the family and other environments such as church, camps, clubs, scouting, etc.
Putting this in context, Dr. Dobelle warned that China has established a goal to ensure that the majority of its citizens graduate from college with training in English within nine years. That will produce more young Chinese college graduates who are proficient in English than the entire population of the United States.
While we stress higher education in our expenditures and the economic contribution of higher education to our economy, Dr. Dobelle said more money should be invested on the early years so the population is educated and prepared for that higher education.
This was not only eloquently presented; it was sobering and instructive.
The Manchester chamber sponsors the annual Education Excellence Awards. This year’s winners were Janice Thompson, principal of Manchester High School West, George Trapotsis, a chemistry teacher there, Bobby Roberge, custodian at the Peter Woodbury School in Bedford, and Jean Jacques, the education outreach coordinator for Catholic Medical Center, a contributor to education partnerships in Manchester.
Increasingly, there is a sideshow in Concord, widely reported in the political “gossip columns,” about the inability of the Senate Republican leadership and certain members of its caucus to get along.
There are only 24 state senators. These smart, able people were all successful in getting their constituents to send them to Concord. The citizens did not elect them to see how petty they can be or how much they can fight. They should go into a room determined not to come out until they have buried the various hatchets and gotten along. The state deserves it. They deserve it, since spending this much psychic energy on disagreement is destructive. The people expect it.
In a couple of cases, certain leaders of the Legislature have the reputation of threatening and bullying. That process, and certain examples of tasteless and base language reported in the halls in Concord, also should stop.
In the overwhelming number of cases, the 424 people who serve in the Legislature are gracious, hard-working and, obviously, selfless, since they do it for $100 every year. That majority should insist that their standards be met by all.
End of sermon.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.