Yesterday while perusing one newspaper’s mandatory Father’s Day opinion article I saw a variation of the following clause:  “When a dad sees their kids.”  I gagged.

How far have we fallen, on Father’s Day, this most gender-specific of all roles of all days, when it’s too much work for that writer to use the third person, masculine, singular pronoun for the unique relationship between a father and his child?

I admit that language forms and reflects thought, but does it have to inhibit it and sew confusion?  How many of the transgendered are there out there to offend, anyway?  Before you dismiss me as a troglodyte of the old school, I should specify that, while I gulp in discomfort before every proclamation of “My pronouns are they, them, and their” on the TV show Billions, I quite like that character, and I wish the character well on future seasons.

My complaint stems from a career of marking the essays of rather bright teenagers as they struggled to distinguish between one and many.  To a certain extent I blame day care and rock videos for the underlying assumption of interchangeability:  should one’s companions meet a minimum standard of age, gender, and appearance, each will do as well as another.  This fuzzy focus from an excess of choices embodies itself in many students’ written work through the misuse of “their.”

Indeed, my frequent exhortation to the brightest writers was to exercise great care in distinguishing between one and many.  The use of a singular subject is a good way to initiate a sentence which informs as well as it can.  Let’s use the Father’s Day example again:  “My dad used to encourage me to use his basic woodworking tools to build things from boards I found in the scrap pile.”  Of course it’s acceptable to use a plural subject:  “Parents often support their children by sharing their personal toys with them as they grow up.”

Plural subjects such as “parents” don’t need a gender-specific pronoun.  Nonetheless, it is hard to feel confidence in a writer too lazy not to begin a sentence with a singular subject and then lose his way to “their” after the first verb.

It’s as though a writer’s understanding of basic grammar runs up against unbreakable rules of political correctness and his brain shorts out to “Whatever!” mode and his fingers type in “they.”

Is it any wonder that journalists today seem overwhelmed by specific details of complex stories?  They have lost their editors’ permission to use the necessary language to examine them.

Look at the rise of Eric Grenier, a blogger-turned-columnist at CBC.  Grenier has established a reputation as an analyst of polling data.  It was this blogger who had the temerity to write that Baby Boomers were the principal supporters of Justin Trudeau’s 2015 electoral majority, not Millenials, that marijuana legalization attracted these Millenials to the party but they voted on jobs and the environment, and that the much-touted Aboriginal vote actually went to the NDP, despite loud protestations of betrayal from First Nations leaders in British Columbia who claimed to have voted Liberal in the federal election.  He formed these conclusions from careful, poll-by-poll analyses of turnout and vote counts.

Grenier’s particular gift is his ability to distinguish between the one and the many, and it quietly puts the lie to some of the half-truths which slide conveniently into Canadian political writing.  On one occasion I corrected journalist Stephen Maher on one of these slips.  He quickly apologized that he had been in a hurry,  he should have checked his data, but hadn’t, and promptly rewrote the article to eliminate the slip.

As Canadians in a world increasingly afflicted with diseases of thought, we need to pay careful attention to the accuracy of what we write and read.

UPDATE:  20 June, 2017

As satisfying as the first half of the rant above might have been to compose, a reader suggested a more appropriate perspective on Arcamax.com:

It’s called ‘singular they’.  Intended for cases where the sex of any particular member of a group is irrelevant to the meaning of the message– it’s vaguely stupid when talking about members of a group whose sex can be assumed, like fathers.

I just read that Canada’s Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould,  plans to make the punishment for selling marijuana to children a 14 year maximum sentence, the same as for child molesters.

On July 20, 2013 I posted the following article to my blog.  I also sent it along to whatever contacts I could find in Ottawa.  Coincidence?  Probably.  But I think they’re right in their thinking:  drug dealers have no more place in the schools than child molesters, and both offences should receive equal social opprobrium.

July 20, 2013           The Walnut Diary

As a retired secondary school teacher and vice principal, while I detest marijuana for the damaging effect it has on the learning of young people, I support legalizing it with one important caveat: take strong steps to keep the stuff away from kids under the age of 18.

In particular I would suggest that the type of electronic surveillance which has proven effective at rounding up child pornography rings should be directed toward the use of cell phones in secondary schools.

The grade 12 drug dealer sitting in the back of an English class will be a lot less likely to take orders by text from grade nine kids if Signals Intelligence has made a copy of his morning text traffic available to the local police before his lunch-hour delivery time.

Kids, especially boys with ADHD, are badly damaged by early cannabis use. I have seen too many bright kids ruined by the drug to have any use for it in or around the school yard.

If we treat marijuana dealers who sell to kids as the child molesters they are (and not just as students misbehaving), let the rest of society pay their taxes and buy their grass at the LCBO.

UPDATE:

I fell into a discussion online in which a guy challenged me to put up proof that grass is bad for kids with ADHD. So I’ll add a few links here as I find them.

Rod

http://www.okanaganclinicaltrials.com/public/column.php?category=Addiction&title=Marijuana+use+and+psychiatric+illness

http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/cannabis-use-and-abuse

http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_1-7-2013-11-49-21

These were the first three Google listed.

I searched online today for any news article dated after January 30th about the accused shooter in the murder of six men and the injury of nine others, all of whom were praying at their Quebec City mosque on January 29, 2017.

It’s been less than two months, but the killer seems to have vanished from the public record.  Only the BBC continues to cover the story.

Last August I posted a column on this blog suggesting that one way to discourage domestic terrorism would be to deny notoriety to the perpetrators.  Reporters seem to have done that in spades in this case.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if the news vacuum might have more to do with the pur lain surname of the perpetrator and the non-French surnames of the victims, rather than my suggestion.

The media silence, broken only by an Angus Reid push-poll today against 103, the Anti-Islamophobia motion, suggests that Canadians just want to forget that this massacre ever happened.  We’re good at that.

https://rodcroskery.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/its-up-to-journalists-to-deny-notoriety-to-those-who-most-want-it/

UPDATE:  31 March, 2017

In a brief news clip the reporter mentions a court date today for the accused killer.  She further explains that the previous defence attorney had requested and gained a publication blackout on the case.  That attorney has quit and a legal aid lawyer is now representing the accused.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1089002

On March 25, 1969, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau famously  told the Washington D.C. Press Club:

Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant.  No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.

This quotation has stood until now as the preeminent metaphor to describe Canada’s attitude toward relations with the United States.  I’d suggest that Trudeau-the-elder’s quip has worn itself out.

With the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the recent presidential election, an Indian folk tale* of the boy on the runaway elephant might apply more readily to the situation. Seized by the hormone surge of the must season, the massive creature, driven by his instincts and appetites, careens down jungle roads with little awareness of his direction or his effect upon the villagers in his path.

Enter the handler’s son, a young man with some understanding of elephants from his father and a good deal of pluck.  He seems to have dropped from an overhanging branch onto the runaway’s back, and now has the task of doing what he can to calm the valuable behemoth and as much as possible direct him away from the more obvious hazards as he plunges through the labyrinth of jungle roads until the panic abates and the elephant can return to his work of moving logs as the economic engine of the village.

Having dropped into this unexpected role, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done rather well so far.  His initial heroic impulse to leap astride the beast rather than confront him has received support from a team of wise and resourceful villagers who have run alongside and hung baskets of food and water bottles from branches in his path.

In President Donald Trump’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress yesterday he indicated at least an awareness of his youthful passenger, and generally accepts his presence.

—–

Once the cartoonists draw it, it’s fact, so I eagerly await the first artist’s attempt at this meme. I’ve never liked the elephant-mouse bit.

* Dr. Robert Moore, a diplomat from Guyana, included this story in a lecture to the Lanark County Board of Education, sometime in the late 1980’s.

 

Sean Spicer seems determined to protect Donald Trump from his own fabrications.  This requires a level of intellectual dishonesty inconsistent with the correct use of English grammar.  Look at the sentence below which I culled from today’s Toronto Star:

“He believes what he believes based on the information he was provided,” said Spicer, who provided no evidence to back up the president’s statements.

The use of the noun clause what he believes indicates a relatively sophisticated intelligence in that it indicates a willingness to deal with a known unknown.

But then comes the dreadful passive construction based on the information he was provided.  Nobody believes the voice who utters a clunker like this.  It’s a childish attempt to hide either the facts, or the lack of facts.  It’s a passive “The front window was broken” when only  the active “I broke the front window” will do.

So what’s wrong with Spicer?  He uses the passive voice.  The information he was provided will not do it.  The White House Press Corps, the American People, and certainly we, Canadians, will have no use for him until he uses the active voice exclusively and he shows the source of every single bit of information which crosses his podium.

It’s all in the grammar.

 

To the Tower with him!

January 24, 2017

If Trump’s crew continue with their program of alternative facts, what if journalists created an alternative president?  What could Trump do if CNN, BBC, CBC, Reuters and other media outlets reported thoughts and activities of Mike Pence as though he were already Head of State?  How long would it take for White House sycophants to catch on and switch their allegiance?  A gradual increase of Pence standing could lessen the load of expectations for which Trump is clearly not prepared.

If world leaders denied standing to Trump and looked instead to Pence, could the Donald’s lies and loose-cannon rants be contained before he does any real damage?  A figurehead president, Rapunsel-like, could live out his term away from the White House, pressing buttons on a mere video-game representation of World politics, and given his lack of interest in real input, remain none the wiser.

Over the years the Tower of London has housed kings and pretenders in similar fashion.  This is not a new idea.

 

Cash for Access

December 20, 2016

Here’s a thought:

Over the last few years my contributions to the Liberal Party of Canada have been directly tied to the level of abuse Justin Trudeau has faced in the media during his time in office. Unfair attack ads opened my cheque book because, like a distant but somewhat protective parent, I felt I could at least do something to defend the guy.

All fall I have ignored the LPC email stream begging for contributions because things were going pretty well for JT and the Liberals and they could get along without me after we had gotten rid of Harper. It seemed it was somebody else’s turn to pay the piper. I didn’t mind if it was Chinese billionaires. It at least showed the Liberal Party had gotten off their butts and learned how to raise money.

But now the media’s lining up on this ethics issue. The LPC has learned to find the money to operate, but they’re vulnerable because of the catchy  bumper-sticker phrase “Cash for access.”

I guess the condemnation is really directed at me, the lazy parent. So last night the cheque book opened up again.