my sweet momma taught me to use a dictionary when i was very young. “look it up,” she would tell me. the dictionary held an esteemed place in our house. if i didn’t know what ‘it’ meant or how ‘it’ was spelled, i knew where to go. i developed a love for dictionaries, thesauruses, all manners of the tools of research.
now, it seems dictionaries have lost their status and spellcheck has become a way of life for those too lazy to ‘look it up’. spellcheck has a few obvious limitations; context, usage and intent presenting the biggest challenges. if only spellcheck and auto-correct could reach out of the device screen and (gently) slap the person committing the spellingcrime, life’s communications could be better understood. punctuation joins the game of laziness and, i must say, punctuation makes a difference. consider “i’m sorry i love you” or “i’m sorry. i love you.” there is a marked difference.
so when people, who never graced me, the nerdy-look-it-up-type, with even one word in high school but who have ‘friended’ me on facebook, post multiple nonsensical, poorly articulated and division-inciting arguments using the term “voter Freud”, it raises the hair on the back of my neck. i want to post back “look it up!” but i refrain. borrowing leonard pitts’ words, there seems to be a “matchless capacity for mental mediocrity” in the united states these days.
i suspect if this not-really-a-friend-just-a-friend-on-facebook was standing across from me (mind you, at least six feet across) she would be screaming at me in a loud raucous voice. i wonder if she would call it – this thing she has taken from fox news and run full speed with, never looking to see if she had a spotter or even a bottle of water in her full-out sprint to falsificationland – “voter Freud” in person. or would she actually say “voter fraud” in her zeal to make me a believer of her layered cake of conspiracies.
this is not just about lazy writing. this seems an indicator of a bigger problem. it’s the metaphoric tip of the iceberg. i’m not just kvetching about spelling and punctuation, much as i wish that were the whole problem. it’s an imploring plea to ask questions. in today’s deep-fake world, a reminder to not make quick assumptions. to not jump onto a band wagon stoked with tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bangs to quell those speaking out, enable dictatorial nationalism, silence what needs to be said.
in this pandemic-laden-chaos-wreaked-leaderless-divisive country of ours i would encourage research. i would encourage fact-checking. i would encourage dictionaries. i would encourage more listening and less reactionism. i would hope that each of us would understand that every word we utter, every word we write matters, every attitude, every nuance. we are not in a world of one; we each affect and effect the next. over and over.
and i don’t know. last time i checked, john glenn high school in elwood, new york – more than four decades ago – had pretty high standards in english class, in sciences, in history, in math, not the least learning of which was how to use deductive reasoning. i, for one, was paying attention. because it mattered. “voter Freud?” indeed. it still matters.