This is the time of year when I engage in the exercise of blowing off steam that has been building over time. Usually, this involves some sarcastic remarks about the commercialization of Christmas or the unending drone of carols on my car’s radio. But, these are only seasonal irritations. Today, I want to address some long-term trends that are annoying, intrusive, and usually both.
Toward the end of the 18th century, we fought a long, bloody war to separate ourselves from the British monarchy. Our Constitution was deliberately written with words that specifically exclude the possibility of our populace coming under the rule of some supposedly royal despot or family.
After the vote was counted in 1789, legend has it that Benjamin Franklin shook George Washington’s hand and said, “Congratulations, your majesty.” Washington supposedly replied, “We’ll have no nobility in this nation. Please call me Mr. Washington or Mr. President.”
Despite our national repugnance for monarchy, for the past couple of weeks news readers on national television have gushed about the upcoming marriage of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle.
I’ve tried changing channels, but snippets of information about the two lovebirds seem to be everywhere. I suppose that interest in the regal wedding is ubiquitous, and I don‘t understand why that is the case.
I mean, many Americans are still mourning the death of Diana.
Monarchies are anachronistic. They existed in the past and, perhaps, they once served a purpose. But I kinda’ doubt it. Now, prime ministers, parliaments, constitutions, and court systems do what kings and queens once did.
I know that the Brits cherish their noble parasites, but why do Americans care about throwing another leech on the body? One of our TV channels even hired an artist to produce sketches of what the eventual offspring of the soon-to-be newly weds might look like.
It’s kind of like speculating about what we’d experience if we had two more appendices when we don’t need the appendix that we already have.
Because the lovebirds don’t plan to tie the knot until spring, I imagine that I’ll be really grumpy for the next several months.
The plural singular
I’ve always been annoyed by political correctness and grammatical incorrectness. In recent years, the two have become combined in our language. Through all my years of schooling, I was taught that a noun and its pronoun had to “agree.”
In other words, if the noun were singular, the pronoun also had to be singular. But, apparently this causes problems for unimaginative writers (and teachers) who want to avoid “sexism.” For example, it now seems to be “wrong” to write, “If a student wants to do well on the test, he should study.” Notice that the noun (student) and pronoun (he) are both singular. However, the “he,” which used to be neutral in this context, denotes the male gender to some sensitive people.
Here’s what I mean by the “plural singular.” In order to be politically correct (i.e., non-sexist), people now write, “If a student wants to do well on the test, they should study.” This sentence construction avoids using the male pronoun (he) and substitutes the neutral pronoun (they), but it is a plural pronoun. This is considered to be politically correct, though it’s grammatically incorrect.
This absurdity becomes even more pronounced when the noun is already gender specific. For example: “If a girl wants to be on the football team, they should just try out like everyone else.”
This is ridiculous. The noun is obviously a reference to someone whose gender is female, so why not use “she” and be grammatically correct? Of course, and as is usually the case, there is a simple solution that should pacify both grammar purists and political-correctness buffs: Pluralize nouns. “If students want to do well… they should study.”
Worst idea of the year
Writing for Bloomberg.com, Conor Sen says that brick-and-mortar stores which are losing ground to online shopping services, like Amazon.com, should take a lesson from the airlines. He writes, “In the 2000s, U.S. airlines were in terrible shape. Plagued by skyrocketing oil prices and insurgent low-cost carriers, United, US Airways, Delta, Northwest, and American all filed for bankruptcy.” The bankruptcies gave the companies the opportunity to restructure themselves. Debts were written off, contracts were renegotiated, and routes were reconfigured.
He suggests that retailers copy the airlines’ model. Surely, “there will be more closures — some communities may not need a Walmart and a Target and a Macy’s and a Sears and a Kmart.”
I agree, although it would be nice if Madera had at least one more of the above. But, do we want a retail store that makes us partially undress before entering, then has us sit on uncomfortable chairs for an hour or so hoping that the opening time has not been postponed or cancelled? Do we demand narrower aisles so that we have to walk sideways? Do we want to pay a fee in order to use a shopping cart? (We already pay for bags in grocery stores unless we bring our own.) Or will we simply shut our eyes to the idea of shopping locally and simply do all our shopping online?
The Federal Communications Commission works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in maintaining an Emergency Alert System (EAS) that requires TV and radio broadcasters (as well as cable systems and other means of communication) to give the president access to the American public during a national emergency.
The EAS system can also be used by state and local authorities to deliver AMBER (missing child) alerts and storm warnings. Every once in a while, the various stations have to test the system by sending a loud and very annoying buzzing signal to the receivers in our homes.
The extremely noisy signals always seem to come right in the middle of a movie or other program. By the time I find the remote to press the mute button, my auditory organs have already been violated. Interestingly, these clamorous interruptions never seem to come during commercials or between programs.
You can tell that Christmas is coming because I’m already in my curmudgeon mode. Fa-la-la-la-la. La-la. La-Bah!
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.