Monday, October 13, 2008

Sarah Palin Hates Verbs

This may surprise you, but the cringe which adds hundreds of irreversible wrinkles to your face when you hear Sarah Palin speak doesn't come from her inane policy proposals. (Or not totally.) For the most part, it comes from witnessing Palin desecrate our most precious resource: verbs.

Remember verbs? They're the valuable action words which come between subjects. They're awesome! They tell you exactly what happened and when. But Sarah Palin hates verbs. She twists them, snips them, and hides them from us. The result is a tangle of decontextualized ideas and dizzying logic collapsing in onto itself. When you are confronted with the sentences of Sarah Palin, you are confronted with the abyss. Like so:

Not necessarily this, as it's been proposed, has to pass or we're going to find ourselves in another Great Depression. But, there has got to be action—bipartisan effort—Congress not pointing fingers at one another but finding the solution to this, taking action, and being serious about the reforms on Wall Street that are needed.


He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about - the need to reform government.

So much hostility against verbs! It almost seems personal, like she was once raped by a verb and found the entire ordeal—which perhaps included having to pay for her own Strunk and White kit to clean things up—so unpleasant that she vowed to spend the rest of her days eradicating the cursed parts of speech. But there's a much more likely explanation.

Palin belongs to a not-so-secret order of mercenaries who have been staging a ruthless 20-year war against grammar: TV newscasters. Palin had a stint as a TV sportscaster in 1988, and it's fair to assume that the gritty, cut-throat newsrooms of Alaska inculcated in Palin the lethal art of obfuscation.

You are surely familiar with this linguistic genocide. In order to keep the content fresh and urgent, TV newscasters gut the tenses from headlines the way experienced hunters gut moose. Past, present, and future all melt together so that everything sounds like an up-to-the-minute exclusive. Here's an example from an NBC News transcript: "Less resilient, local business. Dwight's concession stand, in the family three generations. Sales this summer off 75 percent."

Here's one from grammar's Archangel of Death Lou Dobbs: "Top government officials today adding their voices to the call for Americans to remain vigilant."

See where this is going? Not a verb to be heard. The only sound is the shudder of a thousand English teachers.

Your turn again, Sarah: "I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people."

Yes! Just like that.

So she's adamantly pro-gerund, you say. In the scheme of things, is it really that big a deal? Indeed. In fact, it's far more nefarious than you might imagine. It all speaks to her emphasis on the visceral over the cerebral, sensation over reason, emotion over thought, the immediate over the past. It reveals her murderous disdain for context and nuance.

George Orwell, the patron saint of political rhetoric, made it very clear: "...[I]f thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better."

We should know better. Let's hope we do.

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