Rarely do we encounter anything of interest in the letters section of the local Oakland Tribune. But our eyes were drawn to a letter in the June 19 edition, titled, Theyre Perverting Our Language, from one Michael Stearns of Oakland.
Stearns takes exception to a term that appeared in a May 28 Tribune article on urban traffic blight. The article lauds the installation on certain residential streets in nearby Fremont, Calif., of specially designed speed bumps speed lumps, as they are otherwise known which have gaps in them that allow emergency vehicles to pass over them without slowing down. Or, as the articles author calls them, traffic-calming devices. It was this obfuscation, used repeatedly in the article, that exercised Stearnss ire.
Not only does it sound ridiculous, but the use of the term traffic-calming devices alters ones understanding of the function of speed lumps. Whereas the function of speed lumps is to reduce the danger of speeding vehicles, the function of traffic-calming devices is to soothe the high-strung motorist. Residential safety is out, relaxation is in. Next, Stearns quips, well be calling traffic lights meditation moments.
Word-bending of this type has run rampant: Used cars are now pre-owned, rappers and pop stars are artists, pornography is adult entertainment, and abortion is a health care need. Certainly you, dear reader, could have no trouble coming up with your own examples. The effects of this linguistic re-ordering of priorities, as Stearns declares, are far-reaching: Ever the long id of Freud reaches into the psyche of modern man, rendering common sense impotent, language corrupted and public dialogue tongue-tied by psychobabble pap. We couldnt have said it better ourselves! Although this is not a phenomenon limited to the print media, Stearns takes the Tribune writers and editors to task: As professional wordsmiths of the language, isnt it part of the newspapers mission to cut through the cant of policy wonks and muzzy-mouthed public officials in order to call a spade a spade? Just so. Meditate on that, Mr. Editor!
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