There are always those times when we self-censor because it’s just not polite to say the first thing that comes to your mind when someone does or says something worthy of scorn.
For Southerners, especially, telling someone off doesn’t square with the genteel ideal. Sometimes, though, it has to come out one way or the other. For me, it’s usually in writing that never sees the light of day, even on my blog, or in the occasional rant to my mom or other equally understanding person.
Regular readers notice that I occasionally will answer readers’ concerns in my column, usually by name unless they’ve specifically asked that a name not be used.
This week I won’t use names, but it will be for those comments I’ve kept myself from saying.
(Inserting tongue into cheek … now!)
Wow. Just … wow.
Though your name is vaguely familiar, I can’t say I recall any letters from you previously, and an archive search back to 1995 showed no letters by you have been printed. Which makes your rambling note accompanying your not-crazy letter all the more puzzling.
I’ll admit to being a fool more times than I can count, and would never hold myself as the ultimate authority on anything except perhaps my cat’s weirdness, so I’m at a loss on the implication that I’m anything approaching high-and-mighty. I think my family and friends could vouch for that and my inferiority complex.
As for the need for us to have some way to contact you about your letter (preferably with a phone number), which is what apparently got your knickers in a twist, that’s a long-standing rule shared by many newspapers to ensure that that particular person actually wrote the letter (yes, people do sometimes write letters claiming to be someone else, or under completely fake identities).
Unless you want someone to perhaps have something published under your name that might make you look like a fool. It happens, trust me.
Now, if you’d like to resubmit your letter without insulting us here on the Voices page, please feel free.
And if you really want to tell my mama on me, go ahead. Don’t mind the laughter. Where do you think I got it?
What a surprise it was for me to learn that I’m doing the bidding of the Democratic National Committee. They really need to get busy on my compensation. Mama needs a new car (and Luke wouldn’t mind some fresh fish)!
I understand you’re upset that we haven’t printed many of your letters lately, but I’m shocked—shocked, I tell you—to learn we haven’t published anything containing criticism of Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi or Mark Pryor.
Oh, wait, except we have—lots of it. Never mind.
We just haven’t printed yours. Hmmm … wonder if there’s a reason for that …
It occurs to me there are those who believe politics are why letters are rejected, when it’s really the result of things such as appropriateness for a family newspaper or fact-checking, as it was in your case.
We should always remember that while the talking points put forward by the parties are nice and pithy, they often play fast and loose (very loose) with the truth. Those who use those talking points have reason to fear fact-checks.
Now, if you want to attribute, in your letter, untrue statements to the person who said them (and that are documented), have at it. At least then everyone will know where you get your information, true or not, which is actually more telling.
Printing facts in a newspaper … what a novel concept, eh?
I understand I can get a little overzealous at times when trying to ensure that readers can discern opinion from fact (which unfortunately happens much, MUCH more than we’d like). And yes, I’m very sorry if anyone misunderstood the point of your letter as I apparently did. Mea maxima culpa. Believe me, I hate making mistakes.
However, to further ensure that tired editors understand your point, I might suggest the use of “wife-check” (or in the absence of that, friend-check).
We are the worst editors of our own writing—I’m speaking from experience here, which is why at least one more set of eyes reads after the writer of any piece we run on the opinion pages. It’s always a good idea to have someone else read what you wrote to make sure it is clear.
Wife-check has saved countless husbands from making fools of themselves—when it’s used; sometimes it’s triggered retroactively when the wife finds out about a particularly ill-advised rant to the paper. I can’t count the number of wives who’ve called in to pull their husband’s letters, some just in the nick of time, to keep them from becoming laughingstocks.
There should be an app for that.
A twofer here, as both of you guys trod the same ground and I don’t like to repeat myself: If you’re going to belittle someone and label them as ignorant of facts, you should be sure that both your grammar and your facts are correct. Otherwise, we might think that perhaps you’re not “metally capable,” whatever that means.
And for future reference, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are two separate documents, drafted more than a decade apart and with different intentions. Conflating the two after noting your knowledge of the Constitution weakens your argument.
According to the National Constitution Center:
Though connected in spirit, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are separate, distinct documents.
The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776. It was a list of grievances against the king of England intended to justify separation from British rule.
The Constitution was written and signed in 1787. It was a charter of government that came to be ratified by the states, and it continues to be the supreme law of the land.
Both documents have played an important role in American history and the spread of democratic ideals around the world. They were both signed at Independence Hall, steps from where the National Constitution Center now stands.
And now the preamble song from Schoolhouse Rock is in my head.
I hope you understand that this isn’t personal … well, except that I do take fact-checking pretty seriously. I’m sick and twisted that way.
Okay, I’ll be serious for a moment, and answer—politely—the lovely Shirley Roe’s question about semicolons. And since I’m using her name, you can be assured that no teasing, gentle or otherwise, is involved.
Thought I caught her
I like to try my hand at Word Power, which runs in Reader’s Digest monthly. In one of the past issues it listed correctly a series of words which are commonly used and spelled incorrectly. For example, “cardshark” should really be (and is in the dictionary) “cardsharp.” Another one was “floundering.” It should be “foundering” (to proceed clumsily, to muddle).
Ah ha, I thought. I’ve caught Brenda and staff napping because a letter from John Williams was headlined “A nation floundering.”
Unfortunately, as I read further, it stated that both spellings are in the dictionary. I checked and sure enough, Brenda’s column, “It’s OK to laugh” eased my disappointment in not being able to feel smart for a short moment.
Brenda, please explain your blood-pressure problem when dealing with the misuse of semicolons. I’ve always considered them a waste of time.
Shirley, believe me, you’re smart for much longer than short moments, and always make excellent points in your letters.
Semicolons tend to be misused most in two instances that I’ve noticed: instead of a colon to introduce a series or statement, and instead of commas.
Semicolons aren’t that much of an enigma, but a lot of people avoid them because they’re not sure how they’re to be used; that’s not a bad idea, really, since most writing gets along perfectly fine without them. And in that sentence, I demonstrated one of their uses, which is to connect closely related sentences.
They can also be used to link items in a complicated list (one that includes internal commas): “She is survived by her daughter, June, of Palm Springs, Calif.; and her son, Matt, of Dayton, Ark.”
When I was a city desk clerk, one of my responsibilities was occasionally dealing with obituaries, and in that capacity (and later on the copy desk), I saw a lot of misuse of the semicolon as a proxy for colons and commas. That had a lot to do with the twitching I sometimes experience today when I see such errors.
Really, the easiest rule for use of a semicolon (and most other punctuation) I could advise is this: If you’re not sure how to use it, don’t.
That should keep more copy editors from twitching so much they risk spontaneous combustion. Is anyone else feeling warm?