VOL. 132 | NO. 95 | Friday, May 12, 2017
By Dan Conaway
HE MADE ME DO IT. “The devil made me do it,” we used to say, but we used to say lots of things, using words that seem quaint these days. Facts. History. Welcoming. Bipartisan. Diplomatic. Tasteful. Respectful. Considerate. Thoughtful. Credible. Reality. Presidential. But then, we used to use complete sentences, and care about meaning and the art of language.
We used to pay attention to pesky predicates and prepositions, that “i” before “e” thing – hell – just using the right word instead of one that sounds like it.
For instance, our national master of malaprop, press secretary Sean Spicer, recently used “quantify” in his apology to the country for his complete ignorance of the Holocaust when he really meant he wouldn’t attempt to “qualify” his insensitivity. Give him a break. Maybe it was just a Freudian slip and he was really referring to the ever-growing number and magnitude of such tortured faux pas on his watch. There being no defense for this administration’s public strangulation of the English language, their talking heads and overburdened surrogates are reduced to translating what was said instead of admitting it was said in the first place.
But if we can’t agree that the polar ice caps are melting, that coal will always be dirty, the Civil War was about slavery, and that the Russians are screwing with us, then verbs agreeing with nouns don’t have a chance.
Maybe we should just go with the flow. I’ve always admired a good sentence fragment and always thought debates over the Oxford comma were overblown, and if this president can’t tell which way an aircraft carrier is going, why should we care about diagramming a sentence. As for “the devil made me do it,” let’s go with this administration on that one, too, and start employing, “Obama made me do it.”
The reason for executive orders every few hours? Because Obama overreached on executive orders – ignore the irony and go with it. The reason for a wall? Because Obama caused a flood of illegal immigration – despite the fact that it’s turned into a trickle the last few years. The reason for poisoning our air, drilling offshore and fracking up the countryside? Because Obama didn’t. The reason for not protecting national monuments, rivers and streams? Because Obama did. And, of course, the reason for repealing and replacing Obamacare? Well, duh, it has Obama in it.
See how simple simplistic thinking is to work with? And I just ended that question with a preposition and employed six sentence fragments in the last paragraph. Fun stuff.
If you really want to know what’s going on between Trump and Russia – look over here instead – Obama is tapping my phone. If you want to know what’s going on between Michael Flynn and BFF Putin – look over here instead – Obama cleared Flynn.
When we no longer recognize that facts and words are being played with, we’re being played. When we don’t care, we’re responsible.
I’m a Memphian, and if you don’t like this column, Obama made me do it.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.