Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Words, words, nice, easy words

The folks who administer the SAT announced last month that they were dropping from the test what one news account called "some vocabulary words such as `prevaricator' and `sagacious' in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job." (Emphasis mine.)

As much as I relished the thought that this nation wants to raise a generation to talk like schoolyard show-offs and human-resources professionals, I moaned at the dumbing-down of it all. (In grade school I had a vocabulary book called Words Are Important. Might be time to revise that title.  And has anyone else noticed that, unlike a few years ago, corporate executives no longer bother to lie to interviewers that they value liberal arts graduates for the thinking skills they bring to the job?)

As evidence that we have been getting dumber at least since the year I was born, however, I'll bring back a blog post from 2011. You'll have to read to the fourth paragraph to get to the evidence, which is kind of long-form for contemporary attention spans, but you can do it!
© Peter Rozovsky 2014 
Though they lived in the fictional town of Bayport. the Hardy Boys occasionally were called out of the country to solve mysteries.

Language was never a barrier. Even though the boys rarely if ever appeared to attend their language classes (or any other classes) at Bayport High School, all it took was a few words and phrases, and they could sleuth unobtrusively among the natives. (I always wondered if they simply muttered rhubarb* over and over.)

The books never revealed what those magical words and phrases were, but by God, I believed in the Hardy Boys!  Now I'm asking you to do the same:  Pick a country, and tell me what words and phrases you would learn if you wanted to pass as a resident.
Wikipedia's article is full of good stuff about the Hardy Boys. I'd long known that the books were revised to remove odious racial stereotypes, but I was chagrined to learn that beginning in 1959, they were written more simply, to compete with television, that "Difficult vocabulary words such as `ostensible' and `presaged' were eliminated."

This was news to me; I once startled my third-grade teacher by knowing what a taxidermist was; I'd learned the word from a Hardy Boys book, and if taxidermist isn't a difficult vocabulary word, I don't know my difficult vocabulary words.
This is the second post this week whose idea came to me in the shower. If I worked from home,  could I move my desk into the shower and claim my bathroom as a business expense?
* The word rhubarb was used by radio actors to imitate the sounds of raucous crowd. The actors would murmur “rhubarb, rhubarb” in the background to simulate crowd noise. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Blogger Jerry House said...

If I were to go to Sweden I would want to know how to say, "Are you Kurt Wallander?"

BTW, I remember the "taxidermy" Hardy Boys book. I hadn't thought of that one for years!

November 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wow, were you also in Mrs. Backman's third-grade class?

November 12, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


In Australia it's important to add "mate" somewhere in every sentence.

"Look mate, it's cancer, you've got six weeks tops."

"Sorry, mate, you're guilty of murder, it's thirty years for you, mate."

"She died in my arms, mate."


November 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

All right, I've got that tip for travellers to Australia:

"What the fuck do you mean you don't have a fucking room for us? We booked that room six months ago, mate."

My v-word would make a nice epitaph either for a mathematician or for an impoverished pastry maker whose family could not afford a full inscription: liked pi

November 13, 2011  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...


I suspect that "wanker" is required diction for certain parts of the U.K.

April 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I like the idea of Frank and Joe muttering "wanker" to one another, hoping to blend in with the natives. Thanks.

April 08, 2014  
Anonymous atilla the hun said...

And has anyone else noticed that, unlike a few years ago, corporate executives no longer bother to lie to interviews (sic) that they value liberal arts graduates for the thinking skills they bring to the job?

Corporate executive is a term coined by corporate executives. The rest of us call them peddlers or hawkers or hucksters.

You don't like them? I don't blame you. I don't like them either.

But you do seem to like what you call 'liberal arts graduates.' I'm afraid I have disagree with you there. Even sheep have better 'thinking skills' than liberal arts graduates and I dislike the liberal arts creeps even more that I dislike the corporate exectuive creeps. There's a reason 'corporate executives' earn more than 'liberal arts graduates' earn. It's because they have more brains.

And if you forgive me for asking a slightly obnoxious question, is it possible that you yourself are a 'libersl arts graduate?' And if so, in the spirit of full disclosure, shouldn't you have mentioned that?

April 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I enjoy the spectacle of someone who posts under the name "atilla the hun" (that's not your real name, is it?) invoking the spirit of full disclosure.

In the spirit of selective concealment, then, I will say that you ought to have recognized "liberal arts graduates" as my sneer at the righteous pronouncements of executives back when claiming to be interested in "liberal arts graduates" was a claim to social respectability.

I was an English major and a bad one. I'm not sure I'd pay to hire even a good one, though history majors might be useful.

April 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S. Thanks for the correction and for using sic correctly. In return:

"I'm afraid I have disagree (sic) with you there."

April 09, 2014  
Anonymous atilla said...


At least as far as the typo is concerned. I don't blame you for being annoyed by the 'sic'. At best it was tactless, at worst it was rude. I apologise.

'I enjoy the spectacle of someone who posts under the name "atilla the hun" (that's not your real name, is it?) invoking the spirit of full disclosure.'

That's a bit unfair, isn't it? You've hurt my feelings there, Peter. No doubt I shall get over it in time.

The Wiktionary definition of full disclosure as it relates to journalism is:

The disclosure of any connection between a reporter (or publisher) and the subject of an article that may bias the article.

Full disclosure has nothing to do with one's name or nom de plume. What it has to do with is whether a commenter provides relevant and important information that allows the reader to decide wheher a particular comment might or might not be biased. And my comment did not leave out any relevant information.

As it happens I am a history major. And I suspect a far worse history major than you were an English major. What the acadamics would call your privileging of history majors over English majors is I think mistaken.

I don't know who it was who said 'History is just one damn thing after another' but it sounds accurate to me.

April 09, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

Were you (like me for the past 1t years) sentenced to live life in a university classroom while attempting to teach brain-dead undergraduates literature and English composition, you would not be surprised that the delightfully complicated and expressive polysyllabic world we inhabited as students and readers half a century ago has been turned into a world filled with dumb, dumb, dumb people. BTW, did I mention that students now are really, really dumb? And illiterate? And sad, sad, sad?

April 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...


Full disclosure: I'm a journalist; I know what the term means. Yet another attempt at jocosity by extending the term beyond its customary usage goes amiss.

"Sic" is best used, I think. to indicate a mistake in quoted matter, as you used it.

I will refrain from full disclosure in this matter, but I'm secure in the knowledge that I was a worse English major than you were a history major. On the other hand, I would have been a bad student no matter what I majored in. The matter that English and history majors study is of great and enduring interest, just not to English and history majors.

Recognizing that blog posts get no more editing than do most newspapers and, apparently, any online news sources, shall we declare a moratorium on sniping at each other's errors, unless they are really stupid mistakes, and not mere slips of the hand?

April 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., you may be familiar with the crime stories of Amanda Cross (who, under her real name of Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, was the first woman to receive tenure in Columbia University's English department). One of her stories contains a caustic remark about a character (the protagonist's husband, perhaps) who was a Shakespearean if anybody still teaches and studies Shakespeare in these days of open admissions.

Perhaps American universities ought to drop all pretense of being anything but professional and finishing schools, shut down all departments that pretend otherwise, and use the money thus saved to buy good editions of the classics (in the wider sense, not just Greek and Roman) and put the in the hands of the general population free of charge.

April 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Put them, that is.

April 09, 2014  
Anonymous atilla the nun said...

Since you're the history buff, Peter, I'll leave it to you to decide where we should sign the armistice.

I hope this attempt at jocosity doesn't go amiss.

April 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

We could always be North and South Korea, ceasing hostilities without ever signing a formal peace agreement.

April 09, 2014  
Blogger MahrieGReid.com said...

Laughed at this one. Read most of the HB books and Nancy's as well. never thought about the language issue (I was about 8 at the time.) I think you need a few swear words, how to ask for beer, food, toilet and a hotel. Weather comments are critical, n'est pas? And a few phrases like "that's crazy?" or "C'est marche." (it's going.)More on the topic will appear on my blog now that I'm on a roll. (www.mahriegreid.com) Well said.

April 11, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read a couple of the Nancy Drews and Tom Swifts after I'd made my way through all the Hardy Boys books. Did Nancy Drew ever travel as well?

April 11, 2014  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

That simplification occurred with Nancy Drew as well. The earlier novels were about twice as lengthy before they did the revamping. About ten or so years ago, the earlier, intact books were re-issued.

April 12, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is of interest. First I heard about alterations for ethnic and racial sensitivity. Then I heard about dumbing down the vocabulary. I had not heard that the books themselves grew shorter. I know that Hardy Boys novels have been published since my youth. I don't know how they compare with the older books.

April 12, 2014  

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