This is why we can’t have nice things (Guest Post)

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Photo of the Constitution of the United States of America. A feather quill is included in the photo.The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America and is the oldest codified written national constitution still in force. It was completed on September 17, 1787.
A few anecdotes, if I may, to set the mood.

My office has one of those awfully convenient single-cup coffee makers. While you’re waiting for your drink a helpful screen on the front of the machine assures you that it’s “Preparing your fresh ground coffee!”. But I personally inserted the little pouch of grounds into the machine and, judging from the volume I’ve seen in our storeroom, I’d charitably estimate that it’s been at least six weeks since that coffee saw a grinder.

My girlfriend, one of the more intelligent people I’ve ever met, likes to order off the gluten-free menu because “the fresher ingredients just make her feel better”. But being gluten free has nothing to do with freshness. Three week old roadkill possum is gluten free.

While getting my oil changed yesterday I overheard a couple of people talking about how awful it is that, high-power, large-caliber weapons like “AR-16s” (sic) are available for sale right down the street to anyone with a credit card. Now, while reasonable people my disagree on what constitutes “high powered” or “large caliber” I don’t know anyone who draws the line for either all the way down at .223 / 5.56.

What these seemingly disconnected things have in common is this: words are losing their meaning and far too many people seem to care.

The description “fresh ground” should be used to denote that coffee has been, you know, freshly ground. But this machine is using it simply as a synonym for “good”. Gluten refers to a specific protein found in specific grains and yet somehow my girlfriend thinks that has some bearing on her egg whites and asparagus. And a cartridge that is routinely dismissed as unsuitable (and arguably cruel) to use on whitetail deer cannot be called “high-powered”, but a high-powered rifle is scarier than a plain old rifle and so the appellation sticks.

We’re living in an age where voters get their information from media platforms that are specifically designed to deliver mindless sound bites rather than reasoned argumentation. Convenient? Yes… plus I love cat pictures as much as the next guy. But there’s a price to be paid for this: we, as a nation, are losing the capacity to use language. Millions upon millions of people refer to things they like as progressive, inclusive, diverse, constitutional and brilliant when they demonstrably are not. At the same time they dismiss things they don’t like as racist, unconstitutional, stupid or misogynistic when, again, they clearly are not.  Because these words are stripped of any actual meaning it becomes impossible to have any discussion around them, because the people with whom you are trying to speak literally cannot understand you. They don’t have any notion of the fundamental concepts behind your words.

It’s as Glenn Reynolds so often says, our political opponents read 1984 and see it not as a cautionary tale but as a how-to manual.

This inability to use language and discuss concepts has very real, tangible consequences. It resulted in the election of Barack Obama and is driving the candidacies of Clinton and Sanders. Its equally destructive mirror image is driving the ascendency of Donald Trump.

The US Constitution is the finest bit of political work ever accomplished by Man but it has one crippling weakness: it requires a literate, engaged electorate in order to make it work. We lack that now, and what’s worse we lack the means to create one.

If you’ve read this far waiting for my prescription to turn things around I humbly thank you. Alas, I have no such suggestion to give. I think we’re doomed.

36 Responses to “This is why we can’t have nice things (Guest Post)”

  1. 1

    Nanny G

    This was a big issue from probably before I started reading and commenting here.
    We used to try to settle the debates sometimes by defining terms and holding posters to those definitions.
    But not any longer.
    People post past one another, not caring that their use of words with their own personal meanings attached, as opposed to a dictionary definition, is not as OK as a proper way of trying to communicate.

    I’m a proud owner/used of an Unabridged Dictionary.
    But even an online one is OK if all parties agree to abide by it.

    Otherwise we do just talk past one another.
    Just yesterday I watched a commentator on CNN use two words completely incorrectly, messing up her entire argument. But the host at CNN, because she agreed with him, philosophically, either ignored her huge mistakes or let them go by.

    I think rap and ebonics had a lot to do with this issue, as well.
    Words are twisted and torn.
    And no one dares correct the mis-user.
    In fact, in Nov 2013, a college professor was called racist for correcting his students’ grammar.
    Well, with sensitive flowers like those, we are only going to see this get worse.

  2. 2

    Bruce Fauth

    Nanny, maybe the host also had no clue the words were used in an inappropriate manner. It’s amazing the trashy writing that people are paid to produce. And this is the stuff that gets past the “editor”?

    It grates my ears like fingers on chalkboards when I hear people use words incorrectly, or mistaking one word for another. And I’m not talking about the fun little malapropisms.

    BTW, my eight year old grandson will tell you when something is ‘inappropriate’. I know some adults that would struggle with five-syllable words (and maybe not even understand what a syllable is).

  3. 3

    Nanny G

    @Bruce Fauth: It was only rarely the host’s fault.
    Most often it was a commenter who misled by misusing a word.
    Like the term, ”liberal.”
    That term has quite a few meanings.
    By conflating two or more of them within one thread posters had no idea what people were saying.
    They missed one another in the dark, so to speak.
    One would think the context ”told” the reader which meaning applied.
    But some posters ignored context and took off in other directions so as to obfuscate, perhaps on purpose.

  4. 4


    Nanny which do you believed caused more damage to Sarah Palin’s vocabulary, Ebonics or rap?

    This was a person who was nominated to be the Vice President of the United States
    I look forward to her interviews as we get closer to the convention
    Will she get a Cabinet post from The Donald?

  5. 5

    Nanny G


    Refudiate was Sarah’s conflation of two words, Refute and Repudiate.
    In her context is was perfect.

    What rap has added to our vocabulary are nonsense and dirty words.
    I’ll skip the new variants of the dirty words and merely note:

  6. 6

    Tony Plank

    James, I completely agree that we are losing the ability to use language..

    We are getting worse not better: I think we are losing the desire to use language. The current crop of presidential candidates illustrate these perfectly. Everything reduced to a sound-bite or twitter post.

    But I disagree that your assertion maps to any particular error in political understanding. You cite Obama’s election, but you could have just as easily cited George W. Bush. Or honestly, any election since 1960.

    I see illiterates everywhere.

  7. 7

    James Raider


    James, . . . worthwhile post. Thank you.

    Many who read the New York Times, for example, feel some sense of privilege and superiority as they do so.

    I have over the years too often pointed out to any of its readers I’ve known that the NYT tells LIES and falsifications to its readers, but does so with more finely formed sentences than other publications, but lies they are none the less. The sometimes above normal vocabulary is simply a selling tool — promoting an ideology to readers who have a need to feel smug and above the fray.

    Our educational system is failing completely in teaching language and its use. It seems there is not even ‘pride’ is using proper language. We’ve consistently lowered our standards particularly over the past three decades.

    Sadly popular default is moving toward incoherence.

    Doomed” is right, particularly if you consider that a majority of the students on campuses such as Stanford are foreign — and they actually care about learning English as well as they can.

    We have too long catered to, and pampered, the lowest common denominator.

  8. 8

    Tony Plank

    @James Raider:

    I agree. Sadly, the problem is not with the New York Times, per se: it is the inability of people to read critically and question all sources.

    Too often, Americans live in an echo chamber only taking in viewpoints that they find agreeable. This problem is not limited to any demographic as far as I can tell and even seems to affect many relatively well educated people.

    It is rooted, at least in part, in our pathetic education system which teach to multiple choice tests out of text books pretending to have the “right” answers. Things will never change until we being to instill the basics in our children.

  9. 9


    Then there are those that intentionally misinterpret plain language to twist it to their own devises, Thugs is black, New York is Jews, applying their own meanings and thereby putting words into someones mouth they didnt say or, by any stretch of a reasonable persons imagination, mean.
    We were guilty of flexing the language as well, hep, groovy, far-out, vibes, narc, square, cat, the man, trip ect.

  10. 10

    Richard Wheeler

    @kitt: Dig it kitty cat
    Not so much Nan’s #5 as in WTF?

    Sarah’s been dismissed by Trump after Iowa Fail–don’t think she’ll return.
    I think Trump has taken Palin’s angry populism to a new level–he’s much smarter and therefor much more dangerous.

  11. 11


    @Richard Wheeler: No ya ya on nans list, but not into that scene. Trumpster freaked out about Sarahs bogart of his stage so she had to peel out. People down with his anti PC jive, but Kitt thinks he is plastic. Done with that flashback peace out all.

  12. 13


    Languages evolve; they need to evolve to keep up with dynamic technologies and cultures. However, when spokesmen and leaders abuse and misuse a language, there is devolution. For example, how many of you are content to use the noun ‘impact’ as a verb and feel confident to add the suffixes ‘ed’ and ‘ful’. Our White House and congress feel free to make these glaring errors all the time, perhaps daily, but why? Is it because our newspeople feel free to make the same mistakes? Why? Is it because they could never grasp the differences between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’? I think this is the actual reason. It takes effort to learn how to use the language correctly and to learn the differences between between simple words like, affect and effect, is a bridge too far. Now, I have made several errors in this commentary; for instance, I didn’t start a new paragraph with every question, but in a formal situation, I will use the correct style. The idea is not to jump on someone for making errors; the idea is to put forth your best effort.

    If you are interested in improving your writing, I suggest, “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White and for an in depth analysis of grammar, “Usage and Abusage” by Eric Partridge. Eric is the master and he writes with a biting wit, but he’s been dead for a hundred years; thus, the logic and humor may appear to be dated.

  13. 14


    Perhaps it is not misuse of words and language but ABuse. Abuse of words and meaning to further a political agenda or stifle debate.

    Most grievous has been, I believe, the over-use of words as political weapons. While calling someone a racist should be about the most despicable thing that can be laid upon a person, if accurate, the way it is thrown about, used to actually say, “I no longer want you to have that viewpoint” has caused it to lose all meaning and impact. Currently, to the left, the majority of the population have become racists because so many disagree with many aspects of the current administration.

    Then there is the trend, again initiated by the left, to ban words or phases, or change their actual meaning (to something one would really not want to say) in order to, once again, stifle discussion. Illegal immigrant is racist. Thug is racist. An illegal immigrant is a person that immigrated illegally. A thug is anyone that acts thuggish.

    Though everyone accepts the fact that not every Muslim is a terrorist, or even a majority of them, we have to elaborate on each mention of a Muslim terrorist as a RADICAL Muslim terrorist (as if we assume this is not regarded as radical among peaceful Muslims). If you don’t, you are accused of condemning all Muslims all around the world.

    One must keep abreast of what all the various ethnic groups want to accept as their identifier from day to day so as not to call them by an obsolete term. All except whites, of course. Call them whatever you want.

    I really no longer care.

  14. 16

    Nanny G

    I happened to see this today:
    Marissa Jenae Johnson from Seattle is reportedly a Black Lives Matter co-founder.

    (She’s the female who took the mike away from Bernie at his own rally there.)

    She was asked (not included in this video, unfortunately) why saying ALL LIVES MATTER is a SLUR.
    This is her ”answer.”

    A non-answer answer.
    Slippery rhetoric.
    Hasty generalizations.
    Guilt by association.
    Out-&-out lies.

  15. 18

    Nanny G

    @Richard Wheeler: Shame on you, Richard.
    Utah has many, many citizens who were born in other places.
    Many from Central and South America (including neighbors of mine).
    Others from Africa (including neighbors of mine).
    Still others from Europe (including many people nearby but not in my immediate neighborhood.)
    And finally others from the Siberian/Asian/Pacific areas (including a new neighbor of mine).

    How’s YOUR neighborhood?

    I think the one main difference between Utah’s minorities and CA’s is that there’s no sense of entitlement among the Utah’s minorities.
    Thus we see businesses owned by people from everywhere on the planet, even Siberia.

  16. 19

    Richard Wheeler

    @Nanny G: Right lol–Utah 91.4% White vs 77% National
    1.3% Black vs 13.2% National
    1% Pacific Islander
    Mormons—good business people –lead the fight against gay rights less than 1% Black 4% Latin
    You’re in the right place Did you see Romney come out against Trump today?

  17. 20

    another vet

    @Richard Wheeler: Still live in San Clemente?

    White: SC- 86%, Utah- 91.4%, National- 77%

    Pacific Islander: SC- .1%, Utah- 1%, California- .4%

    Blacks: SC- .6%, Utah- 1.3%, National- 13.2%, California- 6.2%

    Other than the 16.8% Hispanic population, most of whom are white (compared to California’s 37.6%), I’d say San Clemente is pretty damn white and richer than most areas of the country.

  18. 22

    Nanny G

    @Richard Wheeler: Take a look at my comment on it in the little news section.
    As for comparisons, LB had over 85% minorities in my particular neighborhood before I retired and moved away.
    But it wasn’t that people were minorities.
    It was the NOISE which was getting louder and louder every summer.
    It was the CRIME which was targeting my immediate neighbors and me more and more often.
    (A neighbor who died of her broken hip after a car jacker grabbed her keys and knocked her to the ground was definitely a thought I kept in mind.)
    But, even crime and noise can be kicked under control IF police want to be public servants.
    Our police no longer cared.
    I had a noise complaint one night, late.
    The police stood in my home, felt the walls pulsating and yet did nothing until I called a supervisor.
    I was supposed to live with it.
    I didn’t have to so I planned my exit.
    Now, we have peace and quiet.
    More than 10 acres between neighbors.
    Yet we are moments from the Salt Lake City suburbs of Sugar House and Holladay with their metropolitan cool.

    I think there might be some white/Mormon enclaves in southern Utah.
    Polygamy is there, too.
    Every now and again the gov’t gets them for welfare/food stamp fraud.

  19. 23

    another vet

    @Richard Wheeler: @Richard Wheeler:

    Pretty damn white but not racist and homophobic—politically about 60-40- Repub.Utah bout as Red as it gets.

    So the obvious implication here is that if you are a Republican you are racist and homophobic. If you are a Democrat you are not. Please present some stats proving that SC doesn’t have any homophobia. I’m not too sure there are any questions in the census about that so I’d be curious as to how you came to that conclusion. I certainly wouldn’t make any judgments either way about it where I live because I have no clue how the majority of people living here feel. As far as I know there haven’t been any crimes against anyone because they are gay but it would be quite a stretch to say there is no homophobia. Ditto for racism. I just find it kind of funny that everyone I know who is liberal makes claims about how they aren’t racist and everyone else is, yet I don’t know of a single one who lives in a neighborhood that isn’t an affluent white one. Just saying.

  20. 24

    Richard Wheeler

    @another vet: Is there any question that Mormons by a large percentage are homophobic–Are they not historically anti -Black? You are a student of history
    What % of Utah are Mormons.That was my point. I was certainly not pointing a finger at all Repubs–however what % of Mormons are Repubs—90% of the ones I know.
    Mormons are good business people and are family oriented–for the most part patriarchal. However when you attend a Mormon Church how many people of color be they Brown or Black are you likely to see?
    From my years here you know my biggest rant has been against racism–at least you admit it’s existence–many just look the other way–say I’m a racist for even bringing it up.

  21. 25

    another vet

    @Richard Wheeler:

    Are they not historically anti -Black?

    I would have to research that and see how true it is. I never studied them in any detail like the CW, Antebellum America, or European history.

    However when you attend a Mormon Church how many people of color be they Brown or Black are you likely to see?

    I’ve never been in a Mormon Church but was raised Catholic and don’t recall seeing any people of color in my church. Perhaps it was a racist church and had nothing to do with the demographics of where the church was located. I don’t recall seeing pictures of any whites in some of the inner city churches in Chicago so I suppose they are racist too and it has nothing to do with demographics there either.

    From my years here you know my biggest rant has been against racism–at least you admit it’s existence–many just look the other way–say I’m a racist for even bringing it up.

    Part of the problem is that people are so sick of hearing that as an excuse every time someone criticizes Obama or every time someone points out how blacks are disproportionately represented in violent crime stats that they no longer take it seriously. The charge has been overplayed to the point that when it really is racism, people don’t take it seriously. Who suffers the most? The victims of racism. I blame that on those who scream racism at every turn. One of my NCO’s was a victim of racism. It was a very clear case. A number of us white senior NCO’s and officers went to bat for her. Politically, we were all conservatives. Senator Barak Obama got wind of it through a Congressional complaint and promised to make sure the situation was going to be dealt with properly. He did nothing. My NCO suffered retribution at the hands of those who brushed it under the table including some blacks who acted as flunkies for the guilty parties. Ironically, they especially made her life miserable. As her 1SG there was nothing I could do to protect her because I was on my way back to sandbox probably because I was the one who got the ball rolling with EO. I told her to get out of the unit because she would be a target. Unfortunately she didn’t and suffered immensely for it.

    San Clemente also isn’t exactly free of racism or homophobia.

  22. 26

    Nanny G

    @Richard Wheeler:
    You are so utterly wrong about Mormons, Richard.
    To expand their gene pool they have made a concerted effort to marry those who their missionaries convert from all over the globe.
    Far from being ”racists,” I see more mixed marriages here than I did in So Cal!
    A LOT more!
    And boy, do they have babies!

    As to % of Utah that is Mormon it is just about at 50%.
    Thus the non-Mormons are trying very hard to liberalize the state’s Mormon laws.

    Since it is an offense that means ouster from the Mormon church (along with any family member who refuses to renounce a relative who is homosexual) almost all gay and lesbian Mormons are deeply closeted.
    Come out and they kick you out, so, you are no longer a Mormon.
    However, a Mormon ”recovery board” I was told about is replete with tons of posts by conflicted gay and lesbian Mormons who WANT to come out but are afraid of the social life they will lose (basically everything).

  23. 27

    Richard Wheeler

    @Nanny G: With only 1.3% Black how can there be many mixed marriages?-I’ve never seen one nor have I seen any Black clergy. They do have an inordinate amount of kids–Mitt had how many?

    AV. You know what I’m sick of—-people saying that few if any people were against, and have continued to be against Obama just because he’s Black…

  24. 31


    Here’s why a Trump Presidency will not doom the Republican party; even if he fails, Republicans can claim they never wanted him, but the PEOPLE chose and they respected that.

  25. 34

    Nanny G

    Rubio, live in Texas right now.
    We can’t allow Trump to be put in charge of the Conservative Party.

    Um, mangle English much?
    The GOP is the ”large tent” that includes conservatives, moderates even liberals.

    He did it again.
    Now he’s worried that Trump would be put in charge of the conservative movement.
    Why worry?
    Trump appears to have no interest in leading only the portion of those who will vote GOP who are ”conservatives.”

    Look at two of Donald Trump’s advocates:
    Diamond and Silk.
    Here they are walking black Americans through how to change party registration so they can vote for Trump in the primaries.
    Notice all the helpful information these two ladies put on their web site so anyone – of any state – can be registered and registered Republican.

  26. 35

    Richard Wheeler

    @Nanny G: Trump is the one who is mangling both English and spelling with his ranting daily tweets–and you thought the teleprompter was bad.
    Let’s watch Trump respond in a few minutes.
    Love it. Diamond and Silk Perfect

  27. 36


    The US Constitution is the finest bit of political work ever accomplished by Man but it has one crippling weakness: it requires a literate, engaged electorate in order to make it work. We lack that now, and what’s worse we lack the means to create one.

    As progressive leftists have taken control over public school systems and the vast majority of “higher learning” establishments, we should not be surprised that the electorate has become less engaged, that illiteracy and poverty has grown. Most demonstratively in the great deteriorating and devolving metropolitan meccas of steel, brick and concrete. The Leftist’s great Utopian jungles of atrophy. (Which too have been nearly all under Democrat control for decades of urban blight-hood.)

    Democrats need the Constitution to be a “living breathing document” so that they can torture and strangle it.

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