Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Whallah! upside the head

A reader e-mails:

I LOVE the name "Whallah!" for your website: It evokes the sound of a 2 X 4 whacking one "upside the head," as my old man used to say.

However, I think you're being too hard on Jessie McB; she couldn't really be expected to know that she meant "Voila" when she wrote "Whallah." Jessica, as you may know by reading her recent columns, grew up in north central Wisconsin where the school had no extras, no extracurriculars, and probably no running water. (And they learnt just fine, thank you very much.) For certain, the school district offered no French language instruction, or if they did, little Jessie did not avail herself, the French people having been bailed out of WW II by the Americans and failing to show proper gratitude since. Wasn't John Kerry French? Or his wife? There's something unpatriotic about anything French, so therefore we shouldn't associate ourselves too closely. And let's not forget that "Freedom Fries" replaced the "French Fries" in the Congressional Mess (hall).

Back to Jessica's education: My writing teachers and professors--and Strunk and White no less--drummed one lesson into every student's brain: Write in complete sentences. You must know the rule. You must follow the rule. You must become the rule. If you would dare to break the rule, you must be an exceptional writer, a damned good writer, and you must have a damned good reason for violating the trust placed in you by the reader who expects at least a subject and a verb between periods. If you dare to flaunt the rule, you should probably obtain written permission from God as well.

Jessica regularly flaunts this rule. Sadly, her writing is not good enough to justify the frequent incomplete sentences and the resultant loss of meaning from a missing subject or verb. One wonders if she is merely ignorant, or in too much of a rush to declare "Whallah!" Perhaps her declarative style requires a vague interpretation, rather than a specific understanding.

I, too, wonder what she is teaching the journalists of tomorrow with her words and by her example--that if you are imprecise, you can't be held accountable for what you say or write? That if you entwine just a thread of fact with your opinion, you can twist a strand of near-believability? That a journalist writing a column of opinion means never having to verify a fact, support an argument or say you're sorry.

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