Further to this matter of words

How can we do justice to the importance of words?

We speak. We listen. We write. We read. In all my teaching years I have tried to tell my students that with these deeds we can change the world.

There was a Chinese saying I often shared with those students:

I hear what you say but I see what you do.

Now this leads me towards one human category of power, politics. Politicians’ words and actions have had a vast influence on my life down the years into my eighth decade. They have inspired me, disgusted me, helped me, hurt me, led me to war, brought me brief peace, dismissed me and often flowed from kneeling figures begging for my vote.

Now have you noticed how frequently honourable members use the expression “the bottom line”? It’s an expression taken from profit and loss accounting and I believe it came into first real use c. 1967. I was alive then but, as with so many other things, it was not part of my detailed understanding. But oh my! Do I notice it now?

So many things are “monetised,” to use the YouTube category. Money is the route of all weasels. Education is not vital. The real problem is can we afford it? Same for health, including research. As for climate. Well. Old King Coal was a merry old sole (sic).

And all those weasel words are of extreme importance if you are into shady deals. We now know, for example, the terminology used by the gods of the Watergate affair. Some interesting examples: “correct endeavour,” “correctly impede,” “correct motive,” “political containment.” Each of these we can now recognise in the context of Watergate as a euphemism disguising culpable behaviour.

Another discovery from that time is the presidential coaching of accused staff for survival in the courtroom. These were some of those words: “I don’t remember;” “I can’t recall;” “do not volunteer anything;” “deal only with established facts.”

Two other expressions come into mind as well: “classified” and “business confidentiality.” I have seen “classified” countless times in my lifetime. One example will do. Information on the Phoenix Program was classified during the Vietnam War. We now know that this secretive scheme was responsible for the massacre of at least 20,000 Vietnamese civilians during that war.

What of business confidentiality? I have no real evidence here. Therefore it would be wrong of me to make unsubstantiated claims. But I feel justified in making the following comment. In the light of human misdemeanours documented throughout history, is it not reasonable to ask for something more than a label “business confidentiality” when  misbehaviour could be possible?

I feel pretty sure that some of my readers will know more clearly what I mean and even have access to tangible evidence to set the truth free . . . Ah me! Despite my advanced maturity, my glass is still half full. I just wish proof would be easier to find. Life would be far better if we could trust the powerful.

To end this little sharing of ideas,  I strongly urge you to follow this link. It has helped me better understand the bright and dark side of words. You may find it interesting.

R.

On Testing English

Words are loaded pistols according to Rudyard Kipling.

You certainly can shoot yourself in the foot with those unruly, dangerous little things. Some political power-seekers are showing  prodigious naivety when they claim a one-off test of English skills will be a valid and reliable measure of acceptability for new citizenship. This Fallacy of the Crucial Experiment, the implied existence of evidence that doesn’t exist, is the Trump Card of too many leaders now in power. Today, when I hear a politician speak, I tend so often to think both feet are wounded and there isn’t a leg to stand on.

My evidence won’t take long.

Here are three pieces of writing for hypothetical assessment. Let’s see what hypothetical marking achieves.

Sample 1

Fellers of Australier,

Blokes an’ coves an’ coots,

Shift yer bloody carcasses,

Move yer bloody boots.

Gird yer bloody loins up,

Get yer bloody gun,

Set the bloody enermy

An’ watch the blighters run.

MARKING: Spelling Errors 7; Comma Splices: 3; Vulgar Words: 5; Excessive Abbreviations: 3; Capitalisation Errors: 0; Punctuation Errors: 0; Style Ranking: Extremely low class, repetitive and undignified. Test Result: FAIL.

Sample 2

The soil on which we now live was not a gift bestowed by Heaven on our forefathers. But they had to conquer it by risking their lives. So also in the future our people will not obtain territory, and therewith the means of existence, as a favour from any other people, but will have to win it by the power of a triumphant sword.

MARKING: Spelling Errors 0; Comma Splices: 0; Vulgar Words: 0; Capitalisation Errors: 0; Punctuation Errors: 0; Style Ranking: Elegant and emotionally moving.                            Test Result: DISTINCTION.

Sample 3

Hi Royce

How are you doing?

Congratulations on your marriage. I wish you and your wife would be happy.

Royce I would like to thank you on your assistance during I study here. Royce here is my souvenier. I do hope you still remember me by this souvenier.

Although  my structure sentences are not good, I still receive your corrections. Again, thank’s very much on your assistance.

(Name withheld )

MARKING: Spelling Errors 2; Comma Splices: 0; Vulgar Words: 0; Excessive Abbreviations: 3; Capitalisation Errors:3; Punctuation Errors: 4; Style Ranking: Much improvement needed in sentence structure. Test Result: FAIL.

FINAL DECISION: Candidate 1 Citizenship Denied; Candidate 2 Citizenship Approved. Candidate 3 Citizenship Denied

Sources:  Sample 1 Candidate 1 C J Dennis. Extract from his poem  “The Australaise.” Sample 2 Candidate 2  A. Hitler Extract from Mein Kampf, page 556. Sample 3 Candidate an unnamed student from Indonesia completing a Masters program at an Australian university. Special Note: The Sample 3 student became aware that I was a widower who had married again. The souvenir was just a little card. The student went on to graduate. The date was December 29, 1992. I still have the card. Another graduate, on becoming aware of my second marriage at age 62, sent me a card from Thailand hoping I would soon have lots of little grandchildren. Such people would still be honoured in my life now, for as long as they desired, if they could survive the regulations.

politifact-photos-Standardized_test_image

[Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons; photographer unknown]

EPILOGUE: The Earth is peopled not by categories but by extremely complex human beings. Progressive, structured assessment over a period of time, with workshops and teaching is an essential way to rank us. A study-guide controlled, hit or miss showcase of pretence test is not.

But I’ve been a teacher K to university for the last fifty years or so and politicians don’t seem to listen to us.

r.

Afterthought

Here’s a little poem I wrote some years ago. It may be relevant; I don’t know…

Dear Teacher Did You Read It?

‘Our headmaster thought the school was marvellous and wouldn’t face up to facts.’ A fifteen-year- old school-leaver, quoted in The Newsome Report: ‘Half our future’–1963 (England)
Dear teacher did you really read my story really truly read it really truly?
What I said was true–
My darling mother died when I was only ten.
It is true I didn’t understand we’d never meet again.
It is true I longed just one more time to hold her hand in mine.
It is true I jigged away on trains
To the end of every line.
It is true my father ran away
When his world seemed to end.
It is true I searched the human race and couldn’t find my friend.
It is true you are busy every day planning and doing your work.
So much to read and so much to say that it’s only rest you shirk.
But why did you talk about full stops and little slips of the pen
And give me an E on my report card and make me write it again?
Dear teacher did you really read my story really truly read it really truly?

August 2006

PS: I love C J Dennis. He is one of my favourite writers. He provided good material for this piece however. r.