Last Updated:April 22 @ 10:51 pm

Williams: Irksome Things

By Walter E. Williams

There are a lot of things, large and small, that irk me. One of them is our tendency to evaluate a presidential candidate based on his intelligence or academic credentials. When Obama threw his hat in the ring, people thought he was articulate and smart and hailed his intellectual credentials. Just recently, when Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy, people hailed his intellectual credentials and smartness as well.

By contrast, the intellectual elite and mainstream media people see Sarah Palin as stupid, a loose cannon and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal. There was another presidential candidate who was also held to be stupid and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal who ultimately became president -- Ronald Reagan. I don't put much stock into whether a political leader is smart or not because, as George Orwell explained, "Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them."

All the evidence that I see is that academics and intellectuals have messed up the world. I challenge anyone to show me a major calamity that was engineered by a stupid, inarticulate person, but those caused by intelligent, articulate persons are too numerous to count, from the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao to Woodrow Wilson, FDR and Obama.

My vision of a good presidential candidate is a person with ordinary intelligence but great respect and love for our Constitution. Maybe Palin's and Reagan's respect and love for our Constitution qualified them as dumb in the eyes of the mainstream media, intellectuals and academics.

There are less important things that irk me. One of them is teleological explanations. I've listened to TV weather reports and heard the weatherman say, "There will be morning clouds, but the sun will try to come out later in the day." Often, the weatherman's predication is wrong, and it remains cloudy all day. Would the weatherman explain that the day remained cloudy because the sun didn't try hard enough? Trying to do something is purposeful behavior. Inanimate objects cannot engage in purposeful behavior.

Another mini-irk is to hear someone say something such as "Dave and myself went shopping." My question might be that if Dave hadn't come along, how would you describe what you did? Would you say, "Myself went shopping?" Grammar lesson: Myself is a reflexive pronoun. As such, it must be preceded by a pronoun to which it refers, namely its antecedent, within the same sentence. For example: "I, myself, wrote this column."

Another grammatical irritant is a statement such as "John is taller than me." Hearing such a grammatical error, Dr. Martin Rosenberg, my high school English teacher, would pitch a fit, sarcastically asking, "Do you mean John is taller than me am?" He'd explain that am is the elliptical, or understood, verb in the sentence, and the subject of any verb must be in the nominative case; therefore, the sentence should be, "John is taller than I."

An irritant along mathematical lines is when the telephone information operator tells me that the number for the party I wish to reach is 285-77o-8855. On occasion, I've asked the operator whether I'd reach my party if I dialed 77o. She'd reply that I'd have to dial 770. Then I'd ask her why she told me to dial 77o, telling her there is a difference between o and zero. I would explain that the letter o is defined as a vowel and the 15th letter of our alphabet. By contrast, zero is defined as a number that when added or subtracted from another number does not change the value of that number. Needless to say, our conversation would go downhill and reach a strained and unpleasant end.

One shouldn't expect to go through a day, much less life, without annoyances of one kind or another, but I thought I'd share a few of mine with the people who read my column.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM

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21 Comments

  1. suzyqvjComment by suzyqvj
    June 8, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    I enjoyed the column immensely.  If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s bad grammar.  My pet peeve is the positive statement, “I could care less.”  What the writer means is that they “couldn’t care less”. a negative statement.  Reading the posts on sites such as this is often like fingernails on a chalkboard.  People don’t seem to get the difference between their, there and they’re.
    If in doubt about writing the sentence, “Marcy and me went to the mall,” just try removing the “Marcy and”.  That will immediately tell you that “me went to the mall” is wrong, and should have been, “I went to the mall.”

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    • Ben_ColderComment by Ben_Colder
      June 8, 2011 @ 9:52 am

      Another one……Hear when the writer means here or vise-versa.
      I hate it when people should know better than to refer to all military as “SOLDIERS.” A soldier is a member of the Army. There are no soldiers in the Marines.

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    • nightowlComment by nightowl
      June 8, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

      VERY well said–and thanks for correcting the “could(n’t) care less” business.  To those who say, adenoidally, “I could care less,”  I always want to respond:  “Then why don’t you?”  Heh…but they won’t get it.   :>((
      (Some of the other stuff I think is often a matter of typos rather than ignorance–I make those errors a lot myself, and it’s not that I don’t know better, but rather that my proofreading falls short.  Still, the continued errors do get impressed into our brains, to the detriment of language and reasonably accurate communication.)
       

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  2. energoComment by energo
    June 8, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    I never could understand why people found Obama articulate.  He was always “uh”ing and “umm”ing. His teleprompter usage is attrocious.
     
    I see Sarah Palin as an intellectual twit.
     

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  3. jondar2Comment by jondar2
    June 8, 2011 @ 10:32 am

    Pass on the grammer or spelling. 

     What we who can see beyond the fluff is a president who has absolutely NO qualifications to be potus.  He was a terriffic tele-prompter reader. putting great feeling into the words as he read them.  The fact that no one knew who he was, where he came from, who his associates were, no one mentioned his communist mentors, his Muslim training in Islamic countries and certainly no one knows for sure just where he was born.  All his “released” birth certificates have been proven fraudulent.
      For certain,  his top agenda is the ruination of this great nation.  This unknown person is up to no good for America.

      It is past time for Americans to wake up, your country is going down the tube and this insidious fellow is laughing at your ignorance.

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    • Dingbat36Comment by Dingbat36
      June 9, 2011 @ 11:35 am

      I beg your pardon………….nobody knew who he was or where he came from?  To be accurate, there were plenty of people who were well aware of who Obama was, because of where he came from. I lived for seven years approximately 140 miles from Chicago and learned quite well what sort of politicians are churned out by the Daley machine. That particular American City could best be named the political cesspool of the country.
       
      Unfortunately, Obama was indeed the “Chosen One”, he who had been dubbed by the press as “Sir President” well before any vote had taken place. Those of us who knew who (and what) he was, and is, could not have found a soapbox large enough to explain to the star struck public that just as there is no free lunch, there is also no perfect candidate and never will be, unless of course God would like to run for office!

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  4. gene1357Comment by gene1357
    June 8, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    In Obama’s case his intellectual and academic credentials should be referred to as “alleged”.

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  5. Liberty4310Comment by Liberty4310
    June 8, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    Me like yur colum!  Seriously, there are a lot of good thoughts in various posts on this site that drive me up a wall.  Writers use run-on sentences, no paragraph breaks, bad spelling, and a number of other poor writing techniques.  This, despite having some great thoughts.

    I think they are a product of America’s public education system.  I functioned as a substitute father for a nephew who was in the fifth grade.  One day I had a conference with his teacher and I brought up the subject of poor grammer and spelling.  She told me point blank that none of that was important.  Only the thoughts counted.  Red flag!  Fortunately, he went on to become a productive, if not particularly well educated, adult.

    Let me add one more example that drives me crazy.  It’s the radio or TV newsman or announcer who uses phrases such as, “If you’ve not. . .” when he really means, “if you haven’t. . .”  Egad!

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    • FreeDameComment by freedame
      June 8, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

      Actually, “if you’ve not…” is quite proper, although used more by Brits than by Americans.

      I think most of the issues we see with run-on sentences, spelling errors, etc. are not so much the fault of the education system as they are of the “type it fast and get it posted” internet communication system.  I know that I often discover errors after I’ve posted a comment.  GOPUSA gives us the (limited) ability to edit the post, but most sites do not.

      If we all spent as much time proof-reading as we did thinking and typing, most of the irksome mistakes would go away.

      Which is not to say that I don’t believe our education system is abysmal.  It is and I do.

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  6. gene1357Comment by gene1357
    June 8, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    Ok, Liberty4310; However, I received 5 stars even with poor sentence structure ;~p
    It should have written “in Obama’s case intellectual and academic credentials should be referred to as “alleged”. The word “his” was superfluous. Proofreading error.
    Gene1357

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    • Liberty4310Comment by Liberty4310
      June 8, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

      I tried to be clear about where I was coming from.  I’m not criticizing you or any other posters.  We are all products of our educational system, much of which is broken.  While I would like to read posts that are clearly written and concise, I am willing to read those that present good information, no matter how they are written.  Content always trumps style. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a good writer either and that I have to rely heavily on a spelling dictionary to get me through a post, but we do have the opportunity to edit our comments and improve our presentations.  If I sound like a pompous fool, well, maybe I am.  For that I apologize.  

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    • nightowlComment by nightowl
      June 8, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

      Nope.  You were right the first time.  :>)   “In Obama’s case” is a phrase that modifies the verb phrase “should be referred to” (which actually ought better to be written as “should be described”).  Drop it from the original and you have this:  “His intellectual and academic credentials should be referred to as ‘alleged.’”  That is a perfectly good sentence, where the pronoun “his” modifies the noun “credentials” (though the antecedent to “his” is not specified). It is necessary to convey the sense of the sentence.   You might also have written, “In Obama’s case the intellectual and academic credentials should be referred to as ‘alleged.’”  This would also pass grammatical muster.
       
       
       
       

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  7. Ben_ColderComment by Ben_Colder
    June 8, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

    I wonder about the “lost word.” One seldom sees the word UNTIL used any more. Most of us write TILL. The meaning of the word TILL is a place to store money or something a farmer does to his field. I was taught that the abbreviation of until was ’til.  Hmmm, I see spell check don’t recognize the word ’til.

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  8. gene1357Comment by gene1357
    June 8, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

    I was being facetious, so no apology needed, Liberty4310. You actually made me smile with your first post. I didn’t necessarily think it was pointed at me, but it did make me proof my post.
    It is important  to express our thoughs accurately.  I agree with all that you’ve written.

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  9. gene1357Comment by gene1357
    June 8, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    oops, no spell check
    Nightowl, are you saying that my meaning was clearer, and, it was acceptable grammar?
    Are you by any chance an editor?

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  10. gene1357Comment by gene1357
    June 8, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

    Mr. Williams  is an excellent writer; plus, he writes with style.

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  11. gene1357Comment by gene1357
    June 8, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

    The professor makes a good point. What, finally, do academic credentials  or brilliance have to do with being a courageous, honest, competent administrator when one is the occupnt of the White House. Somebody who won’t leave things worse than they found them. We get what we deserve collectively when we elect lawyers to that office.
    As regards the MA Bell’s recorded voices saying “o” when they mean zero, the only  thing I can conclude for that sort of inbred corporate family tradition  is that it is just that: a holdover from the days (1950′s- 60′s), when we a dialed “O” for operator, but it was really zero we were dialing all along! 

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  12. gene1357Comment by gene1357
    June 8, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

    Finally, anthropomorphism has become so commonplace, as the Sun “trying”; but I am sick of hearing about “my” Wednesday, or what will happen “in the overnight”. 

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  13. suzyqvjComment by suzyqvj
    June 9, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

    I am lucky enough to have had a British education, with heavy emphasis on English grammar and literature.  One thing puzzles me about American English (in which I am bilingual [LOL]).  Why don’t Americans use the lovely little word “lit”, past tense of to light.  It is so much easier than the contorted lighted.  For instance, compare “The candles were lit” with the phrase “The candles were lighted”.  It’s so much less cumbersome.

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  14. pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
    June 9, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

    Sorry, but I think picking on people’s grammar makes you look like an intellectual snob. Some people post from their phones using tiny keyboards with limited characters. As long as they use some punctuation and use a hard return every once in a while, I can overlook misspelled words and grammatical errors. You should be very careful about picking on other’s posts. It makes them much more vigilant in checking your grammar and spelling. Since nobody is perfect, others can and will find your mistakes and take great joy in pointing them out to you.
     
    Just saying……..

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  15. jondar2Comment by jondar2
    June 9, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

    As I implied, the grammer and spelling are secondary to the message, proven by the test where words are mis-spelled, letters left out, yet we find we can very well read the sentence as intended.  In the speeches from the annointed one, the only time he doesn’t lie is when he promises things like,  that under his plan, energy costs will necessarily skyrocket.  Thank God his obscene cap and trade (aka- cap and tax) policy has so far failed to pass.  The resumption of oil production is the USA to the point of self reliance,  will put millions back to work and stop that 1 trillion dollars from going to countries who wish ill upon us.  The great Oblamer has taken credit for 2009 having the highest oil production in years.  Yet when asked about new drilling making a difference in oil prices, he says it takes years for new production to make any difference.  He won’t blame (or credit) Bush for that one, it’s all his doing.

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