June 06, 2020

`Fisherpersons’ and other contrivances

As an example of the minefields that lie in wait for anyone who is less than committed to the task, but nonetheless attempts to suck up to the politically correct crowd by playing its absurd game of neutering the English language so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, the paragraph in the Maine Sunday Telegram feature story fairly jumped off the page.

A representative of the state’s Bureau of Parks and Lands was telling the writer about plans for a new trail connecting a series of small ponds in the Nahmakanta wilderness area between Greenville and Millinocket.

“It’s maybe geared toward the fisherperson who might go up there for a night and bring his pack rod in and fish the ponds,” the guy was reported to have said, thereby alienating at least two constituencies in one fell swoop while proving that old habits of speech do, indeed, die hard.

Obviously, the reference to “his” pack rod was the ill-timed Freudian slip of a bureaucrat whose consciousness has not yet been fully raised, gender-neutrality-wise. No offense, but I hope the scoundrel pays dearly for his transgression. Anyone who would actually use the word “fisherperson” in conversation with another human being deserves no less.

(We cannot, I suppose, discount the possibility that the “fisherperson” was the concoction of the reporter and not the bureaucrat. Or of some revolutionary zealot of a copy editor back at the shop who thought it might be nice to strike a blow for The Cause. Trust me, stranger things have happened twixt a quotation and its publication.)

In any case, as we grope our way blindly into the 21st century we should expect more of such feel-good euphemistic drivel from our public officials, rather than less. Like all serious plagues, this one is catching on in good shape, thanks to guidelines such as the national “Standards for English Language Arts” released earlier this year.

The standards, the murky creation of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, talk about “word identification strategies” (reading) and the use of “different writing process elements” (writing). Presumably, some of it even takes place in the school’s “multiple resource center” (library) under the supervision of a “facilitator” (teacher).

As U.S. News and World Report columnist John Leo likes to point out, in current educational theory mistakes of grammar, spelling and punctuation have become “alternate expressions” and “personal spellings.” Many schools now refer to their charges as “clients,” rather than “students,” and often talk about “success” and “accomplishment,” rather than learning.

If the people who are teaching America’s kids are fatally addicted to such warm and fuzzy jargon it is little wonder that their proteges are now running around the countryside talking about “fisherpersons” and “firepersons” and that some once-sensible Maine towns now refer to their selectmen as “selectpeople” and to the head selectpeople person as a “chair.”

The scary ones are those who can use these abominations in normal speech without cracking a smile or feeling the least bit self-conscious about their sorry contribution to the bastardization of the king’s English. If it rolls off their tongues as easily as that smarmy “Have-a-nice-day” crap that has pervaded society, I generally give these people a wide berth.

One cannot fully appreciate the beauty of the plainly spoken word until one has had the mind-numbing experience of being stuck with a crowd of educators talking shop. They’ll get going on “goals” and “aspirations” and Title Nine as it affects incremental policy contingencies and before long they’re waist-deep in “ongoing review mechanisms” or “optional transitional flexibilities” and you’ll be standing there rattling the ice cubes in your beverage of choice, eyes beginning to glaze over, thinking “Hey. I didn’t just step off the potato truck. I know what these words mean. Individually. But when they string ’em together like that, I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about…”

Neither, of course, do they.

The difference is that, unlike you, most of them don’t know that they don’t know. Which, I suspect, is a major reason why the education game presently finds itself flopping about like a beached togue, in a state of systematized dysfunctional immobility.

Kent Ward, a regular NEWS columnist, lives in Winterport.

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