Uncommon Sense

May 5, 2021

We Already Have a Word for It

Filed under: Culture,History,language — Steve Ruis @ 8:14 am
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Breaking News! Breaking News!

Napoleon had flaws!

The Guardian ran a recent article regarding the bicentennial anniversary of Napoleon’s death.

“France Still Split Over Napoleon As It Marks Bicentenary of Death, subtitled “President to tread fine line as he lays a wreath to ‘commemorate rather than celebrate’ anniversary.”

“Élisabeth Moreno, the equality minister, admitted Napoleon was “a great figure in French history” but added he was also “one of the great misogynists.”

Egad, mon dieu, say it is not so! Napoleon, a misogynist? Horreurs!

But look, we already have a term for this behavior and all of the others  we “discover” in our histories; they are called “normal.” The word normal has a certain connotation, so here is a definition: “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” So, if we look at the antebellum South in the U.S. we would expect to find racist bias against black people because that was normal for that time. All around the world, women have been amongst the last “minorities” to receive the right to vote. So, gosh, do you think misogyny was not normal prior to and during those efforts?

Some positively faint to discover that Mark Twain used the “N-word” in his writing, as if that were not normal and Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, was crusading for the use of that word.

If we purge history of all of these flaws, what would be left? I think what you have would be akin to the “redacted” government documents that the government did not want to release in all current entertainments: a document that is black bars and almost nothing but black bars obscuring the text beneath.

Don’t you think that people, reading books set in older times, would discover the N-word, and recognize that word is no longer in use and that there is a reason it is no longer in use? Don’t we think that will be instructive? Or would it be preferable that the entire history surrounding the use of that word be blocked off so that no one would or even could be acquainted with it?

I think we all recognize that common sense is not at all common, but I think we need to create a new category to place some of this past washing efforts into: common stupidity.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

May 3, 2021

The “New” Left

Filed under: Culture,History,language,Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:03 am
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In today’s post on the Dead Wild Roses blog, The Arborist, wrote:

“When I came back to Canada in 2014 . . . I left a culture that was steeped in a sentiment that could be summed up as, ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.’ I returned to a culture summarized by, ‘I disagree with what you say, so shut up.’ (Obaid Omer)”

“Quashing debate and argument seems to be the name of the game these days, as certain opinions have been designated as unapproachable or ‘settled’ topics. In a society that values the free exchange of ideas almost everything has to be on the table. Odious free-speech must be protected along with the prosaically milquetoast free speech.”

You do follow Arb’s blog, no? If not, you are missing some very good stuff.

Back to my main topic: I have seen comments about how intolerant the left has become and yada, yada, yada and I wondered what the source of these comments were. (I suspect they are from conservative spinmeisters.) Liberal dogma throughout my life has defended the right of those we abhor to speak, but is this changing? Certainly there isn’t much person-to-person public discourse going on during this pandemic, so much of this must be second hand.

I tend to think the anonymity of the Internet is a player once again. Back when discussions were face-to-face, if one said something despicable, there were immediate responses, most unpleasant. We had got to the point that outright racist comments were rare as the consequences were too dire.

But now, if you read something you disagree with, you can flame the author using language you would not get away with out in the open. And the discourse level is often set by the most vociferous.

I think we are still adjusting to social changes such as Internet communication. I remember when “cancel culture” was a feature of the right: book burnings, rock ‘n’ roll record burnings, boycotts against celebrities who took unpopular political stands (Jane Fonda, perhaps, is a good example), etc. The left didn’t do this so much. Now that some of the more liberal bent are using the same tool as the right previously used, the professional whiny bitch conservatives are decrying the “cancel culture” as if it were just invented. (They hate a level playing field, so when a field is leveled, they pivot ninety degrees.)

So, “cancel culture” is not even a thing, certainly not a new thing. It is just us expressing our opinion about another’s speech. In the old days, you got to direct it face-to-face and then through gossip. Today you can marshal many thousands of people’s efforts almost instantaneously.

What we will come up with to rein in this overly exuberant behavior I do not foresee but there will be something. There always is.

It Says So Right on the Label

Filed under: History,language,Medicine,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
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I was reading the label of an over the counter (OTC) medicine and right on the front it said “No Artificial Sweeteners” and “Contains 44% Xylitol.” Not being a chemist, you might not be confused here.

Xylitol is produced from xylose, a naturally occurring sugar, by both chemical and biological methods. In the chemical process, catalytic hydrogenation of xylose produces the sugar substitute xylitol. In the biological process, quite a few chemical “pretreatments” are needed before biological action (via bacteria or yeast) creates the desired product.

The distinction here between “artificial sweetener” and “xylitol” is “wafer thin” (“Waffer thin” as pronounced by John Cleese in the Monty Python masterpiece “The Meaning of Life.”)

The difficulty is due only to advertising, which is a form of propaganda (which it was called pre-WW2, then propaganda became a “dirty” word). In advertiser lingo there are “bad” words and “good” words. Only “good” words are to be used with one’s own products and only “bad” words are to be used with other products.

For example, here are some “good” words: natural and all-natural, fresh, wholesome, etc. And here are some “bad” words: artificial, synthetic, chemical, etc.

In the above instance xylitol can be found in nature, but it is hard to harvest, so it is synthesized chemically or biologically. Yep, xylitol (chemical names are not capitalized, btw) is artificial (the xylitol they put in that bottle certainly was anyway).

Now, before you go bonkers on me, do realize that butter is artificial. What? Butter isn’t natural? Nope, butter is not natural, certainly not “all-natural.” You can not go pick a pat or two off of a butter bush out back, you know. The word artificial means made through man’s arts. Many things you think are natural aren’t really. For example, you go out into your backyard and pick an apple off of your tree and take a bite. Hmm, natural goodness, right? It seems so (and I have fond memories of doing just that as a child; I can still recall the taste of those apples). But most often it is not. Most fruit trees have been artificially selected to produce “non-natural” fruit, hybrids. Almost all of the plants we eat were never part of nature. We created them though artifice. Artichokes were thistles, corn was this spindly little plant with inedible seeds, sugar beets were tiny little things, not the football-sized things we grow today, and all bananas and grapes had seeds. The change process is called artificial selection to distinguish our efforts from nature’s.

Take the case of aspirin. Aspirin, by far, is the most successful drug ever devised. It’s century plus history began from the recognition that a tea made from willow bark had analgesic properties (the Egyptians knew this). But the tea was bitter as hell and if you used a bit too much it gave you a very upset stomach. Much later, it was discovered that the active ingredient in the willow bark tea was salicylic acid. An effort was made to find a chemical variant of salicylic acid that was still potent by which didn’t have those side effects. Since salicylic acid is a carboxylic acid, one attempt was to turn it into an ester, a much less irritating class of compounds. Aspirin is the ester formed from salicylic acid and acetic acid, the active ingredient in vinegar, and a star was born. Aspirin is artificial and I am happy about that.

Just being “natural” is not a sign of “good” or “safe.” Rattlesnake venom, arsenic, and monkey dung are all natural but I don’t want any of them in my body. In foods and pharmaceuticals, if a natural substance shows some promise, it is studied to see if modifications could make it better. In the case of pharmaceuticals, if they are strictly chemical we look to see if we can synthesize it as a lower cost/higher volume process of creating it. Instead of extracting rare colored dyes from clams, we can synthesize what we want and have more variety and permanence. This is what we do.

Problems arise when what we synthesize isn’t recognized by the biological process responsible for the breakdown and recycling of our wastes (they are not natural you see). We are currently experiencing these problems with oceanic plastic waste and microfiber residues in all natural waters.

A Side Note Question—What kills more fish: chemical pollutants or plastic waste? The answer is: commercial fishing. We kill via this method orders of magnitude more fish than all of the sources of pollution put together. I mention this because we have blind spots and advertisers take advantage of them.

April 9, 2021

Now I See Where He Was Going (C.S. Lewis on Moral Laws)

I have been re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and in my first post on that topic (The Moral Law of Right and Wrong) I addressed his claim that our sense of right and wrong was something other than a set of socially transmitted compact rules. Now that I have finished three chapters I see where he is going. In Chapter 4 (What Lies Behind the Law) Lewis writes “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not do. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else—a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

Lewis, here, is using a bit of legerdemain as well as dishonest language, mixed in with a bit of ignorance. His statement “The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe.” confuses man-made laws (e.g. traffic laws,. tax laws, etc.) with natural laws which are indeed “the actual facts we do observe.” When people started looking for the “rules” behind natural behavior, they observed behaviors which were dependable without fail, for example, unsupported objects fall (straight down). These were and still are, only a set of dependable behaviors we can observe in nature and use to make predictions. It is not the case “that nature is governed by certain laws,” there is no governor, and the “laws” aren’t obeyed. Instead of the “laws” of nature, we might well have said the “behaviors” of nature.

Also Lewis’s use of the phrase “above and beyond” as a source for such laws is disingenuous. He is making a case for his god being the source of the law to which he refers and where does this god reside? Above and beyond our experience, is commonly used to describe his location (yet it is everywhere at the same time, hmm).

And why might dependable behaviors in nature “not be anything real”? In order to be observed, they have to be real, no? Again, language is being used to undermine natural laws as possibly not being real, a criticism used against Lewis’s god, but rarely about observable nature. If observations of nature are not real, then what is? Lewis apparently wants to have his cake and eat it too, as he went to great lengths to paint “The Law of Right and Wrong” as a “natural” law, yet he argues that the law comes not from nature. (Is great puzzlement.)

Lewis is contrasting physical laws (law of gravity, etc.) with the moral law of right and wrong. His argument is that a rock dropped from a height has no choice to “obey” the law of gravity, it just drops. But a man, contemplating an action can consider a rule such as “Do not steal other people’s things!” and can choose to follow the law or not. He is building the case that moral laws have an existence separate from whether or not people obey them, which means they weren’t constructed by nature or even those people, otherwise they would follow their own advice. Rocks are affected by gravity, always, no exceptions. They have no choice. But we do. Natural laws are always exhibited. If a “law” is not, then you know you are dealing with a man-made law, not a natural law.

I think there is a fundamental mistake Professor Lewis is making here and strangely enough, it involves language, which is his field of expertise. Professor Lewis is looking at only the short versions of these moral laws, which appear to be commands, and therefore like man-made laws (being full of “shalls” and “shalt nots”), rather than agreed upon observable behaviors.

When these moral “laws” were negotiated, they were in some sort of form like “we will all be better off if we, as individuals, all pledge to not steal the possessions of others.” (Imagine this stated by a wizened elder when a tribe was in convocation, with the heads of all of the others bobbing in agreement.) But for the simple-minded and the very young, longwinded rules don’t stick in their tiny brains, so we shorten the rules. “If I have told you once, I’ve told you twice, don’t steal!” Parents turn an agreed upon behavior into a command for their children to obey. Why? “Because I am the Mom, that’s why!”

To Lewis, moral laws sound like parentally-shortened rules. So, instead of “Don’t be late for supper, son, it really irritates me and makes extra work for me besides” they get “Don’t be late!” And since these moral laws are universal, which parent model is available to all? Why God, of course. Of course, Lewis doesn’t explain why all of the different gods provide very similar sets of rules, almost as if there were just one source, but there is not such a source. There is absolutely no reason Shiva would create the same moral laws as Huitzilopochtli. But human beings are quite the same the world around so the rules they would come up with would be similar, no? Same source: human beings, same result: common moral precepts.

And were Lewis to argue that there is only one set of rules because all of the others are false gods; there is only one true god, then he would have to explain the differences. The Aztecs tore out the beating hearts of human captives and allowed their blood to run down the sides of their temples as a form of worship, but the Hebrews were told (eventually) that human sacrifice was immoral. If there were only one god, why the variations?

Clearly, even sincere apologists use dishonest language and argumentations because of their beliefs. Assuming ones beliefs to prove ones beliefs is circular reasoning, but also a surefire way to get an outcome you desire. An axiom of argumentation is that the surest way to get a particular conclusion is to get its existence stated as one of the premises. Faith can lead one into making such errors.

March 12, 2021

Holding Out for a Hero

Filed under: Culture,History,language — Steve Ruis @ 11:18 am
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<Imagine Bonnie Tyler singing in the background. Don’t leave out the drum track . . . one of my favorites.>

The label “hero” is not just for sandwiches any more.

Sarcasm aside we seem to be using the label “hero” for people who are doing quite ordinary things. Early on, people who did heroic things did heroic things but that didn’t make them heroes. In Greek mythology, heroes were semi-divine beings who did heroic things as their job description. When people got into tight situations, many prayed or wished for a hero to show up and bail them out. Heracles was one of these—half god, half man—all he ever did was heroic things.

I tend to think of Hebrew “messiahs” in the same light. When in a tight place, the Hebrews looked for a hero, sent by god (hence the anointed label) to bail them out. Christians tend to talk about “the Messiah” as if there were only one. But there were many messiahs. David was one such, at least in their literature. There were many more. (Also, can anyone explain to me why it is so important to Christians, that Jesus was a Hebrew messiah? It seems not to be in any way pertinent to the Christian message and if he were a Hebrew messiah, he would have to have been a failed messiah, because Rome still ran the place after Jesus exited stage up. By the way, Christ essentially means anointed on, so messiah. It also escapes me as to why a god needs to brag about being anointed.

Today, heroes are no longer even people who do heroic things, which the term had been degraded to. Today, heroes are those who do just special things, occasionally. (“And isn’t that special!” Shut up, Church Lady!) You do not have to run into a burning building to rescue a child and its pet bunny to be labeled a fire fighting hero. Now, it is enough that you are a fireman by occupation. (I wonder if they have a “Hero of the Week” plaque up in the firehouse.)

Are we going to have to make up superlative forms for hero, like we did for “stars. We used to say so-and-so was a “movie star” or a “sports star” but soon that label was so widely used that it didn’t mean much. Movies now list their quite ordinary casts beginning with “Starring . . .” so we invented first “superstar” as a category, and now “megastar” on top of that. We now have “supercars” and “hypercars” to compare our “cars” to, also.

I am holding out for a real hero . . . actually not. (I just wanted to tie back to Bonnie . . . she is still singing, no?) This is just a prehistoric impulse of people overwhelmed by the situations they found themselves in. No ordinary people could survive such an ordeal, so they could only imagine being bailed out by a supernatural hero. Think of “Waiting for Superman” as a concept.

Just as there is no god, there are no old-fashioned supernatural heroes to solve our problems for us. Maybe it was time we grew up and took on adult responsibilities.

If you somehow missed Footloose or Shrek 2, try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gwPDpQGOQo.

November 30, 2020

Fascinated by Trivia

Filed under: Culture,language,writing — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
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Americans and the British are often described as being two countries separated by a common language. As an editor, I find myself editing works written by British people, among others, and there are definitely subtle differences between American usage and British usage. You are probably aware of things like spelling differences, e.g. honor and honour, color and colour, etc. and both region’s slangs are vastly different, but other things are more subtle.

For example, in punctuation Americans use double quotation marks, “ ”, first and then if something quoted is nested inside of that quote we set that off with single quotes, ‘ ’. The British do that in reverse order.

What stimulated this post was I was reading a piece in the New Yorker than began “On November 22, 1820, the New York Evening Post ran a perfunctory book ad that was none too particular in its typesetting:

WILEY & HALSTED, No. 3 Wall street, have just received SYMZONIA,
or a voyage to the internal world, by capt. Adam Seaborn. Price $1.

This advert was printed in 1820 in America and includes the British practice of treating collective nouns as being plural rather than singular. So, in the U.S. we might say “the team was devastated by the loss” whereas the Brits would say “the team were devastated by the loss.” In British English the word team infers multiple team members so is treated as referring to a plural thing, whereas in the U.S. the “team” is one thing and so is treated as a singular thing. In this case the publisher is clearly at least two people and is treated as a plural, with “have just received” rather than a singular, with “has just received.” (E pluribus unum?)

The quotation indicates that the American practice was either the same as the British practice at that time or at least was not fully transformed into the American practice with some doing it one way and others doing it the other.

You, of course, are wondering why anyone would care, but apparently a great many do. As a college professor, even teaching a subject like chemistry, I took seriously my responsibility to teach my students how to write. (Every chance I got to talk to an employer of students such as mine I asked them “What could we be doing better on behalf of our students?” and to a person, they responded with “Technically they are fine, but if you could teach them to write better, that would be very helpful.” It was almost as if employers of STEM students got together in their secret base to create this talking point.)

So, as a teacher of college freshmen, I gave up T-F, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank test questions and asked but two kinds of questions: one which required a calculated answer (with the reasoning displayed clearly or explained) and one that required a short, that is paragraph length, essay answer, e.g. an explanation, or a description, etc. By the end of the semester my goal was a 50-50 distribution of these two types of questions.

And do not think I was not envious of those biology teachers who ran their mark-sense (Scantron) answer sheets through our mechanical reader and had their midterm exam scored in under ten minutes. (I gave my tests on Fridays so I would have the hours needed to read and score them and be able to return them at the next class meeting.)

I was in the unenviable position of having to explain to my students why being clear in one’s writing was very valuable. I told them that if they said in a job interview “I be excited about working here.” that they would not get a job offer. People, including employers, do not think logically; they usually respond to their gut feelings about people and people who speak or write and make gaffes are generally considered to be “not up to par” and are passed over.

I am musing on “why I give a shit” about obscure grammar points. Partly I had to know better than my students what was and wasn’t acceptable in written language and partly I was curious. I became known as something of a grammar grouch, a despicable sort of human being who is constantly correcting people. (Yes, I am recovering; thank you for caring.)

I also know that all of these rules are entirely arbitrary. Yes, they have been established to promote clear communication, and this can be critically important when laws and contracts are drafted, but I know of no laws regarding the topic per se. We just go along to get along.

As an editor, my main goal is to preserve the voice of the author. If I have met them and spoken to them (this is becoming increasingly rare), I want to hear their voice in my head as I read their piece, because that is what will happen when people who know the author read that piece. If you do not understand this, consider the college freshman who writes a short essay that reads as if written by a college freshman but then abruptly transitions into formal encyclopedia English or even British encyclopedia English. Gosh, do you think they did a little copy and paste plagiarism? It is not that hard to tell the voice shift in reading such things, so readers who know the author can tell if I rewrite a part of their piece in my own voice . . . instead of the author’s.

When editing British manuscripts for our magazine, I use American punctuation for our largely American audience but retain British spellings (colour, honour, etc.) to preserve the author’s voice. For the one book I edited for a British author, I preserved both the British spellings, but also the British punctuation (which was quite a test).

Yes, I know I am weird, kinda proud of it. Just wanted to share a little of the consequences of being weird . . . like me.

Addendum Oh, and the book, Symzonia, is considered by some to be the first American foray into science fiction.

September 23, 2020

We Are Oh-So-Kind . . . to Ourselves

I was reading an article about some Native American archaeology and came to this statement “In the 1800’s, European settlers drove ancestral Wichita people from their native lands, leading to the destruction of their villages and communal traditions.”

I have made this point before but am still struck by the terminology.

If someone invaded your community and forcefully ejected you from your homes and farms, killing many of you in the process, would you refer to them as settlers . . . or invaders? Was not this land already “settled?” In this instance they are talking about a “city” of possibly 40,000 Native American inhabitants.

But European “settlers” “drove” the people off. It sounds like they are referring to cattle or buffalo which could be “driven” to another location.

By what right were these things done? Oh, God told them it was okay for the Europeans to make war on the indigenous peoples they encountered, in order to bring Christianity to the natives. Gee, you’d think this was an educational mission instead of a land grab.

At the time, Europe had recovered from the repeated decimation of the population of Europe due to the Black Plague and other plagues and was overpopulated. The “European settlers” were searching for land, land that could be tilled, land that could be mined, land that could make them rich. They came as soldier-farmers. They didn’t work in their fields without their guns nearby, because the people they stole the land from wanted it back.

These were not settlers. They were an army of invaders. And we are descended from them.

And President Trump wants our schools to teach that we did nothing wrong. Sure we took their land, but we gave them the Bible. From Mr. Trump’s perspective, this was a great deal, and American deal, an exceptional deal.

And the winners of the deal get to write and re-write the history any way they want. Mr. Trump’s way is what we will get if he is re-elected.

 

 

September 10, 2020

Sometimes a Lede Is Enough

Filed under: Culture,language — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
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I occasionally run posts starting with “Sometimes a Blurb is Enough” usually focused upon online book pitches, but the same applied to articles in “magazines.” This is from Today’s The Guardian.

Gosh, I wonder why a feminist voice stating “I Hate Men” would not be welcome among men? Is great puzzlement.

And the “right” to not like men? WTF? One’s likes and dislikes hardly constitute a basis for a right. How about, “I demand the right to not like vanilla ice cream!” or “I demand the right to prefer Fords over Chevies!” It seems that one neither has a right to like or dislike anything. Nor is anything opposing these likes and dislikes.

Publishing or broadcasting your likes and dislikes, however, can have consequences. Recently a blogger lost her job for public condemning the company she worked for in her blog. Others have lost their jobs from posts about their racial likes and dislikes. They were fired for bringing disrepute upon the company they worked for.

Everyone can harbor what most of us would consider abhorrent likes and dislikes if they just keep their mouths shut about them. People who really like child pornography can have normal lives if they do not manifest that into a law violation. All one would have to do is keep that ‘like” within the privacy of their own mind.

You also do not have a right to spew anything that comes to mind, however, and I give the tried and true example of screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

And how would I ever know if someone I was talking to didn’t like men? I don’t like idiots per se, but I do tolerate them and respect their right to exist and even speak their minds. So. maybe people who don’t like men should have a tee shirt or something to identify their “dislike” and so not keep us in the dark.

July 2, 2020

I Am So Tired of OMG

Filed under: Culture,language — Steve Ruis @ 10:13 am
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It seems when people express any kind of wonder or awe or surprise or excitement, they respond by uttering “Oh My God!” (OMG). Christians tend to substitute “Oh My Gosh.”

Aside The “gosh” used by Christians has the benefit of a hard G sound so is a good substitute for God. The “gosh” stands for the Land of Goshen which was named in the Bible as the place in Egypt given to the Hebrews by the pharaoh of Joseph, and the land from which they later left Egypt at the time of the Exodus. It was located in the eastern Delta of the Nile, lower Egypt. Since the Exodus is fictional, possibly the land is, too.

This OMG exclamation is so ubiquitous, that I cannot remember what we used to say in such circumstances before this term became prominent. Children of the 60’s used to say Awesome! and “Far out! a lot. Go back a bit further and “It’s wonderful, it’s marvelous” was popularized by George Gershwin.

I am oh, so, tired of OMG, which I think began as a manifestation of Valley Girl Speak, but I may be wrong about that.

Will someone please invent a less irritating substitute?

June 23, 2020

Typography Evolves, Not Necessarily for the Better

Filed under: language,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:54 am
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I am a bit of a typography snob. I work as an editor and I work with people in their teens and their nineties. I note that people quite old tend to show some quirks of their past. For example, at one time English, as German still does, capitalized most nouns. We have moved away from that practice, but some older writers overcapitalize. It was also the practice to have a space before colons and periods which is no longer the practice, so as mentioned, things change.

There is also a slow morphing of compound nouns. In the 1930’s it was quite common to see to-day and to-morrow in print and now the hyphens are gone. This is a common process. A place in one’s home to have a fire becomes a fire-place and then a fireplace. The same thing happened to sail-boat, foot-path, black-face, skin-head, and dog-house.

Currently we are seeing another transition, one I hope does not stick. This is the recent practice of only capitalizing the first letter of an acronym, an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word, for example NASA. Back in my early days these things were typed out thus: N.A.S.A., F.B.I., and C.D.C. After a while we dropped the periods as being superfluous and so we got: NASA, FBI, CDC, CIA, SCOTUS, etc. This was acceptable because there were very few other situations in which words were formed from all capital letters. No one would be confused seeing NASA instead of N.A.S.A. But now I am seeing Nasa more often than not.

If the “all capitals” rule for acronyms is taken away, as is becoming the current practice, the possibility of confusion increases a great deal, especial for young or new readers of English. I tend to approve of such changes when they either (a) simplify communication or (b) make communication more accurate. In this case I don’t see what is saved. If I type <cap lock>,n ,a ,s, a, </cap lock> instead of <shift> n, a, s, a, I am not really saving a lot of effort.

I went to Wikipedia to consult a list of acronyms (and their ilk, such as initialisms) and I limited myself to just those starting with A and C.

Some of these, such as CAP, which stands for Civil Air Patrol, would easily be misunderstood if written as Cap, possibly referring to a piece of headgear, especially if the word begins a sentence, which always begin with a capitalized letter anyway. Others of this kind are:
FOE  Friends Of The Earth
ACE  Allied Command Europe
ADAGE  Air Defense Air to Ground Engagement (simulation)
AID  U.S. Agency for International Development
AM  Amplitude Modulation
CARP  Computed Air Release Point
CART  Championship Auto Racing Teams
CATS  Computer Active Technology Suspension
CIAO  Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office
CIS  Commonwealth of Independent States
COBRA  Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985
COIN  Counter-Insurgency (military)
COPE  U.K. Committee On Publication Ethics
CORE  Congress of Racial Equality
CREEP  Committee for the Re-Election of the President (Nixon)
Plus there are any number of these which could appear to be a person’s name, the first letter of which is typically capitalized.
TERI  Tata Energy Research Institute
ANA  All Nippon Airways
COLT  Combat Observation and Lasing Team (military)
CHiP  California Highway Patrol

Since these came from lists with just these two letters of the alphabet, I am sure there are hundreds of other terms that could also be sources of confusion.

I do not intend to adopt this new practice and hope that it dies out over time as being counterproductive.

How do such things get started? I do not know, but my guess is in magazines. Magazines are always looking for typographical ways to appear trendy, on the forefront of the topic they cover. Magazines are responsible for article and book titles now being formatted as if they were sentences (few are), which I believe emanated from ad copy. A header in an ad, if it appears to be a sentence with no “full stop” at the end encourages people to keep reading to find closure for the idea begun to be stated.

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