Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Seven Coolest Presidents in US history? Let's Make it Ten

Recently, NPR (National Public Radio) broadcast a piece on the "7 Coolest Presidents in American History."* You can read the story here:

"The 7 Coolest Presidents in American History"

I think this is all well and good, to use the old phrase, but how about making it the Ten Coolest Presidents in American History?

I'll start the conversation by putting into nomination the name of Abraham Lincoln. In terms of coolness in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems and overwhelming national division, Lincoln remained truly "cool."

 Anyone care to nominate presidents # 9 and #10 for our list?

* Note: While style manuals insist that numbers below ten should be spelled out, I have not done so here because this is the way the NPR story has its headline. It's extremely important that scholars quote words exactly as they find them, even if that appears to be wrong.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The importance of proofreading

A few days ago, I posted an entry about the president's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

I am an inveterate proofreader--I even proofread my emails before I send them, and who does that?

Anyway, I did my usual proofreading before I published the blog post. Imagine my chagrin when I looked at my blog this morning and found a big, old, nasty mistake in the headline. I had written "Did the president said what many Americans don't want to hear?" Egad.

This is a perfect example of why I always suggest to students that they have someone else proofread their important papers and assignments. Often, we don't see our own mistakes. My last blogpost is a perfect example.

So do as I say, not as I do. Have someone else read your writing before submission. It could save you from all kinds of embarrassment--and could have saved me from having to write this post!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Did the President Say What Many Americans Don't Want to Hear: or Did He Strike the Right Tone?

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last night, President Obama gave a very different message than he did in the same speech four years ago.

In 2008, Obama's overall message was one of "hope and change." Four years later, the message is considerably toned-down. He said, "you didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell the truth."

Maybe that made for a good sound bite and maybe that statement should be true, but history would tell Obama a different story. In the midst of a staggering economic downturn at the end of the 1970s that was bleeding over into 1980, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter, not because people wanted to hear the truth, but because they wanted a leader who would make them feel better about themselves. Jimmy Carter, president from 1977 to 1980, had tried to tell the American people "the truth," and the response was either flat or negative (depending on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty).

The lesson from the Carter-Reagan election of 1980 should be that the American people don't want their president to "tell the truth" if that message is that hard times are going to linger and belts need to be tightened. If Romney can send a more positive message, and I'm sure that he will try, he may be following the lessons of Reagan. Obama would do well not to emulate Jimmy Carter. (remember, he lost).

But there are clear signs that Obama has learned from the missteps of Jimmy Carter. Toward the end of Obama's acceptance speech, he said, "as I stand here tonight, I have never been more hopeful about America. Not because I think I have all the answers. Not because I’m naive about the magnitude of our challenges.I’m hopeful because of you." 

Starting with a cautionary tone, he finished strong. And he finished positive. He has clearly paid attention to history.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"Me and my buddies"?

Why is that so many well-educated, smart, ambitious young people now routinely say something like "Me and my buddies wanted to play the game so we downloaded it last night."

Really? "me" as the subject of a sentence? Would you ever dream of saying "Me wanted to play the game so I downloaded it last night"? Of course not. You know better. And no one wants to sound like Cookie Monster once you've passed your tween years.

So, why say "me and my buddies" as the subject of a sentence? Where did this come from? I never heard this, except from uneducated people, before a few years ago. I know that language changes with the times, and some of those changes are good and necessary, but this one is awful.

I don't know how to say this without sounding obnoxious, but if you speak this way in a job interview or at a meeting, you will sound uneducated.

Do yourself a favor. Listen to what you say (something few of us do) and see if you say "me and my...." routinely. If you find you're doing it, stop. "Me and my friends" as the subject simply must be changed to "My friends and I."


And if any of you can enlighten me as to where you think this came from, I'd love to hear your ideas.