Paul Greenberg

Dialect was once a rich source of American literature. Alas, it seems to have been snuffed out by a combination of (a) political correctness, and (b) an insistence on bland, homogenized, respectable -- that is, dead -- language. Maybe that's why there's no successor to Mark Twain or even S. J. Perelman in sight.

These days the successful political leader is told to avoid specifics and traffic in generalities, the vaguer the better. The object of political speech becomes a kind of glib opacity -- to make a speech, rather than say anything. The occasional premeditated sound bite may then be thrown in to give the consumer the illusion of solidity, the way gravel is be added to chicken feed.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, that magisterial arbiter of American eloquence, has noted that "leadership often requires telling the citizenry truths it does not want to hear" and that "one test of the maturity of a people is a willingness to act on facts requiring sacrifice."

Such a definition of leadership might strike modern political operatives as suicidal. They know that the way to win an election is to muffle unpleasant truths and soften hard principles. Besides, clarity is hard work. It's so much easier to fuzz the message and so write around any inconvenient facts that may disrupt the smooth flow of currently fashionable patter. Just ask any American editorial writer. We're experts at it.

But don't give up on the American language and settle for the current murk. Have faith. Quality language, the real thing, is going to come back. Because there'll always be a demand for it, and the rarer quality becomes, the greater the demand for it will grow.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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