Saturday, June 7, 2008

Just du . . . stupid

Some things you should just let slide. I'm not capable. I was reading a State Journal editorial today and this sentence caught my eye, "Why not? Because a painted chest ban is a dumb idea."

I agree with the thrust of the editorial; banning painted chests at WIAA events does seem to be a solution in search of a problem. What annoys me is that the State Journal Editorial Board seems to be stuck in grade school. I don't remember exactly when it was that it was explained to me that "dumb" means mute, not stupid, but I'm pretty sure it was well before a box of crayons ceased to be a requisite school supply.

Generally, I'm not one of those people who thinks we should all be speaking Victorian English out of reverance for the grand edifice of the English Language. Our language has been changing for as long as it's existed but that's not what's going on here. The editors weren't using some new bit of common parlance to keep up with the times nor were they, in this instance, fudging arcane grammatical rules to match common speech (something that can also drive me insane). They simply chose to use the wrong word. The State Journal could defend this as an attempt to sound less like the literary elite if it weren't for the fact that most people who don't know what "dumb" means haven't learned to read yet. For those people and the State Journal Editorial Board, here are a couple helpful examples of "stupid" and "dumb" properly used in sentences.

1. It's stupid to use a word in a published article that doesn't mean what you're clearly trying to say.*

2. I was literally struck dumb by the inanity of that State Journal editorial.**

. . . Now you try.

* Note my use of the second-person in this sentence where the third would be more formally appropriate. I'm totally hip.

**I also might have underlined "State Journal" but I'm not using the full title and it's the wild, wild internets. Anything goes. Language policing always balls up into a petty game of tit for tat but, really, words should mean what they mean.

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