September 10th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; "dumbing down" versus "not showing off"...

voxwoman commented --

"I have a difficult time between figuring out the fine line between 'not showing off' and 'dumbing down'."

-- and an interesting discussion has developed.

I understand the comment, and I agree. I am constantly griping about the way that magazines I once enjoyed and found useful -- Psychology Today, Scientific American, Sojourners, for example -- are now being dumbed down. And it seems to me that it should be possible for us to set up some criteria for staying on the right side of that fine line, in both spoken and written language.

The core difference, I believe, is that the Dumbing Down register of English carries with it a metamessage of disrespect thatisn't there in the Not Showing Off register.

The question is: What's responsible for that metamessage of disrespect, and how can it be avoided?
ozarque figure

Personal note; cybergremlins...

When I go to my Friends postings this morning, LJ won't let me use any of the links, including the "comment" links. I'm hoping this is a temporary Cybergremlin Fit, since it creates a massively dysfunctional communication environment...
ozarque figure

Linguistics; "dumbing down" versus "not showing off"; afternote...

I may have introduced some confusion into this discussion; in fact, I'm sure I have: I've got contexts embedded in contexts embedded in contexts. That's careless and sloppy of me, and I apologize. Let's see if I can work my way back through the thicket.

I started with my astonishment at John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin for VP; I just could not think of any explanation for it. [I do understand it now, by the way.] Then I moved to the rhetorical problem that the new situation posed for the Obama/Biden campaign, and said:

"Sarah Palin has been able to establish her identity as The Girl Next Door and The Mom Next Door. In her speech last night she didn't miss even one opportunity for a smart crack; she nailed down every single one. But I don't see any way that Obama and Biden -- or their spokespersons -- can come back at her on anything remotely like an equivalent basis without instantly being smothered in 'picking on the girl' and 'being sexist exactly the same way they were sexist about Senator Clinton' accusations."

Meandering along, I did a post about how my perception is that the Republicans have Obama and Biden trapped in a Metaphor Cage, and suggested that the Democrats need a metaphor [or metaphors] as powerful as The Girl/Mom Next Door.

And then I wandered clear off the road, posting the link to the Wendy Redal article. It wasn't totally irrelevant: The article turned out, as I perceive it, to be a classic example of a well-written and well-argued piece that could not possibly serve the purpose I'd had in mind when I started, which was finding a way for progressives and Democrats -- especially hypereducated progressives and Democrats -- to talk persuasively to "regular people." [I am aware, yes, that I haven't yet defined the term "regular people." For now, what I mean by that is rural and blue-collar working class people -- the people that Obama has had so much trouble talking to. And I do not mean anything negative or snarky by it.]

Now I've got us all wandering in the wilderness. Not because it's not important to map the fine line between Not Showing Off and Dumbing Down. Not because it's not important to pin down the characteristics of political rhetoric that make people think "That speaker has no respect for me!" and replace them with language that doesn't have that effect. Not because the Democrats don't still desperately need that metaphor. All those things, it seems to me, are important. We have less than two months before the election, and it seems to me that if we don't find a way out of this communication quicksand the Republicans are going to win.

There may be a lot of readers here who think that the Republicans should win, and they have every right to that conviction. If the Republicans are the better choice, if they're better qualified, then we'll all be better off if they do win. I just hate for them to win on the basis of being more clever in the way they use language than the Democrats are.

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