It’s Time to Get Judgy About Incompetency

Language should foster communication. Unfortunately, it often is used to prevent communication by obscuring truth.

(Page 2 of 2)

See? Much better.

Here’s another example that landed in the inbox back in October: “This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. As such, I thought the attached op-ed might be timely.” The person who wrote that pitch is a former state Cabinet official. As such, he ought to use “therefore,” wouldn’t you say?

After all, language should foster communication. Unfortunately, it often is used to prevent communication by obscuring truth. Here’s an example flagged by Derek Thompson, a sharp-eyed editor at The Atlantic, from a business news release in December:

“Citigroup today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi’s unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.”

Thompson helpfully translates that into plain English: “Citigroup today announced [layoffs]. These actions will [save money].”

This brings up (or perhaps down) a final point, courtesy of Virginia lawmakers, who are debating when teachers may be involuntarily separated from employment through repositioning actions. The Code of Virginia states that a teacher “may be dismissed or placed on probation for incompetency.” Legislation before the General Assembly would stipulate that “for the purposes of this article, ‘incompetency’ may be construed to include … one or more unsatisfactory performance evaluations.”

Question: “incompetency”? What’s wrong with “incompetence”? Incompetence is a perfectly good—a perfectly cromulent!—word. And while “incompetency” embiggens the language, it does so to no good end. It does not provide a new word where one was needed, or convey a nuance otherwise left unutterable. All it does is look—and here one has to resort to the lexicographer’s argot, so pardon the technical mumbo-jumbo—stupid. What’s next: “incompetencyness”?

When it comes to the educatationary realm, the list of those eligible for getting canned for incompetency probably should start with anyone who uses that word.

Unless that sounds too judgy. If so, we’ll just have to think up something else. Or, you know, down.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

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  • Stormy Dragon||

    Oh my God, A. Barton Hinkle has been possessed by the ghost of Andy Rooney.

  • Brian D||

    I couldn't help but hear a Jerry Seinfeld stand up routine as I read this article.

  • SugarFree||

    Therefore, what IS the deal with airline food?

  • BlogimiDei||

    giggling so hard...

    ...coworkers looking at me.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    No, Dave Barry. Except Barry isn't dead.

  • sarcasmic||

    Dave's not here.

  • $park¥||

    No man, this is Dave.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Dave Barry is just the poor man's P. J. O'Rourke

  • Hugh Akston||

    Who himself is just a pauper's HL Mencken.

  • $park¥||

    Who was just a journalistic Friedrich Nietzsche.

  • Way Of The Crane||

    This article touched me in a way that I haven't been touched in a long time. Thank you Mr. Hinkle.

  • $park¥||

    Can you point to the place on the doll where the article touched you?

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    Mr. Hinkle,
    Thank you for reminding me how much I hated Andy Rooney's comentary.

  • sarcasmic||

    *hums the "Pink Panther" using the word "pedant"*

  • db||

    How, exactly, does one "hum" words?

  • Rich||

    Alt-text: "Stop the fuck up!"

  • $park¥||

    I'm on board with the general truthiness of this particular articulation.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Shorter Hinkle: "Have I reached my word limit yet?"

  • $park¥||

    Shorter Eduard: "Derp."

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Shorter $park¥: "Please be gentle when you have sex with my mother."

  • Rich||

    Question: “incompetency”?

    It all went uphill after "normalcy".

  • SugarFree||

    Eventually, all these things will be normulated.

  • Rich||

    Pretty sure you mean "normularized". "Normulated" could be confused with "bifurcated", and that would be unacceptable.

  • SugarFree||

    Don't lecture me, you back-alley crab muffin!

  • Rich||

    *** scurries off sideways ***

  • Way Of The Crane||

    Pretty sure you mean "normularized". "Normulated" could be confused with "bifurcated", and that would be unacceptable.

    Is this why brominated vegetable oil is bad?

  • SugarFree||

    Read this and despair:

    Dangerous drug worries Dallas police

    "It's a very dangerous drug that I'm afraid people can die of and have died in the past," said Dr. Stephen Garrison from Caron Treatment Centers.

    The street name for the drug is Molly. It has a long chemical name that's usually shortened to MDMA. Sometimes it's snorted or taken in capsule form. Other times the powder is wrapped in tissue and swallowed.

    Users claim it makes them excited and amplifies whatever they are experiencing. Experts said it works by releasing adrenaline-type medicine that affects the body like taking an amphetamine.

    "It's marketed because they want these children to use it. They want them to buy it. They make it seem cool. It's not as dangerous as meth, but it's the exact same drug," said Sgt. Danny, a Dallas police narcotics officer.

    ...

    Dallas police have been out everywhere they think the drug is looking for it.
  • sarcasmic||

    It has a long chemical name that's usually shortened to MDMA.

    Ecstasy is a new drug?

  • Agammamon||

    Or, just as likely the reporter got confused by the garbled bullshit the cops fed him and wallah! The above article is crapped out.

    Though wasn't it not too long ago that the mainstream press touted their use of editors as both a huge advantage over noveau bloggers, and a reason bloggers shouldn't be afforded the same respect and access as the lowliest hometown rag?

  • crazyfingers||

    "It's not as dangerous as meth, but it's the exact same drug"

    lol, what?

  • $park¥||

    It's like saying "Police aren't as dangerous as SWAT, but they're the exact same people."

  • Rich||

    Like coke and crack, don't ya know.

  • BakedPenguin||

    MDMA has incredible potential as a relatively safe psycho-therapeutic. Naturally, these retards are trying to have it star in danger porn to keep it as illegal as possible.

  • PapayaSF||

    Sadly true.

  • tarran||

    Dallas police have been out everywhere they think the drug is looking for it.

    Oh I see, they're looking for the drug. Suuuure!

  • some guy||

    The drug is looking for the Dallas police? That's some scary shit, man...

  • Loki||

    Dallas police have been out everywhere they think the drug is looking for it.

    ...because why should drug users have all the fun?

  • Loki||

    Also, imagine how many more dogs they'll be able to shoot if they're hopped up on this stuff.

  • Zeb||

    Holy shit. That might be the worst written, most poorly informed news article I have ever read. And that is saying something.

  • Agammamon||

    Well, I was going to leave a short, scathing fisking of that article at the site, but it doesn't seem to want my comment.

    So I'll leave it here, for posterity's sake.

    ". . .It has a long chemical name that's usually shortened to MDMA. . . "

    So, its ecstacy?
    ". . . MDMA has become widely known as "ecstasy" (shortened to "E", "X", or "XTC"), . . ."

    I mean I got that from a 15 second web search - its litterally the second sentence in MDMA's Wikipedia article.

    And ecstacy isn't anything close to being a new drug - it was placed on Schedule I in *1985*.

    "Experts said it works by releasing adrenaline-type medicine that affects the body like taking an amphetamine."
    *Experts* say this? Really? To who? Not too bright children, maybe?

    "It's not as dangerous as meth, but it's the exact same drug"
    And you let this non-logical statement stand without question or comment?

    ". . . man died of an overdose of Molly at a rave party in Fair Park two years ago."
    This is the police's idea of considered evidence - an anecdote about a man dying from an overdose two years ago is the most recent one this guy can come up with? Doesn't exactly sound like an epidemic to me.

    So I guess the question I have, Mr. Rabb, is who screwed up? Your editors, maybe Tracy Delatte? Or is it possible that you parroted what your local law enforcemen'ts public affairs officer tossed at you without doing a single seconds worth of that work called "journalism".

  • Mensan||

    "'... it works by releasing adrenaline-type medicine that affects the body like taking an amphetamine.'"

    Holy shit! Taking methyldioxy-methylamphetamine affects the body like taking an amphetamine! Mostly because it's, you know, an amphetamine.

  • Rich||

    Go with: Dallas police have been out, everywhere they think the drug is, looking for it.

    Precedent: One nation, under God, ...

  • ||

    Works on contingency?
    No, money down!

  • Agammamon||

    Easy monthly payments.
    No credit check even for E-1 through E-3!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    So children are desperately trying to obtain a synthetic substitute for the sensation they once got from chasing each other around on the school playground?

  • ||

    Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?

  • sarcasmic||

    "Dad lets me drive slow on the driveway. But not on Monday, definitely not on Monday."

  • Stormy Dragon||

    How come "fat chance" and "slim chance" mean the same thing, but a "wise man" and a "wise guy" are opposites?

  • $park¥||

    How come a douche is a good thing for a woman to use but a bad thing for a person to be?

  • SugarFree||

    Douches are not good things, they upset the natural balance of vaginal bacteria. Therefore, douchebags--in both senses-- are undesirable ways for a women to put something terrible in themselves.

  • Hugh Akston||

    But how else are women supposed to clean their monverts?

  • SugarFree||

    Remoras. As God intended.

  • $park¥||

    Something's fishy about that comment.

  • ||

    Something's fishy about that comment.

    There should be a rider attached.

  • ||

  • ||

    Full skit transcript here.

  • db||

    What sort of secret invention are you sitting on, Douchebag?

  • SugarFree||

    What sort of secret invention are you sitting on, Douchebag?

    Something that tackles both problems at once: an aerosolized vinegar that explosively reacts with Axe body spray.

    My lawyers have advised me from telling you anymore than that.

  • $park¥||

    Wait, exploding remoras?

  • SugarFree||

    Shut up, fool. Iranians are desperate to acquire this technology.

  • ||

    Exploding Remoras are playing this Thursday, it's half-price if you bring the flyer

  • ||

    Something that tackles both problems at once: an aerosolized vinegar that explosively reacts with Axe body spray.

    Wasn't Warty trying to peddle Lysol douches a while back with Alyona as the spokeswoman? Or was it Lucy?

  • SugarFree||

    I find it best to not track the business schemes of Warty too closely. If you do, only madness results.

  • Enough About Palin||

    If Warty is peddling Lucy, then I'm buying.

  • Agammamon||

    Why? A simple lighter should be enough to turn an "Axe" wearer into a human (presumably) torch.

  • Agammamon||

    But what about vinegar, water, and cottage cheese?

  • SugarFree||

    How come "fat chance" and "slim chance" mean the same thing, but a "wise man" and a "wise guy" are opposites?

    In both cases one is sarcastic, the other is not.

  • $park¥||

    Oh, a wise guy eh?

    /Curly

  • Stormy Dragon||

    A wise guy. As such, nyuck, nyuck.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    There's a huge difference between "you're cool" and "you're not so hot"

  • SugarFree||

    Parkway means there exists a landscaped median strip between opposing flows of traffic. A driveway is paved or graveled access to your garage so that you don't have to drive on your lawn; it eventually expanded in meaning to any non-lawn residential parking area.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    What? No punchline? Re-write this comment, and make it snappier!

  • SugarFree||

    I'm super-cereal.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Parkway means there exists a landscaped median strip between opposing flows of traffic.

    That's a boulevard.

  • Randian||

    No, he's right on the etymology. The Champs-Élysées, for example, is a boulevard without a center landscaped median.

  • Enough About Palin||

    And Theodore Wirth Parkway in Minneapolis has no median strip. None. Zip. Nadda. So who you gonna believe, Americans in Minneapolis, or the god damned French?

  • Entropy Void||

    hhhmmmm... Squareheads or Frogs ... tough choice ...

  • ||

    Hot water heater?

    Who needs to heat hot water?

  • Rasilio||

    Well McDonalds coffee drinkers thanks to a lawsuit

  • Mensan||

    It's actually just called a water heater. Hot water heater is just something stupid people say; like ATM machine.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song? The guy who wrote that song wrote everything.

  • ||

    Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do "practice?"

  • ||

    No more unnerving than your ongoing claim about that mythical Dune movie...

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    The one with Sting?

  • ||

    You're thinking of that dystopian music video rip-off of The Road Warrior, Archduchy.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Closer to this actually

  • ||

    And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!

  • ||

    Hmm, "Pravoobladatel' ogranichil dostil k dannomu video v nashem regione".

    I see this conspiracy runs deep and includes the Canuckistanis! And you were so dependable!

  • Agammamon||

    Which is, alas, not available in this great country.

  • ||

    Is this the book you keep blabbering on about?

  • ||

    What an elaborate intertoobz hoax and troll. Sucker. You probably sent money to that Nigerian prince, too.

  • $park¥||

    Are you saying someone wrote a book based on the movie?

  • ||

    What movie?

  • ||

    Are you saying someone wrote a book based on the movie?

    Apparently. At least according to doc.

  • SugarFree||

    It's a hold-over from Medieval Latin, practicare "to do, perform" and the older meaning from Greek praktikos "practical."

    A doctor's "practice" is the practical application of his education.

  • ||

    HA! The professional archivist spaketh his unimpeachable word! Choke on that, laymen!

  • SugarFree||

    The familiar order of arrangement of letters (really their related sounds) began in Syria about 3,200 years ago and no one really knows why that order was settled on.

    Various theories:

    The first alphabet developed in Egypt might have been adapted from some part of the enormous system of Egyptian hieroglyphics, so it could be that the Egyptian system informed the order, too.
    *
    The ancient order was a long mnemonic device. Early users strung the letters together to correspond to the words of a mnemonic sentence or storyline.
    *
    In Semitic Writing: From Pictograph to Alphabet GR Driver touches on several explanations he’s come across, from “astral or lunar theories” to the order “representing a didactic poem” or being “based on the notation of the Sumerian musical scales.”
    *
    David Diringer, in The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind, suggests that there’s no reason at all: “…it is highly probable that the matter has no particular significance...There is some appearance of phonetic grouping in the order of the letters of the North Semitic alphabet, but this may be accidental.”
    *
    The alphabet may have had a numerical component, and the order is reverse-engineered to the follow and match the numbers that the letters represented for merchants. Later civilizations hung on to the obsolete order for convenience’s sake.
  • SugarFree||

    I'm not being a know-it-all. I'm using my librarian powers.

  • $park¥||

    Same difference.

  • SugarFree||

    There is a significant overlap.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Thanks, Cliffy

  • ||

    Cliffy on beer
  • ||

  • ||

    Which came first, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, or the Alphabet Song?

  • SugarFree||

    The lyrics for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" were first published in 1806, but the tune (used for Twinkle, Alphabet Song and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep) was first published in 1761 as "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman." (Mozart created a number of variations for "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" in 1781-82.)

    The music and lyrics for "The Alphabet Song" were copyrighted in 1835.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Mind. Blown.

  • $park¥||

    The whole sit down/sit up thing has to do with relational positioning. If you're standing, you have to move downwards to sit down. If you're sitting hunched over, you need to move your body upwards to sit up.

    /corrective pedant

  • ||

    This article is the pot calling the grass green. Ingrammtically correct, throughout.

  • Libertymike||

    How about "coach him up"?

  • ||

    Sandusky?

  • Geoff Nathan||

    It's always sad when journalists write on a topic they know nothing about, like the English Language, just because they happen to speak it.
    The uses of 'up', 'out' and so on have been extensively studied by linguists, and are well understood. They make perfect sense, given an appropriate theory of semantics, and conceptions of categorization (a field also studied by psychologists). For an example, you can read the chapter in George Lakoff's book Women, Fire and Dangerous Things on the meaning of 'over' (roll over, throw over, get over (a disease) etc.)
    And what do the meaning of post-verbal particles have to do with splitting infinitives? This so-called rule is a weird obsession invented in the late eighteenth century by some busybody, and it is only marked by a few journalists, especially since the prohibition really doesn't make any sense, and didn't exist in Beowulf, Shakespeare, Jane Austen or any modern writer.
    As for his example of business gobbledygook, the phrases actually do mean something more than just 'make more money'. Again, just because Hinkle doesn't know what they mean doesn't mean they aren't meaningful.
    Why this article was reprinted in H&R is a mystery--there's nothing libertarian in it at all--it's just conservative mumphery.

  • $park¥||

    It's always sad when Buzz Killington shows up to scowl at everyone for having a little levity.

  • ||

    Now who wants to hear a story about a bridge?

  • Randian||

    Do you know why W.S. Gilbert was frequently drunk on his transatlantic crossings?

  • Geoff Nathan||

    If I thought Hinkle was 'having a little levity' I would have left him alone. However, I think he really thought he was making some kind of libertarian-ish point. But it was his point that was -ish.
    Also, 'as such' DOES have an antecedent--the date given. You have to read between the lines. I'm not sure Hinkle even read the lines themselves here, let alone between them.

  • $park¥||

    Are you another one of those people that gets mad at reason contributors for not writing what you think they should write?

  • Geoff Nathan||

    No, I'm one of those people who get mad at reason contributors for criticizing the way other people write.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I, for one, am upset that Reason gives very little coverage to Ohio State football, Lakers basketball, mid-century modern architecture/design, Kentucky bourbon, and kung-fu movies. Until Reason begins to change it's editorial policies to conform to my personal interests, consider my subscription CANCELLED!

  • Agammamon||

    Oh, wait - you responded to something in the article? Don't you know we don't read the articles, just jump right into the comments, slinging crap every which way.

    At least I am - I've gotten this far down and still haven't read it. As a matter of fact, until I read your comment I had forgotten what the article was about.

  • Way Of The Crane||

    If we sit down in a chair, then why do we then sit up straight? And why do we ride out a storm instead of riding it in? What’s up with that? For that matter, why do we say “What’s up with that?” to express skepticism but “I’m down with that” to express assent? Since up is positive and down is negative, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

    For that matter, why is it called "jerking off" instead of "jerking on" or "in" or even "through"?

    Don't mind me, I'm just jerking through.

  • $park¥||

    Jerking off really sounds like the last thing you'd want to do with your penis.

  • SugarFree||

    Personally, I think the slang for masturbation that makes the most sense is "rub one out." While "one" is a little vague, the intended reference is clear. Anything but an orgasm and its usual fluids would be specified. "I rubbed a lizard out of my penis."

    And it works for both men and women.

  • Way Of The Crane||

    And it works for both men and women.

    I don't know... I think "rubbing one in" makes more sense for women.

  • $park¥||

    Not always. Many women don't need any kind of inward motion to achieve their goal.

  • Enough About Palin||

    No. It's tuning-up the wedding-tackle.

  • ||

    I think "off" and "out" seem natural. I guess I'm saying that "off" and "out" seem better than "on" or "in" when referencing semen.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Excuse me, but I have to go leave a shit.

  • ||

    Are you married to Sandi, Brooksie?

  • Tim||

    "A. Barton Hinkle on What's the deal with Jumbo Shrimp"...

    gah.

  • phandaal||

    Yikes. Another anti-split infinitive crusader!

    Words do have meaning, and their use should facilitate the flow of information, but holding to antiquated rules just because they're "the rules" is pretty un-libertarian.

  • $park¥||

    but holding to antiquated rules just because they're "the rules" is pretty un-libertarian.

    The Constitution would like a word with you.

  • phandaal||

    Definitely! That's exactly what I was talking about. Glad you found the subtext there.

  • 34lbs||

    Wanna hear an awesome story of corporatism, innefficiency, captive regulations and incompetency, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myki, the company hired, is now suing the Victorian government over some dumb dispute, what's worse is the fact that the states revenue is mostly from federal taxes.. so when you use give contracts for a public service out to private corporations, you have socialized losses, and privatized gains... Plus that myki shit is easy to fair evade....

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Brutal.

  • 34lbs||

    Abso-fuckin-lutely, but it's cool jumping on a bus and just smacking your wallet against a little scanner thing that goes "beep boop", it's like star trek or mass effect with the credit chit.

  • Agammamon||

    I'd just rub my arse against it. Used to do that with a contactless ID card I used for a short while, while I was in the military.

    Also, when "34lbs" mentioned victorian government was anyone midly confused as to why there's a *recent* lawsuit? Or was that just me? And was your second thought that this was just the most recent round of some baroque european dispute carrying on to the modern day?

  • ||

    Boaring storey tows the lion lichen ate hon dread pwned guerrilla.

  • Pinky||

    I've just wasted 20 minutes.

  • Lincoln||

    Ha, if we're to get into language competence maybe we should be talking about legalese.

    People=state
    people=individuals
    person(s)=legal entity
    corporation=person

    Yes, language is extremely important to have a common standard within in order to maintain consistency in communication. If we think the same words mean different things we're probably just going to argue over semantic nonsense even if we are in total congruence about the actual concept at hand.

    In this vein, I must say that the authors concerns about language usage seem quite trivial and nonsensical relative to the serious issues we have facing language as a whole. It's basic corruption by legalese has reached such an extent that one must spend dedicated months in order to voice any legal opinion that will be recognized by the courts as intended by lay-person author(s).

    There can never be equality in law when almost every subsection, of every section, of every Title of codified law begins with definitions which are sometimes held to neither the standard of common dictionaries, nor legal dictionaries.

    Incompetence indeed. :)

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