Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dumbing Down By The Numbers

     This may seem like a picayune thing to some, but it has always bothered me how people pronounce the year. For instance, they say twenty twelve instead of the numerically accurate two thousand and twelve. Any year is a whole number that is increased by one every twelve months. Therefore, twenty twelve is two numbers, neither of which is the correct designation for the current year.
     This dumbed-down pronunciation of the year started sometime in the middle of the last century. Before that time, people pronounced the year in one of two ways. They either pronounced the thousand, hundreds, tens and ones using the correct mathematical notation, e.g. seventeen hundred and sixty two, or they added In the year of our Lord prior to the aforementioned pronunciation. This was how the numerical number marking the passage of time was pronounced prior to sometime in the twentieth century.
     By itself, the mispronunciation of the year does not signal the dumbing-down of our culture, but it is illustrative of the general lowering of our intellectual standards. The case can be made that no one would misinterpret the year when it is presented in this numerically incorrect manner, so what's the harm? And I might agree with that conclusion if other aspects of our language were not also dumbed-down leading to a general downward spiral in our collective intellectual discourse. An example of this comes from my days as a computer programmer. I was helping a client over the phone to fix a problem with their computer that required them to type a string that consisted of both numbers and letters. When I told this person to type in an O , they said, "Is that the number O or the letter O. I politely told them that an O is always a letter and the number is called a zero.
     The loss of intellectual accuracy in our language, I believe, has increased the ability of politicians to cloud issues and successfully mislead the populace. It has allowed them to blur the lines between what is true and what is not. A good example of this is the substitution of  the term "reduction in the rate of growth" for a cut. No Federal budget, nor any item in that budget, has ever been cut. That is why the Federal government spends more money each year than they did the year before. This can only be accomplished with a misinformed, or in some cases, a dis-informed public.
     If we strive for accuracy in the little things, like the pronunciation of the year, we engage in intellectual discipline which helps train our minds to demand accuracy in other more important areas our lives. It leads us to develop our critical thinking skills, and avoid being fooled by the verbal subterfuge in which our leaders engage.

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