This week's HiHB moment

« previous post | next post »

Among the comments on Information Week's story of 11/20/08, "Woolly Mammoth Genome Sequenced", is this rant from "Guest" (Nov. 20, 2008 8:32:45 AM), which will provide this week's Hell in a Handbasket (HiHB) moment:

I'm not worried. Whenever I see the deteriorating English skills contained in all these blogs and comments, I am convinced that Homo Sapiens are now in a stage of "devolution" and within less than 10,000 years we will once again be equal in intelligence to not only Neanderthals but Cro-Magnons as well. Maybe we will need whatever beasts we can "manufacture" now so we can use them in the future.* not to mention the ridiculous reasoning or lack therof reflected in so many absurd comments.

According to this commenter, not only are English skills deteriorating, but in fact human cognition itself is deteriorating. (You can supply the implied intermediate steps: the English language is deteriorating, language in general is deteriorating.) You don't see such overheated alarm very often.

I know, I know, what does deteriorate mean in such discussions, and how do we detect deterioration?

Passing from such imponderables, I turn to the commenter's own English skills.

To start with, the expression Homo sapiens is singular. The idea that it's plural, because of the -s on sapiens, is widespread but mistaken.

And it's Homo sapiens, not Homo Sapiens. There are conventions for species names.

The spelling therof for thereof is non-standard (the OED doesn't recognize it as a variant from any period of English), though to judge from the Google hits it's pretty popular.

Then, the commenter apparently intended the footnote "not to mention …" to be attached to "the deteriorating English skills contained in all these blogs and comments", but there's no asterisk on this earlier expression to tell you where to attach the footnote. Oh yes, the punctuation "future. *not to mention …" (rather than "future.* not to mention …") would be standard.

Finally, I would have reworded "the ridiculous reasoning or lack thereof" to avoid the possible (and absurd) mis-reading 'the ridiculous reasoning or lack of ridiculous reasoning', when the writer's intention was to refer to reasoning that was ridiculous or lacking. In fact, "ridiculous reasoning" — or something a bit more focused, like "poor reasoning" — should have sufficed here.

All small points, but telling in the writing of someone who raves so wildly about the state of English skills these days.

(An earlier version of the comment had "**** Sapiens", perhaps because of the mistaken belief that the word homo needed to be avoided, as a taboo word referring to homosexuals.)

[Added 11/23: A number of readers have pointed out that, in addition to the faults in writing, there's probably also a factual error in this passage: "we will once again be equal in intelligence to not only Neanderthals but Cro-Magnons as well" suggests that the writer believes that Cro-Magnons are more primitive than Neanderthals. This is just wrong; Cro-Magnons are early humans (Homo sapiens).]


Comments are closed.