Monday, October 10, 2011

Righting the Written

A While back when I was watching a program on the History Channel about the Civil War, I was surprised by the quality of some of the letters that were written home by the soldiers. The writing was downright inspirational—on both sides: Union and Confederate.

These were young men who were not particularly educated. Many were right off the farm. They would likely be considered “educationally challenged” by today’s politically correct standards, with most having never achieved the equivalent of a high school diploma.

But they nonetheless knew how to handle the written English language—properly…and beautifully. I have no choice but to believe they handled the spoken word just as well.

It may not be a strict scientific comparison, but I compared that 1860s dialogue to what I hear any morning from the young professionals on my local TV newscast…the newscasts that we can all listen to any morning as we have our coffee. I’ve decided that our early 21st century language and communication skills are dreadful. They’re unspeakable!

How could a mid-19th century American farm boy write with eloquence that outshines today’s professional?

Here’s one more quick comparison: In 1966, the Academy Award for the best screenplay was given to “A Man for all Seasons,” a beautifully written script about the condemnation and death of Sir Thomas Moore at the hands of King Henry the Eighth in 16th century England.

Jump forward 28 years. The 1994 award for best writing went to “Pulp Fiction,” two-and-a-half hours of profanity, depravity, and gratuitous violence.

In the space of one generation we went from lines such as this: “I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

To lines such as: “I hear they got some tasty burgers. I ain't never had one myself. How are they?”

We nose-dived from the heights of Sir Thomas Moore’s sophistication, to the netherworld of the glorification of the corrupt. We accomplished this in one genealogical generation.

Why did we take this plunge into the precipice of mediocrity? And did we take it willingly? Or is this the level that the entertainment industry wished upon us?

I’m not proposing an answer to these questions. Not at the moment. For now, it’s enough that we at least start asking ourselves why this happened. Anyone reading the first three sentences of the home page of my Web site can understand what I’m trying to do here.

It’s the same thing I try to do every week with my commentary—Tuesdays between 1-2 p.m. on “Cucina Chatter,” hosted by Lorraine Ranalli at

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