Man, this is a tough day for us wordsmiths.
Kathy Gil, a colleague of mine, admonishes us for referring to the Gulf of Mexico disaster as an oil “spill.”
The New York Times yawns from an historical perspective, the Gulf of Mexico disaster may not be America’s worst as we are told by our president.
And, Robin Koerner, publisher of a website that translates foreign news into English, suggests the stuff we write may be read but not reproduced because our youth cranked out by our education system is grammatically challenged.
Let me say this about them.
A spill, she says, is when you accidentally knock a glass of milk on the kitchen table. Certainly, something dumping 1.4285714 million gallons per day ain’t a napkin to blot up.
Henceforth, I no longer will refer to the blowout as a spill in my writings and headlines which Kathy suggests all us scribes subscribe.
I suppose crafting spill as 60,000 barrels per day in the same sentence is an oxymoron. For shame.
Alas, the lady has an agenda. Blowout, she says, describes the magnitude of the event to help educate the fatheads who don’t appreciate the suffering created in the Gulf coast. Agreed.
Where I part ranks with Kathy Gil is I don’t in my daily accounts of the tragedy use it as a weapon to shape U.S. energy policy and move the country away from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of heating, cooling, driving and powering our economy.
I prefer to simply report the stupidity, greed, tunnel-vision and destruction of our economy and environment that the blowout represents. If the electorate and politicians can get it through their fat heads that perhaps we should change our energy policy, I have done my job.
Now, the question of whether the blowout is America’s worst environmental disaster depends on how you define it, according to historians and scientists quoted in the New York Times story.
“The White House is ignoring all the shades and complexities here to make a dramatic point,” said Donald E. Worster, an environmental historian at the University of Kansas and a visiting scholar at Yale.
The Dust Bowl. For a decade beginning in the 1930s a drought exposed horrendous farming practices creating erosion by plowing that extended from the Texas Panhandle to North Dakota. More than 2 million people migrated to other parts of the country looking for work. The dust clouds were so intense and widespread that a session of Congress addressing the problem was postponed because of the dust choking the U.S. capitol in Washington, D.C.
The Johnstown Flood. On May 31, 1889, torrential rains swelled behind a poorly man-made dam and when it burst, a water avalanche 14 feet high swept through the southwestern Pennsylvania town killing about 2,200 residents.
The Bison Slaughter. Buffalo, the staple for food and clothes for Native Americans, were slaughtered to the point of near extinction by white hunters and orders from Gen. Tecumseh Sherman after the Civil War. Sherman wanted to starve the tribes into submission.
The Lakeview Gusher. On March 14, 1910, an oil well blowout between the towns of Taft and Maricopa in California’s Kern County gushed 100,000 bpd for 18 months. Union Oil collected the oil in huge sandbagged pens and earthen berms, siphoned the bulk to refineries for tidy profits and the rest soaked back into the earth or evaporated. “Today, little evidence of the spill remains, and outside Kern County, it has been largely forgotten,” the Times reported. “That is surely because the area is desert scrub land, and few people were inconvenienced by the spill.”
Sorry, New York Times. A gambler at heart, I will put my money on the Gulf disaster beginning April 20, 2010, and ending gosh knows when.
I include Robin Koerner’s article on grammar because it is a subject close to my heart, you know, being a wordsmith and all that.
(UPDATE: I have been informed Koerner, whom I obviously never met, is a man to which I owe an apology. I will allow my embarrassment continue unedited and corrected to which I pray he understands.)
She uses an example of a college masters degree student with a 3.9 point grade average unable to properly use the apostrophe in a sentence — in his job application resume where the written word is essential.
Koerner must be old school. It boggles our minds we have an education system that allows students to progress when they haven’t mastered fifth grade grammar, spelling and punctuation rules.
We wordsmiths take the high road and automatically throw such written matter into the trash can.
We both agree that colleges should never accept students for enrollment that are clueless in English basics. That would force the high schools and elementary schools to do their damn jobs and we both mean not just throwing money at the problem. The buck has to stop somewhere.
In fact, Koerner volunteered to help her 3.9-GPA student to demand his money back from the school systems.
I am a complete America-phile, so it pains me to ask this, but how exactly, America, do we expect to be taken seriously if our people around the table in the international halls of power, where rightly or wrongly the big decisions get made, write our own language with more errors than those foreigners who’ve had to learn it as a second language, or even as a third?
We wordsmiths are a persnickety and sometimes grouchy group.
Cross posted on
Posted comments are welcome and automatically go to my email address at [email protected]. Remmers’ varied career spans 26 years in the newspaper business. Read a more thorough resume on The Remmers Report.
Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.