The website FactCheck.org has a look at the conspiracy theories that have arisen, and have been promulgated deliberately, after the mass murder and terrorization of school children in the United States on Valentine’s Day 2018. Initially the murderer was the focus of the rumors, but after the surviving children began calling for better gun controls, the conspiracy theories became about them. The gun proliferation advocates began to attack the credibility of the survivors who were speaking out.
The internet has been rife with rumors about the school shooting that left 17 dead in Florida on Feb. 14. We’ve debunked several of them.
Initially, the rumors focused on the alleged shooter himself, Nikolas Cruz. But, as students who survived the shooting started advocating stricter gun controls, new rumors focused on the most vocal among them. Those falsehoods grew into full-fledged conspiracy theories, one of which briefly topped the list of trending videos on YouTube.
Go to FactCheck.org for the rest of the story, and go to WNPR to hear an interview with with people covering this story. Here is a direct link to the interview. Total time: 49:23. This story starts at about the nineteen minute mark.
I’ve posted on free speech and freedom of expression before here on Green Comet. I talked about how people confused the right to free speech with the right to freedom from criticism for what they say. Some people think that their right to freedom of expression means that they get to say whatever they want and no one can challenge them on it. But there is another way that the idea of freedom is perverted: when it is used to justify hate speech and bigotry. This article on The Seattle Star does a good job of looking at that.
Over the past year, the far right has held a number of “free speech” rallies that are, in reality, testing grounds for how many people they can publicly assemble and launch violent attacks on people …
It really shouldn’t be that hard to tell the difference between free speech, as in the fundamental democratic right; and free speech, as in the amoral, we’ll-attack-whoever-we-want manifesto of the far right.
We’re living in a time when actual free speech rights are as precarious as ever–consider, for example, the autocrat in the White House who orders professional football team owners to fire players who take a knee during the National Anthem. Or the FBI targeting supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement as dangerous “extremists.”
We look back on the foolish things people have allowed to happen in the past and shake our heads. “How could they not see?” we ask. Who will be shaking their heads at our foolishness?
I imagine this conversation in front of a restaurant where two people have just had lunch and they’re getting on with the rest of the workday:
Person One, handing Person Two a file folder: “Bring this to the office. I’m going to meet a client.”
Person Two: “Do you mean you want me to bring it to you at the office when I come in tomorrow?”
Person One: “No. I want you to bring it to the office now.”
Person Two is confused because Person One is going to meet a client and won’t be at the office to bring it to. Then their face lights up as they get it. “Oh! You mean TAKE it to the office.”
Person One, frowning: “That’s what I said.”
Some English language users use the word “bring” where the rest of us would use the word “take.” Most of us speak with the sense that things are brought here and taken there. “Please bring the coffee here, to this table.” “Please take the coffee there, to that table.” But some people use “bring” in both cases. (Is anyone else beginning to think that “bring” sounds funny?) To us, that usage just sounds wrong, while to them it’s perfectly natural. I’ll bet they can’t even see why it would be a problem. The truth is, I can see their reasoning. When they are taking the coffee to that table, they are going there and bringing the coffee with them. When looked at in that light, from the point of view of the destination rather than from where the statement is made, the concept of bringing becomes synonymous with taking. Therefore, the people making that mistake have no compelling reason to change, nor to even see that anything is wrong.
Don’t touch those wires! Photo credit: NOAA – Public domain
New Word of the Day – Bombogenesis
Today’s new word of the day — a form of neologism* — is bombogenesis. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, bombogenesis is a noun meaning the development and intensification of a major storm. It comes from the recent tendency to describe a major storm as a “snow bomb” or “weather bomb.” Lisa Suhey has written an article for the Christian Science Monitor that explains the term bombogenesis and a few others, including blizzard. The weather service has been using bombogenesis for a while, and they even have specific criteria for it, including “when a storm’s area of lowest surface pressure experiences a rapid drop of more than 24 millibars in 24 hours.” Her article also clarifies what makes a blizzard, and it’s not just a lot of snow. To qualify as a blizzard, in addition to a lot of snow, there must be wind-driven snow that reduces visibility to zero for more than three hours, with wind greater than 35 MPH (56 KPH.)
*I differentiated “new word” from “neologism” because to get into my New Word of the Day series, the word must be in a dictionary as a new word, while a neologism isn’t necessarily in a dictionary yet. It might have just been invented by a witty punster or a schizophrenic.
Has any of my readers ever lived through a snow bomb?
Some style guides are beginning to accept the epicene they. We’ll find out who, but first some groundwork. Epicene, in this case, means gender-free. English is a language with gender in its grammar. He-she, his-her, for example. This leads to clumsy or biased language. All the he/she, his/her, s/he, hir awkwardness has been unable to successfully replace the pretense that “he” can stand in for a gender-neutral pronoun. It is the third person singular pronoun that is a problem. We have the binary pronouns he and she for gender-specific third person singular application, and they for non-specific plural. But there is no gender-neutral singular pronoun for the job if the third person’s gender is unspecified.
English used to have a solution for the problem: the singular they. Beginning in the 14th century and continuing for 500 years, English speakers used “they” for the indefinite third person singular pronoun. Until this day it has continued in common speech and everyone knows what you mean when you use it. But in the 19th century linguists and grammarians took issue with it because they is plural. They decreed that we should use he, or even one.
Merriam Webster Dictionary – One common bugbear of the grammatical nitpicker is the singular they. For those who haven’t kept up, the complaint is this: the use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun (as in, “Ask each of the students what they want for lunch.”) is ungrammatical because they is a plural pronoun.
Oxford Dictionary – It happens when they, them, their, and themselves refer back to subjects that are grammatically singular.
“They” is making a comeback, and none too soon. It has been the correct choice in the case of indeterminate gender. “Does everyone have their life jacket?” Everyone is singular grammatically, and their is plural, but this usage is considered correct. Now it’s becoming more acceptable to use it to avoid assigning gender. “Do they have their lifejacket?” They and their are both ostensibly plural, but the subject is obviously singular. This usage, once frowned upon as ungrammatical and a sign of a lack of education, is returning to its proper and useful place. The result is a singular, non-binary they.
I’m glad because I made a conscious decision to use they this way when I began writing Green Comet.