Too Easy to Believe

…or “Grammatical” Behavior Modification

Lazy uses of the language perturb me. Itʼs an unreasonable and petty perturbation, but itʼs real, at least to me. One such abuse is the use of “journal” as a verb: “We journal regularly in this class.” As in my earlier post, the word in question is a noun, not a verb. However, in this case my argument isnʼt as clear-cut. With “transition” I had the resounding evidence of the etymological, noun-specifying “-ion” ending on which to found my argument.* “Journal” is a dicier word. This time, though, the dictionaries are clearly with me (a pleasant surprise, as the faux verb gets heard frequently, possibly more often than verb “transition”). I didnʼt even have to go beyond Appleʼs standard Dictionary program (the very source of information that by trying to be too up-to-date, I guess, somewhat undermined my argument last time) to show there is only a single use of the word, a noun.

Ah ha! Victory! QED in one step. (Probably I should quit now, but impetuosity and pedagogical intensity fire me onward.)

What really peeves me about the gutlesss and false verb “journal” (maybe most often encountered in the present participle as “journaling”**) is the vast number of language arts teachers (the ones imposing, as I did for decades, journal-writing on students) who misuse the noun. Youʼd think those entrusted to preserve the refinements of the lingo would think twice about automatically employing such shiftless, unimaginative and lackadaisical usages. You would think it even more so for the organization responsible for such instructorsʼ professionalism, the National Council of Teachers of English, but we would be wrong in that belief. NCTE is one of the principal sources of the malingering sloth of verb-journal. When the leaders of the teachers advocate the unword, few will stand stalwartly against so much hot air.

In the end, no matter how many (not) so-called “English teachers” try to use the word as verb, it isnʼt. In fact itʼs just lazy to tell oneʼs students “to journal.” One doesnʼt say that one “diaries.” One “keeps a diary,” or one “writes in oneʼs diary” — the very same verbs that should be used with “journal.” This parallel is especially significant etymologically, as both words derive from the same roots and only diverge from each other through pronunciation changes. Both words arise from Latin dies (day), with “journal” stemming from diurnalis, meaning “daily.” “Journal” simply incorporates in spelling the slight (mis- or re-)pronunciation of the “di-” into a “J” sound. If a journal is a daily record, as is a diary, of oneʼs personal experiences, then leaving them both pristine as nouns, unsullied by forced intrusion into the realm of verbs, makes sense. (That, or I must swallow the perhaps even more metaphorically inedible “to diary.”)

It may require a bit of mental acuity or imaginative application of language and/or thesaurus skills, but I think we could all slay this abomination of the tyrant unverb “to journal.” Itʼs more accurate and true to say “write a journal” or even “keep a journal.”

Unfortunately (for you), I am not quite done yet. I have the same issue (petty, admittedly, and this one undoubtedly a lost cause) with the nonverb, “blog.” Being a brand-new word (a neologism condensing the almost-as-new “web log” or “weblog”), its use as a verb is taken for granted by dictionaries that recognize the word at all. But again the same slovenliness in usage is showing. A blog began as a thing, the writing one does more or less daily and posts online, in hopes of othersʼ interest and reading. Using the same word as a verb (although I should find it acceptable, “blog” being a new word and being able to get used as people wish), to say “Iʼm blogging” just sounds cheap. Is it too difficult to indicate one writes oneʼs blog? Or that one updates the blog periodically? Or better yet, that one revises and/or edits that blog when necessary? (Hereʼs an example by a “professional expert” that needs just such editing and correction of errors. Iʼm pretty confident that the lethargic negligent who churned out that inept rough draft thought s/he was “blogging” and therefore indolently didnʼt bother to proofread, edit or revise.) Perhaps if we were all more careful with our use of “blog,” we might all create and maintain better, more meticulous, less lazy blogs.

Unfortunately for me (for once itʼs me and not you), our English language has a long history of turning words that were one part of speech into another. Nouns have regularly become adjectives and even (horrors for me, you might think) verbs. Verbs have been thingified, creating nouns (and if “thingify” were a real word, its structure reveals one common way to make a noun into a verb — add a verb ending such as “-ify”). My problem is with the lazy uses that add nothing to language or discourse but merely flatten, reduce and mumble our meanings and intentions. Both verb-izings,*** “journal” and “blog,” prevaricate against the actual difficulty of good, conscientious daily writing by imposing a deliberate slothful and unrealistic apparent easiness.**** Itʼs a lie we should shun.

* (regardless what the dang dictionary determined!)

** And then as a gerund (“His journaling is disappointingly poor in its frequency and content”), bringing us full-circle back to the realm of nouns! Because itʼs just so hard to say instead “daily writing,” for instance.

*** And thereʼs another way to turn a noun into a verb, add “-ize.”

**** After all, one only, merely, easily “blogs,” rather than the far more difficult challenges of actually writing, revising and editing. The word makes the job seem undemanding, a snap (when itʼs not). And thatʼs the hidden behavior modification technique, I believe, behind the academic use of “journaling” — the word makes the activity sound simple and even effortless, thus tricking otherwise unwilling pupils into unconscious obedience. Rather like advertising (or propaganda) from whence such duplicitous tricks arose.

Your responses would be most welcome…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

2 thoughts on “Too Easy to Believe

  1. This post has now (Saturday, 5 February 2011, at 3:18 PM) been quietly edited once and had two links added. “Blogging,” my rere sphincter!

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