Saturday, July 4, 2009

Declare your independence today from dumbed-down words

Just about 233 years ago today, a small band of revolutionary thinkers agonized over whether to use inalienable or unalienable in the declaration of independence they were crafting.

Would the question even come up today?

Here we are, in this revolutionary age of click-and-learn, and still the notion lingers, like some moldy imperial decree, that Americans can’t be smart about their words, that they must be presented their news in terms that resonate with eighth-graders (okay, ninth-graders if you’re daring).

Americans of any mettle should chafe at such a condescending—and unnecessary—attitude. Why dumb down words when it’s so easy to look them up? Especially now that so many of us get at least some of our news online, where finding a definition takes just a few keystrokes.

Even readers of The New York Times have to look up the meaning of some of the newspaper’s terms. (“Sui generis” topped a recent list. Go ahead—see how long it takes you to look it up.) I declare that to be a good thing: it means we know we’re still capable of learning.

In fact, I’d say it was our inalienable right.