Far and away the most calls today, and the most dispiriting calls, were about childhood vaccinations – how students entering public kindergarten are supposed to have them but how often, very often, parents exercise a ‘’personal belief exemption’’ and don’t vaccinate their kids.
That ‘’belief’’ used to be about religious convictions; now it’s about the fear, fed by the fact that anyone can say anything at all on the Internet, that vaccinations are dangerous for children and even trigger autism.
If you heard the exasperation in my guests’ voices, it’s for good reason. The New Yorker’s Michael Specter wrote a chapter about this in his book ‘’Denialism.’’ He and pediatrician Peter Shulman are stupefied and alarmed by some of the claptrap being peddled as vaccine science on the Internet – and believed by otherwise educated, rational people who wouldn’t credit a back-fence rumor but buy into the same quality of ''information'' they find online.
Polio, measles, diphtheria – these killed multiple thousands upon thousands of American children just a few decades ago. They still do kill millions of kids around the world. Vaccination has been the single biggest instrument in defeating these communicable diseases – and yet as more parents choose not to vaccinate their kids, we’re endangering a young population growing up with no immunities to killer diseases, not because there is no protection, but because their parents choose not to avail themselves of it.
Without a doubt we’ll talk about this again.
Now I’m going to go on a small double-barreled rant about two irksome practices – and it occurs to me that a lot of you may already be converts on this.
The first is killing my ears. In English, when you use the word ‘’the’’ before a word that begins with a vowel, like ‘’the extra’’ or ‘’the opening,’’ the ‘’e’’ in ‘’the’’ is always pronounced wih a long ‘’e,’’ as in ‘’thee.’’
Try it yourself, right now. THEE extra, THEE opening, to distinguish where the article, ``the,’’ ends, and where the word after it begins.
Now, when the word – noun, adjective or adverb -- begins with a consonant, the ‘’e’’ can be short, as in, ‘’THUH blue house … THUH calendar … ‘’ But not when the word begins with a vowel.
The laudable pop culture example I can think of this rule comes courtesy of Jim Morrison, in the Doors’ seemingly endless song, ‘’The End,’’ when he’s singing, ``This is THEE end, my only friend, THEE end.’’
Amazing but true. I'm using rock-and-roll to teach pronunciation.
What I now hear constantly -- sorry, Gen Y, but this especially means you -- makes me cringe: ``THUH end.’’
I had to listen to a repeat-loop of a phone recording today: ‘’Your call will be answered in THUH order it was received.’’ And overhearing a conversation at a market: ``I was watching THUH Open,’’ meaning the tennis tournament.
That it is incorrect is only lamentable. But the ‘’THUH’’ phenomenon commits the far great offense of being ugly. The lyricism of English is one of the joys and glories of the language. How did this awful clunker get started, and how do we stop it? Tell me THEE answer, please!
The second irksome practice is something that ISN’T happening. Fewer people seem to be know, as the cliché goes, ‘’which way is north’’ [a cliché that used to mean knowing the obvious].
At least a half-dozen times in the last month, I’ve called a business to double-check a location, places like a chain store, a restaurant, a wireless phone shop.
We’re at the corner of X and Y, the clerk – associate – says. Which corner? I ask. Northeast? Northwest? Just the corner, I was told. There are four corners, I say. Which one is it, so I can figure out logistics?
The associates don’t know what side of the street the business is on. East or west? North or south? ‘’Next to Starbucks’’ one offered – which doesn’t help if you’re trying to plan a route. Or they’ll simply say, ‘’I don’t know,’’ in a tone that lets me know that I’m snotty for even asking, as if I’ve posed a question about quantum mechanics. One woman just handed the phone to her manager to answer me.
One associate was completely flummoxed when I asked, I’m heading west on Sunset, so which corner are you on? She asked, which way is west?
Is this a consequence of the Mapquest/GPS generation? Isn’t there a compass in the iPhone?