2016 election, English language and grammar, federal job, Trump, Writing

A bad spell of whether

It’s official. We’re in a national crisis. You don’t have to take my word for it. Plenty of more authoritative authorities than your Uncle Grumpy have exposed the shocking truth: the White House can’t spell.

In Washington, you know you’re in trouble when two big stories about your problem surface like enemy submarines on the same day. Now, both the Washington Post and the Associated Press have articles listing the spelling and grammar gaffes the new administration has inflicted on the public.

The list isn’t short. Some of these mistake are mildly humorous, like the news that “Teresa May,” a British porn star, would visit the White House instead of Theresa May, the prime minister. (Irrelevant parenthetical question: Since the PM is of the female persuasion, shouldn’t she be called the prime mistress? A lot more people would listen to her speeches!)

But yuks aside, this is an official White House document mucking up the name of a foreign head of state, and not just any old state but bleedin’ Britain, FFS! In the name of equal-opportunity diplomatic insults, another release referred to Colombia as “Columbia.”

Then there was the presidential quote on the official inauguration poster that read in part, “No dream is too big, no challenge is to great.” They blamed a third-party vendor for that one, which is sheep flop.* Having been both vendor and vendee,** I can testify that the client must always, ALWAYS, review and approve the product before it goes to press. Other gems include “unpresidented,” “lose cannon,” and “attaker” for “attacker” (27 times in a single document).

Of course, we all make mistakes, including the very media that reported these. Before I’d even had my coffee this morning, the Post smacked me with, “Capitol Hill Republicans have tread carefully….” It’s trod, folks.

Some of the administration’s fumbles probably stem from plain carelessness, compounded by internet-induced ADD. However, I suspect they’re also caused by what the AP headline suggests as a solution: “Hey, Mr. President: It’s time to make spellcheck great again.” Sorry, but spellcheck wouldn’t have caught Teresa, Columbia, no challenge is to great, or the misuse of “historical” for “historic” in another tweet.

As I told my students in the writing workshops I used to teach, spellcheck can’t save you from yourself. It’s no substitute for thorough reviewing and proofreading by people who know and care about the English language.

This requires time and effort. But correcting and apologizing for mistakes eats up a lot more resources! You can’t even measure the damage that typos, malapropisms, and BAD writing can do to your credibility. I shudder to imagine what people thought of my old newsroom when we quoted a pope as saying, “Life begins at the moment of contraception.”

So block out some proofreading time, get yourself some reading glasses, and be your own spellchecker. Remember, even if you’re as ancient as Uncle G, it’s never two late too lern to right good English!


*A euphemism. Use your imagination.
**An actual word! It means, “the person to whom a thing is sold” (Dictionary.com). I could’ve just said “customer,” but this way I get to demonstrate that I know how to use a dictionary.

federal job, history, life, Writing

Uncle Grumpy’s new friend

What do we all want most? (No, not that; this is strictly a G-rated post, “G” for Grumpy.) We want the whole world to agree with us and acknowledge how brilliant we are! So with no humility or irony whatsoever, I present that the fine folks at The New York Times are in flat-out straight-shootin’ snyc with Uncle G on the use and misuse of the King’s English, as shown by this item from Sunday’s doorstop:* “Baffled by Office Buzzwords.”

Yes, buzzwords! These critters aren’t exactly a new problem. There are countless lists, articles, games, classes, books, and probably nuclear death rays devoted to their eradication. But like reality TV shows, new apps, and Republican presidential candidates, no matter how obnoxious, useless, or hilarious they are, they just keep multiplying!

Case in point: The writer of the Times article says her boss told her he’d have to schedule her “bilateral.” Her what? Is he asking her out for a lunch of clams or are those “biavalves”?** Does he mean her bilateral intranodular torsal left lower ligamenture, which can only be repaired by Tommy James surgery, where you stand on the hospital roof in your gown belting out “Mony Mony”?

Sorry, I digress.*** A “bilateral” is simply a one-on-one meeting. Another current b-word for this type of event is “touchpoint,” which, if I were the female employee with a male boss, would send me scurrying to the EEO office. But “meeting,” of course, is far too simple and lacking in syllables.

This use of “bilateral” is also a case of “nounifying” a perfectly good word into a mutated form of its innocent prior self. They’ve already verbified “leverage” and “impact” past the point of recognition. Your favorite words could be next!

Q: Can you use “bilateral” correctly in a sentence?

A: “They had us in third and 37 but ole Billy Bob, he faked ’em out of their Calvin Kleins and got the ball to Bobby Bill bilateral, and Bobby, he done run plumb through ’em like a Weed Whacker through Aunt Sister’s fescue.”

Q: What’s wrong with this sentence, which comes from an ad for a shoe accessory called the ‘Grasswalker’? “Flexible transparent strips that adhere to the bottom of your favorite stiletto’s or thicker high heels to keep them from sinking into the grass!”

A: “Flexible transparent” is actually the name of a folk music ensemble. Either that or it’s the new dictionary listing for Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner.

Q: Last but not least, can you comment on this sentence, the last two words in particular? “That night, the emergency was a mother­less minke whale calf, just weeks old, beached off a backwater of Assawoman Bay.”

A: Not a chance.

*A daily newspaper of such length and heft that it could prop open a door, break the unwary reader’s foot if dropped on same, or spill said reader out of his hammock.
***Not a buzzword. Very useful, and more succinct than “I just kind of rambled all over the page.”

federal job, life, online security, retirement

Diary of a hacking victim, chapter 1

Exposed. Naked (and not in any good way). Vulnerable. Powerless. Adrift. Apprehensive. Anxious. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. And definitely mad as hell. These are some of the things I’ve felt since learning that I’m among the millions whose precious personal data was lost when the federal Office of Personnel Management got hacked.

When the story broke I figured it was just a matter of time, and sure enough, I now have an email from OPM: “The data compromised in this incident may have included your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number, date and place of birth, and current or former address.” It goes on to offer credit monitoring and ID theft insurance, and claims OPM has made “an aggressive effort to update its cybersecurity posture.”  All well and good – but a textbook case of locking the barn after the horse is out. The systems are so old they can’t even be encrypted. Didn’t anybody understand the risk?

I’ve had similar problems before, starting the first time I bought something online and had my credit card number hijacked. But you can fix that with a new card, usually with no liability. It’s pretty frightening to think that my SSN, 30+ years of federal employment records, and who knows what else are out there in a hostile cyber-wilderness. As my former boss, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, has said in her battle against tax-related ID theft, “Identity theft is an invasive crime that can have a traumatic emotional impact,” including symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder.

I know there are many, many others facing much more danger than me, especially those in the military, the State Department, intelligence agencies, and other sensitive jobs. I just have no confidence that OPM will right the ship, or that its leaders even grasp the magnitude of their failures and incompetence. That email was signed by the chief information officer. Why not the director? Why can’t she take responsibility?

Update and correction:  In the earlier version of this post, I described the security feature on the credit monitoring site, which says “Please confirm that you are human and not a robot by checking the box below” as likely to be ineffective. I’ve since learned that it works like the traditional captcha feature. Sorry for the error.