Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Head Smack Series

I am an inveterate problem solver. I don't do it on purpose. Things just spring to my attention and, as soon as I notice them, I know a way to do them better. I name this characteristic “not being passive to information.” It may not be a sign of intelligence, but it’s how I am.

My problem with my problem-solving, if I may put it that way, is that my solving skills far exceed my convincing skills. This is frustrating. Cassandra has become my patron saint, when Methusaleh should be (ref: Gigi, “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner).

I find my ideas so obvious, so excellent, so simple-quick-inexpensive, that I figure that if I just tell the right person, ne will smack nis head and say, "You're so right. I'll make that happen immediately."

But my experience with Stanford, Google, San Mateo County, and other objects of my mental bounty is that my ideas are rarely implemented. I am tired of writing to folks up and down the org chart and not finding a head-smacker.

I have two theories. Both, I regret to say, are cynical or at least curmudgeonly.
But first I'll acknowledge that these head-smack solutions often solve problems that affect many, many people a little, little bit.  That is, each affected person faces an occasional, temporary irritation, not a life threat. I've thought about how this skews all aspects of the matter: from identifying the problem to solving it to redressing the detriments of not having solved it sooner. Our litigation-centered view of societal problems is part of the story. These ideas may appear in upcoming posts called Cost-Benefit Calculus: The Area under the Curve and Litigation: It's NOT the Tip of the Iceberg. Stay tuned.

The financially cynical theory is that simple-quick-inexpensive solutions to real problems provide no room for corruption: no kickbacks, no bribes, no expensive presents from grateful contractors.

The psychologically cynical theory is that power-loving or ambitious people -- which describes pretty much all the people I write to in the hopes of finding a head-smacker -- view such solutions as ignorable.

You know the cynical old saying "Anything worth doing is worth doing for money”? Well, today’s version, applicable to both profit-making organizations and non-, may be “Anything worth doing is worth holding a power meeting about."

If there is no opportunity for scheduling a meeting with people whose schedules are already very full, and no reason to write a lengthy and serious report, and no possibility of favorable publicity, within the institution or outside it, then why bother? The fact that the solution serves the organization’s goals and will keep it from looking ridiculous to anyone who is affected (albeit temporarily and not severely) is not sufficient incentive to act.

Oh well. I accept defeat -- at least as to the efficacy of writing suggestions to those apparently in charge. Instead, I'll channel my energies into the Head Smack series.

Friday, May 21, 2010

NE-NER-NIS (part 2) - LANGUAGE 02

As mentioned in a previous post, I've created a trio of neuter singular pronouns, as follows:
NE: subject pronoun. Replaces he, she, he or she, they, or one.
NER: object pronoun. Replaces him, her, him or her, them, or one.
NIS: possessive pronoun. Replaces his, her, hers, his or her, his or hers, their or theirs, or one's.
These pronouns can be used for persons (or animals or robots) of unknown, unspecified, or irrelevant gender.

WHY NER, and not NIM, for the OBJECT PRONOUN

Some people tell me they'd prefer NIM for the OBJECT pronoun. I explain that I thought about that, too, before I rejected it in favor of NER for OBJECT and NIS for POSSESSIVE.

Principle #1. Gender Equality. NE uses the E that is common to both HE and SHE. For the non-subject pronouns, I wanted to be fair and borrow the masculine ending for one and the feminine ending for the other.

Principle #2:  Auditory Comfort. In order to be accepted, the substitute pronouns should be such that our mental and physical ears do not balk: the N is enough of a surprise.
The problem with using the ending sound of the feminine possessive is that it has two forms: HER and HERS:
It's HER book. The book is HERS.
HIS has only one form. The other grammatical persons have two forms, too, mostly with an S at the end:  OUR and OURS, YOUR and YOURS, THEIR and THEIRS.  Our ears want to add that S - or rather the sound of  Z - whenever the possessive pronoun is not followed by a noun. The only exception to the final S is the first person singular: MY and MINE. That makes HIS unique, or maybe I mean singular in two ways. Anyway, because HIS is the same with or without a following noun, NIS seemed the better choice for the possessive. That made NER the right choice for the object pronoun.

In addition, ER ends both the objective and the possessive adjectival forms of the feminine singular pronoun. That could lead to endless confusion or a violation of Principle #1 or both.

The Natural Superiority of NE NER NIS (with apologies to Ashley Montagu*)

Consider this sentence:
I feel certain that if people just start using these neuter
 pronouns, they can accustom their ears to the sounds.

Because there are two plural  nouns --  people and pronouns -- the word "they" after the comma is ambiguous or at least a potential stopper. To avoid a second ambiguity, I use "sounds" rather than "them" at the end of the sentence.  But with NE NER NIS at my disposal, I can write: 
I feel certain that anyone who starts using these neuter 
pronouns can quickly accustom nis ears to them.
As to ear-training: At some level, good grammar and good word usage are whatever does not offend the ears of the people who think they know better. And yes, I consider myself one of those people because I pay attention, I care, and I try to hold myself to a high standard of carefulness and thought. If you are reading this, you do, too.  If you don't like NE NER NIS, then "people who think they know better," who I hope also qualify as reasonable people, can differ.

* Montagu (1905-1999), a  male anthropologist, wrote The Natural Superiority of Women, one of my mother's favorite books.  It was first published in 1953.  A fifth edition came out in 1999.
rev to fix HRts: 11-14-2012
 to fix italics and make minor changes: 11-20-12
other revisions:  7-5-13, 1-31-14