Here’s one of my favorite sayings: “Better to say nothing and be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I think we need to get to work spreading that thought around, because it seems half of the internet community doesn’t realize the truth inherent in that statement.
I’ve ranted before on the importance of evaluating any source you find—especially those on the internet. Anyone can post anything. Wanna hear my thoughts on how cell phones work? It involves trolls and long pieces of string. I could go post that on my web page and call myself a Cell Phone Scholar while I’m at it. I’d be completely full of crap, but I’m sure somebody would believe me.
Have you seen this website? It’s all about the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide. A quick glance at the page shows the stuff is obviously dangerous as hell. However, the only reason I even found this website was because someone on another page was railing at the government for not banning it. SAVE OUR CHILDREN!! WHY IS NOTHING BEING DONE?!?!?!
Umm, dihydrogen monoxide is H2O. This hysterical person had a whole webpage rant about the dangers of water and the need to ban it. Open mouth; hang up idiot sign.
The life of the English teacher (as if it wasn’t bad enough) took a horrible turn in 1995 when Alanis Morrissette released her song “Ironic.” I now spend inordinate amounts of class time explaining that no, a black fly in your Chardonnay is not ironic. Nor is rain on your wedding day. Or spoons when you need a knife. Yet classroom upon classroom of students wish to argue with me about it. Let’s see, whom shall we believe when it comes to literary terminology and its application? A rock star or our English teacher? Hmmm… Let me think about that… Sadly, I lose every single time. (Please, trust me on this—when Alanis asks, “Isn’t it ironic?” JUST SAY NO!)
Yet, it can be even worse.
Marilyn sent me a link the other day, probably just for the grins of watching my head explode. I read in horror an article all about avoiding the passive voice in your fiction. This poor child could not be any farther away from knowing what passive voice is or how to avoid it if I sent her to Pluto. (I say “child” because it only took me two clicks to find her bio and see that’s she’s 18. Not that an 18-year-old won’t know how to avoid the passive, but I wouldn’t take that advice as the be-all-end-all.) Yet, her article has received an astounding 4.5 out of 5 rating for its usefulness. Great; a whole lot of people, who upon reading the phrase,
“Well, it’s kindda hard to explain… read the Wikipedia article on it and you’ll be left scratching your head. So, instead of trying to describe what the passive voice is, instead I’m just going to explain what it does, why it’s bad, and how to avoid it,”still figured *this* person was a trustworthy source for information.
The Wikipedia article isn’t the best, but it’s Wikipedia (hel-lo, make my case for me, would you?). However, if you type “passive voice” into Google, the very first entry is for the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University. There, you’ll get a pretty good explanation about passive voice, and the Purdue English Department is pretty smart when it comes to all that grammar stuff. They just might be right.
Hmmm…18-year-old who admits she doesn’t have a clue, yet tells you what to do anyway OR an entire site full of information, explanations, and helpful hints designed by people whom you know have about 500 years of collective experience. (It even has little pictures with arrows and everything!)
(Then, just as my head starts to recuperate, Marilyn sends me to another article. This time, the person putting forth the information is a pretty well-known author. Yet, she’s 100% wrong. Five minutes with a grammar book or an English teacher and she’d have a clue. Sadly, because of who she is, many folks are going to believe what she has to say. And because she’s published and I’m not, I’m going to have a hard time convincing people that she’s wrong in her understanding of passive voice (and several other grammar items).
Yes, Marilyn is evil. And I’m an easy mark when it comes to this stuff.)
I don’t claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer—not by a long shot. When DG and his friends want a good laugh, they’ll ask me to explain how my cell phone works or where electricity comes from. (I know exactly where electricity comes from. It comes from those holes in the wall and that switch over by the door. I know it exists because Huntsville Utilities sends me a bill for it every month. I’m not alone in this belief either.)
You know what? I don’t expect every person in the world to understand irony and passive voice and pronoun antecedents and subject compliments—if everyone did, I wouldn’t have a job. I went to school for a heck of a long time (and I have the student loans to show for it) just to learn all those fancy names for stuff. Therefore, I think I have a right to be a wee bit huffy when someone just sticks erroneous information out on the internet about it because they’re too lazy to actually go learn it. Just as I would expect the people who design cell phones to get huffy if I put up a web page entitled “How To Keep Your Cell Phone in Top Operating Condition.”
I think I’ll open with “I don’t know how they fit the trolls in there, but the ones in my phone do a pretty good job with that long piece of string. I don’t know where the string comes from either, but here’s how I keep it from getting tangled.”
Or, I could just keep my mouth shut about things I know nothing about. Novel idea, huh?