Peggy Whiteneck, Freelance Writer

PO Box 303
East Randolph, Vermont 05041

Blog initiated 1/28/17

Whatever Happened to "Look It Up?"

I've been interested in words from an early age, reading constantly as soon as I learned how to do it, taking honors English courses in high school, majoring in English literature in college, and eventually becoming a writer myself. (All of that, by the way, does make me a member of the privileged elite even if my parents never graduated from high school and were dirt poor for most of their lives and throughout my childhood and even though I myself have seldom made over $26,000 a year after taxes.) For most of my life, my family has been telling me my vocabulary is over their heads. I was something of a running family joke. When my parents or my siblings focused on some word I'd used that they didn't understand, they'd point it out, laughing, and I'd come up with a synonym or otherwise reword what I was trying to say.

But now, having heard that charge all my life and laughed if off along with the rest of my family, I am encountering internet acquaintances who are not at all shy about telling me they actually resent (their word) what they call the "ten dollar words" in my posts, by which they seem to mean anything longer than two syllables. I find myself annoyed by this in a way I never was with my family. Part of it is the sharper edge on the criticism: my vocabulary is not an occasion for humor or gentle elbow-nudging but now inspires actual "resentment" from relative strangers on Facebook. This is a revelation to someone like me who, far from deliberately talking over other people's heads as part of some twisted mission to make other people feel stupid, is merely trying to find precise words to describe what she's thinking.

How About Looking It Up?

When I was a kid, if I tried to take the easy way out of asking my parents or teachers what a word meant, they'd tell me to "Look it up!" It was excellent advice that has served me well all my life. So now, I'm left wondering whatever happened to "Look it up." And I can't help asking why I should exert the effort to dumb down my own vocabulary to accommodate someone else who can't be bothered to look up the word "accommodate."

If people have graduated from high school, then, arguably, they should have a vocabulary larger than a 6th grader's. The fact that a considerable swath of the nation apparently doesn't is a sad commentary on the state of U.S. public education. According to the nonprofit Literacy Project Foundation, whose statistics are taken from other reputable sources s uch as the National Center for Adult Literacy and the US Census Bureau, 50% of the adult population in the United States can't read a book written at an 8th grade level. According to the Pew Research Center, 24% of American adults do not read even one book in a year.

"I Love the Poorly Educated!"- Donald Trump

American culture is growing its own toxic mold whose purpose is to infect the populace with a distrust of education so pervasive that it threatens to beat pubic and post-secondary education into the ground. This toxic mold is not new, either; it has been choking education for decades. When I was in college at the University of New Hampshire, I sweated out the school's very accreditation for each of the four years I attended because the state legislature was always cutting back funding for the University and making no secret of its anti-intellectual biases in doing so.

Having grown up and spent most of my adult life in small towns with significant populations of post-parenting and aging adults, I can attest to the degree to which many voters are resistant to paying school taxes when they "don't have kids in the school." It is a myopic perspective that can't see past immediate personal gains. It doesn't see the unsustainable cost to the whole community when public education is starved for resources. It doesn't see the future in future citizens.

This doesn't mean adults need a college degree to be educated. All it takes is personal initiative. Some of the smartest, most critical thinkers I know are autodidacts: self-educated persons. In terms of formal education, they never went farther than high school, and some didn't even make it that far. But they have made it their business to read widely and often, to think critically about information, and to discern which information sources are credible and which aren't. They don't rely on FaceBook memes, talk radio, Fox News, click bait headlines, and twitter posts as their information sources. They know how to use a dictionary. And when they come across a word they don't know, they're curious enough to look it up.

More Peg's Blog Posts

 · The Unacceptable Cost of Deferred Maintenance
 · American Voters and the Cult of Celebrity
 · We Have Met the Enemy and the Enemy Is Us
 · Wanted: A Working Government
 · The National Divide: Immediate Gratification vs. Future Gain
 · The Trouble with That Anonymous Trump-Circle Editorial
 · What "Telling It Like It Is" Really Means
 · Breaking News: We're All "Values Voters!"
 · Monuments Flap Is Not about the Monuments
 · Have We Always Been the Disunited States of America?
 · A Humble Defense of the Constitution
 · The Trump Presidency: Bigotry's Cause or Only Its Effect?
 · Race, Class, and Access to Women's Health Services
 · Trying to Learn from the Holocaust

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