Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Pollarized Nation – Part I

No, the above spelling is not a typo –– more on that shortly. However, my most recent mishap occurred when The New York Times scooped me. Scooping The Times would have been a celebratory occasion, but as you will read, while I came close, in reality the Times was the scooper, and I’m the scoopee. Now the wordsmiths amongst you might rightfully point out that neither of those two words (as used) exists in the dictionary, but I submit that they should be listed. Not so coincidentally, that, the creation of new words, is one of the subjects of this article.

The Scoop

It all started with the fact that the discourse below was originally scheduled to be published in last month’s issue of Viewpointe, as well as in my blog. It was halfway written when I decided that the after-election piece (published herein last month) about the negative public ratings for politicians would be timelier. Therein lies my mistake leading to the scoop by TheTimes. Had the original article (parts of which you are about to read) been published last month, I would have been the scooper instead of the scoopee. Following are the opening paragraphs of the original article that would have scooped The Times:

Word of the Year

“One of the underreported activities that affect our vocabulary usage is the annual award of what has been named ‘the Word of the Year,’ perhaps better known by the acronym ‘WOTY.’ Here is how Wikipedia describes the process:Since 1991, the American Dialect Society (ADS) has designated one or more words or terms to be the ’Word of the Year’ in the United States. This is in addition to its ‘Word of the 1990s’ (web), ‘Word of the 20th Century’ (jazz), and ‘Word of the Past Millennium’ (she).”

My article continued, “The society also selects words in other categories that vary from year to year, such as most original, most unnecessary, most euphemistic, most outrageous, and most likely to succeed.’ [Ironically the most euphemistic WOTY for 2009 was the phrase ‘scooping technician.’ The definition of this phrase did not quite fit my own use of ‘scoop’ since it referred to ‘a person whose job it is to pick up dog poop.’] Here are some of the more recent WOTY selections: 2009 tweet; 2008 bailout; 2007 subprime; 2006 plutoed; 2005 truthiness”.

(As I write this current article, the New Oxford American Dictionary announced that it had chosen as its 2010 WOTY one used by Sarah Palin in a tweet early this year. Conflating the words “repudiate” and “refute” she confusingly called on the promoters to “refudiate” the proposal to build a mosque. Apparently, embarrassed by the error, the tweet was taken down and the word was replaced with “refute.” That was equally incorrect in that the meaning of that word did not coincide with it use.) But she did create a new word.


My original article continued, “You will note that none of the choices are words in common use, they are words newly created that had not yet been dictionaryized. (I just made that one up). The word in that category that has received the most recent publicity was the 2005 selection –– ‘truthiness.’ Here is how it is described in ‘Truthiness is a term first used in its current satirical sense by American television comedian Stephen Colbert in 2005, to describe things that a person claims to know intuitively or ‘from the gut’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. [My bold]. Colbert introduced this definition of the word during the pilot episode of his satirical television program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005, as the subject of a segment called ‘The Wørd.’ Truthiness was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.’ If you don’t believe this word has relevance, reread the definition and think about how it describes many of the campaign ads, politician statements, and voter beliefs in the recent run up to the election.”

How does all that pertain to the Times scoop? In the “On Language” column by Ben Zimmer in the October 27 th Sunday Times magazine section, under a large headline – TRUTHINESS – an article essentially explored the fifth anniversary of the WOTY designation of that word. Had my original article, containing the above paragraphs, run in the Viewpoint issue that appeared in mail boxes on October 15 th, readers would have been informed almost two weeks before the Times article was published. In fact, my article would have been posted on my blog even earlier, around the beginning of the month.

My Nomination

However my reference to the word truthiness was merely an excuse to introduce and nominate a word of my own creation for the 2010 WOTY competition. The word I contrived was “Pollarized” with two L’s. In my mind this is a perfect fusion of two words. The first is “polarized” with one L, meaning, “to divide into sharply opposing factions,” (a most fitting description of the current political climate). The second is the word “poll,” meaning “a sampling or collection of opinions on a subject, taken from either a selected or a random group of persons, as for the purpose of analysis.”

It is my contention that the American public has been increasingly inundated, in fact besieged, with polls. Polls have become so ubiquitous, so omnipresent, so pervasive, polling has overwhelmingly permeated not only the electoral process, but coverage on any number of other issues has emerged as part of the polling process adding to the recognition of America as what I term, a pollarized nation.

So, while the public has been afflicted by politically oriented polls, especially in this most recent election cycle, there are numerous other opinion surveys reflecting a range of non-political subjects that are not as well publicized. The results of these polls might surprise, even confound some readers. It would be interesting and educational to contemplate the opinions expressed, and determine for yourself if they correlate with what you think about America and Americans.

Religious Ignorance

The example that follows actually was well publicized and is a direct quote from a September article in The New York Times. “Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion. Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life. On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith. Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.”

When you consider the implications of the above survey, is it possible for Americans to intelligently evaluate, and objectively discuss any subject that is even vaguely related to or impacted in any way by religion? Are the above results an example of Truthiness at work? Think about subjects like abortion, gay rights, homosexuality, evolution and creationism, stem cell research, climate change, both domestic and international politics –– how do religious beliefs influence opinions (and poll results) on all of these topics? If these beliefs are based on a foundation of religious ignorance, do poll results reflect this same degree of unenlightenment? In Part II of this series, next month’s issue will examine the results of several polls in an effort to determine the degree that truthiness might influence a pollarized nation.

NOTE: In the October issue of Viewpointe, an article in this column titled The Morningstar Dilemma paid homage to the 35 th anniversary of the creation of the S&P 500 Index Fund as well as recognition of its creator, John Bogle. A copy of that article from my blog was sent to Mr. Bogle along with a reminder that a similar Viewpointe article was sent to him by me ten years ago when that fund celebrated its 25 th anniversary. At that time Mr. Bogle graciously sent me a hand written thank you note. Typical of the huge change in technology, this time I received the following email from him:

Hi, Bob,

Belated (sorry 'bout that!) thanks for your kind note. At last I've gotten around to reading the October article in your blog, and I really appreciate, among its many fine aspects, your sense of history.

Keep up the good work.

Best, Jack

Next time the 40 th?