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At a loss for words.

When I set out on my professional-academic journey, I chose three disciplines--religion, journalism and education. I have never regretted these choices, though I have lived long enough to see each of them in decline.

I grew up in the mid-20th century in the midst of polished eloquence from preachers, politicians and poets. Rhetoric was distinguished in academic curriculums. Speech was drama.

The systematic looting of the Queen's tongue has been under way for some time. I contend it began with the age of the computer. And as with global warming, we seem unable or unwilling to impede the erosion. What follows is my take on the state of our word profession:

Religion, this once great institution is dominated by the likes of Joel Osteen, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Schuller, Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyers, who preach a gospel of prosperity via television. Like the late Oral Roberts, they prey on people for monetary gain, as if God is their personal banker. From my side of the aisle, it is a scandal, blasphemy to the mystery of life that envelops us. In many churches the Sunday bill of fare is pretty thin paste. The ministry as a profession languishes, drowns in a sea of ignorance.

As far as journalism is concerned, so much of what we hear and read in the media thwarts the intellect, dulls conscience, and suppresses dialogue. The political television pundits appear dumb, predatory and sentimental. They speak only to those who obey in order to force obedience.

Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough and their associates on MSNBC, and Glenn Beck on Fox utilize the tactics of oppressive language, which represent the limits of knowledge. It is language that belies and belches. It is not journalism but harangue, appealing to political prejudices on the left and the right.

Anthony Lewis, a former Pulitzer Prize columnist for the New York Times, refused to appear on Meet The Press and other TV magazines. "I am not a media personality, I am a commentator," Lewis asserted.

The novelist-poet can continue to educate the public by offering a perspective on life. Some speak out of time like Shakespeare, Yeats and James Baldwin; others glitter as contemporary storytellers, Doris Goodwin and Toni Morrison to name a few.

In accepting her 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, Ms. Morrison gave us a daunting perspective on our work as preachers, politicians journalists and poets:

"Word work is sublime because it is generative. We die but we do language. That may be the measure of our lives. A sentence that gestures toward possibility is a latchkey. We reach for infinity through the word. Do not abuse it."

"Can someone tell us what is life? What is death?" Morrison said. "Do not squander words, do not tell us what to believe ... show us faith and practice, tell us what only language can, how to look out into the dark in order to see, only language can ignite us to do that...."

This from my corner: The vitality of language lies in its ability to describe the actual, imagined and possible reality of our world. We hunger for a word well spoken.

We can judge our culture by what we speak, read, and write. Lean into it if you haven't already. Listen and learn. Savor the word. It is our salvation or our death.
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Title Annotation:off the record
Author:Tabscott, Robert W.
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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