In the past few months, I’ve written about language from a few perspectives, from the peculiarities of Spanish language to the precision of DeLillo’s prose in “Zero K.” In both posts, I tried to underscore the many mysteries of languages while reaffirming my wholehearted respect for language learners and language learning. It’s what I do.
Now, clear, coherent communication is a human endeavor and, as such, it’s flawed. As they say, “There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.” (Have some fun with that one.) Whenever I–or often my student–lament slight slip the apparent logic of Spanish, I point to inane inconsistencies of our own language. These include, but are not limited to, inconsistencies in spelling, pronunciation and meaning. Cue the George Carlin rant.
A shining example of these linguistic loonies is “oversight.” According to Merriam-Webster, the word “oversight” can mean both “a mistake made because someone forgets or fails to notice something” and “the act or job of directing work that is being done.” Ergo, an oversight (the negative definition) can be the direct result of poor oversight. In fact, an oversight could have resulted from no oversight at all. Say what now?! Experience an oversight? Well, you need oversight, or more oversight, or better oversight. The is the syntactic equivalent of a snake eating its own tail.
I kid, clearly, recognizing that there are worse sins against language committed every day. In fact, George Carlin has rolling around in his grave these days of “alternative facts” and “American carnage.” I bet he would have a field day with these.
In the end, it would seem we would all benefit from some more oversight. This oversight should be pompous polls but rather truth-tellers and no-BS-ers who will ensure that there is sufficient pressure put on leaders at all levels to be open and accountable. Give us like George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, John Oliver…please. Will the very political oversight we now have prevent this from happening? Are the oversights in the system of oversight in our modern democracy, well, oversights?
Help us George Carlin. You’re our only hope.