I used to believe that most older professionals had an inner curmudgeon, one that was just waiting to spring into life upon retirement. Of course, if that were true, it might not be particularly nice for the rest of our world. Still, this thought eased some of the pain brought to me by encounters with my own inner curmudgeon, the one who can no longer be persuaded to smile tranquilly, for instance, in the face of modern liberties taken with that strong old trunk of our English Language, the language that once seemed so useful to academics and professionals.
Members of the third generation after mine seem to be particularly cruel to those distinctions and shades of meaning that once so nicely served clear communication and clear thinking. Worse, it is beginning to sound to me like those in that third generation are infecting the language of the generation above them, and even the generation immediately following my own. Suddenly it seems to me that every server, every salesperson, every recipient of any information that I have been requested to provide, automatically replies “Perfect!” (Border guards always excepted.)
Excuse me? Nothing in this world is perfect. It is ridiculous, for instance, to respond that the beverage I have just selected is “perfect.” One might even say that my server’s response is “perfectly” ridiculous. But that would almost be perfectly ridiculous of me. Because, I repeat, even ridiculousness is never perfect.
In this same vein, if the world really were perfect, then no one would ever treat the plural word “data” as singular. But today everyone seems to speak of data as if they meant a single set of data. “The data is clear,” they say. But hold on; nothing is clear anymore. And the data are no exception. Let me be perfectly clear: The Data Are Not Clear. Nor, even, is any single datum. Do you understand? (You do? …Perfect!)
Sometimes I also prefer to imagine that most retirees have an inner, avuncular, peace-dispenser, one who reminds us gently that no theories about ourselves, or about others, about planet earth or the universe, are ever likely to be perfected. And thus the wisdom of those who can and do calmly say: “Who am I to judge?” is as useful a wisdom for retirees as we might wish it were for those others whose judgments (or apparent lack thereof) affect us. Still, the apparently shortsighted, self-centred and ungenerous behaviours of so many governments, corporations, institutions, and individuals seem to call for someone (and who better than a retiree?) to speak out as a forthright judge of such behaviours. Perhaps none of us really has the right to judge, yet it does seem that most retirees have the responsibility to judge. (And even to act.) Such are the contradictions of a past-perfect, language-based, life.
So yes, who are we to judge? It is perfectly obvious that our understanding is not perfect. It is enough, however, that we are experienced retirees, entitled to contradict ourselves. To me, today, that seems, well, . . . perfect.
© J. Barnard Gilmore Kaslo, British Columbia July 2015