Jacoby’s American Unreason

In The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby writes about the debasement of the nation’s speech, the blurring of clarity, and intellectual discrimination. This book, her eighth, is scholarly and well-reasoned with fitting examples of fuzzy language. I knew I’d agree with her premise but I didn’t expect the book to be funny. As important as her points are, this isn’t a hard book to slog through. Instead it’s witty and gives one food for thought. I’ve only just begun reading but had to tell you about it. One example:

“Consider the near-universal substitution, by the media and politicians, of “troop” and “troops” for “soldier” and “soldiers.” As every dictionary makes plain, the word “troop” is always a collective noun; the “s” is added when referring to a particularly large military force. Yet each night on the television news, correspondents report that “X troops were killed in Iraq today.” This is more than a grammatical error; turning a soldier—an individual with whom one may identify—into an anonymous-sounding troop encourages the public to think about war and its casualties in a more abstract way. Who lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Troop?”

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