Friday, June 5, 2015

The CTA cuts through the clutter


  
      My older teen is a fusspot, who occasionally corrects my language — "Father, it's not who am I talking to?" he'll archly announce, "but to whom am I talking?"
     I suppress the natural fatherly response — "Shut up you" — and say, "I'm allowed to use the vernacular," i.e., our own native language, the way normal people normally speak.
     This was a hard-won right. Once the elites spoke in French; prayers were in Latin. Common folk were low peasants, and expected to be ashamed of their low peasant ways.
     That changed, thank you democracy, thank you mass media, thank you the general falling away of pious dogma and pointless rules.
     When I saw the CTA courtesy poster headlined, "Your maid doesn't work here," and beginning, "Please don't leave your crap behind," my first, unfiltered thought was, "Good for you, CTA." A slightly salty word, a bit of vernacular that might actually cut through the clutter and lodge itself into the mind of the rider, far better than the expected "Please don't leave your litter or personal effects behind."
     Public transit exortations almost demand a little attitude to work. New York, which invented saucy signs ("Don't even THINK of parking here") started a courtesy campaign last year on its trains that suggests its riders are strippers: “Pole Are For Your Safety, Not Your Latest Routine."
      To be honest, I considered remarking on the CTA's moment of courage, but then decided that I'm too biased. I swear like a sailor. I'm the guy whose personal blog is called "Every goddamn day," accepting that for every 50 readers who laugh at the title, there will be one person squirming. Sorry, squirming person. I think the rules keeping obscenity out of newspapers and network TV are dumb. I think the "n-word" locution is an insult to African-Americans, suggesting they'll collapse in a swoon confronted with raw history. I conform through gritted teeth, unwilling.
     Maybe a few are comforted by such niceties. But those few always try to run the show.  Rather than change their expectations, they want to force everybody to harmonize with whatever little girl's ballerina music box they've got tinkling away in the back of their minds.
     For instance, Lara Weber, a member of the Tribune editorial board, in a recent op-ed piece, chides the CTA for using its piquant word. She's too clever to do so in classic, ruffled Margaret Dumont style, quickly admitting that her qualms are more a reflection on herself and her upbringing. Still, she upbraids the CTA, anyway, because her mother didn't use the word.
     "Jeez Louise, are we really using 'crap' on official printed signs now?" she asks.
     Umm, yes, we are. And the president isn't wearing a necktie at some official functions, which would have left people a generation ago aghast.
     And — spoiler alert — Napoleon escaped from Elba. I'm sorry if I'm the one to tell you.
     Yes, a writer wants to keep certain words in reserve. Notice that "Jeez" at the beginning of Weber's cri de coeur. A euphemism for "Jesus," and, in this situation, an apt one. You want to reserve "Jesus," not to shield delicate reader sentiment, but for times when its verbal power is required. "Jesus, I am dying..."
     I'm tempted to chide the Tribune for being Ms. Grundy, again, the same publication that for decades tried to force simplified spelling down the throats of its readers — "thru" and "dropt" and "cigaret" — in the self-absorbed Teddy Roosevelt-esque notion that they knew better than their readers, and to bear the white man's burden of tidying up the language of Shakespeare.
     But the Tribune can be saucy, historically; it is the same publication that once emblazoned the word "C*NT" — the asterisk is theirs — across the front of its women's section, in a story of how that British cuss word for female anatomy was enjoying a certain vogue. They lost their nerve at the last moment and pulled the section. But we across the street got a copy that wasn't destroyed, and admired the ginger inspiring some ghost in the machine to even make the attempt. 
     Writers fail continually through excessive caution; they should try to fail more on the side of boldness. Someone is going to be offended by almost anything you write, if you do it correctly; the key is to hold their interest while using the right word in the right place. The garbage that careless riders leave behind on the bus is "crap," and the CTA should be lauded for taking a risk in trying to get rid of it.

39 comments:

  1. Which redhead at the Trib led with that headline?
    Sorry, bad pun.
    Also, recall when Gary Barnett, former NU football coach, moved on to Colorado, he got in trouble when he referred to a female placekicker as a cunt, and the president of the university, a female literary scholar, got no end of crap for pointing out that in contemporary English slang it's not a big deal, and it has roots that go back to the Wife of Bath (quaint = cunt).
    and so the fucking world turns.

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    1. oooh, I like when you talk dirty

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    2. Someone should have called Barnett a dickhead.

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  2. Neil, I can imagine you really likrd the 2005 film, "The Weather Man", directed by Gore Verbinski.

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  3. You must be a patient dad. Some wouldn't allow the young man to get away with such arrogance and disrespect. I hope the Mrs. is tougher on him.

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  4. I hope you didn't swear in front of the kids when they were younger. I wonder if the Mrs. is bothered by your swearing.

    Anyway, yes the CTA was right with that ad, just saw it the other day. People can be such pigs.

    Those NY signs were good too.

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  5. I don't care for prissy ladies either.

    But on the other matter, I don't think you can use the N word , not for swooning but some A-A's would get angry if you did or think one a racist or punch you out.

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  6. Good historical reference to Napoleon.

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  7. It's too bad that few will listen. They'll continue to leave crap behind and nothing can be done about it. After all if rapes can happen on there(see news a few weeks back) this would be peanuts in comparison.

    Hope your boy didn't correct class mates like that. If he did it's obnoxious and some athlete might punch his lights out.

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  8. My dad would have cured him of such impudence.

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  9. Well people are pigs in public because they aren't taught properly at home, in some cases.

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  10. Some secretaries have to say that at work to the males. Your wife doesn't work here. The women rarely leave a messy table, the males do for the most part.

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  11. I personally approve of your son pointing out grammar errors! And yes, I agree that it is generally rude to do it as a rule in informal situations, we do it in my house regularly! A colleague of my husband's mentioned that wasn't it unseemly of his wife to correct his grammar, and Kevin responded that it's not only not unseemly, but that he had asked me to do it! Now both of my kids do it to both of us. And there was nothing wrong with Niel's response, either!
    Excellent article! Knowing and using the appropriate language inappropriate places is wonderful, and sometimes that language is a bit salty!

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  12. I personally approve of your son pointing out grammar errors! And yes, I agree that it is generally rude to do it as a rule in informal situations, we do it in my house regularly! A colleague of my husband's mentioned that wasn't it unseemly of his wife to correct his grammar, and Kevin responded that it's not only not unseemly, but that he had asked me to do it! Now both of my kids do it to both of us. And there was nothing wrong with Niel's response, either!
    Excellent article! Knowing and using the appropriate language inappropriate places is wonderful, and sometimes that language is a bit salty!

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    1. Marsha, then you are encouraging your offspring to disrespect you as well and get arrogant with you.

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  13. you double posted and learn how to spell Neil, there, since you like corrections

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    1. @Anonymous above -- Why must you point out everything you believe is a "mistake".? It's easy to double post something, and it's easy to transpose "Neil" into "Niel". I know that Marsha knows how to spell Neil's name.

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    2. what are you? the board police? and why must you point out everything on anons?

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    3. Nope, not the board police. (And who are you, "Anonymous"?)

      The reason I've been more critical of mostly "anon" comments is simply because there are so many anonymous commenters here -- unless there are only one or two who are posting twenty times a day. The commenters who use actual names (Bitter Scribe for example) generally stick to the topics, and if they disagree about something, it's in the context of discussing the topic, not a personal insult such as "you double posted and learn how to spell Neil".

      Anyway, you can rejoice since I won't be calling out anyone again. Just going to enjoy the blog. Peace.



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  14. Can't resist saying that I hope this doesn't lead to a slippery slimy slope.

    John

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    1. It occurred to me that NS could have written almost the exact same thing if the CTA had used the word "shit" instead of "crap" (if anything, the former is more commonly used) and I'm not sure if everyone would be as on-board. I think the only problem with the Trib writer's column is that the "crap" horse has left the barn so long ago, it's not only a losing battle, it might be counterproductive: we might want to *encourage* the use of the word crap to stem the tide of worse words!

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  15. If NS's son consults virtually any style guide, he'll see that he is, in fact, incorrect to aver that a sentence shouldn't end in a preposition. As Churchill may or may not have put it, "That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put." He's right about "whom," though.

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    1. good one, Coey

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    2. Always appreciate a Churchill quote but what does aver mean?

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  16. I'm reminded of the Danish Mohammed cartoons (not Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attacks in Europe and the Middle East. There were calls for U.S. newspapers to reprint them, simply as a matter of full and accurate journalism. Most didn't, allegedly out of a "golden rule" kind of thing very similar to using the "n-word." A couple of University of Illinois students lost their jobs at the student paper for reprinting them. If we're going to talk about the chilling effects of "pious dogma and pointless rule" I think the Muslim version of the n-word should be included.
    (For the record, I don't have a problem with a"golden rule" policy myself).

    As for the CTA, yeah, "crap" seems pretty tame, but I'm sympathetic to the "slouching towards ghemorrah" argument too. And I don't see anything too bold in the CTA doing this - seems like a way to avoid the mess of practicing some broken window theory by making examples out of some people. How about putting all those video cameras on the bus and train to good use and publicly shame a few of those trashing yahoos?

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  17. Thanks for taking down that prissy Tribune op-ed, which annoyed me too.

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    1. In Lara Weber's defense, I thought she was fairly moderate in making her point, casting her qualm as a personal quirk based on upbringing. And she was a good sport, sending me a cheerful note today. We all have our pet peeves. I wince when the New Yorker uses "insure" in place of what I believe should be "ensure." I guess the difference is that I would never upbraid them about their choice. I just don't like it.

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    2. that answers a lot, "personal qualms" like Ms. Weber's based on upbringing, even if not rel, that explains some of my thoughts, thanks for enlightening

      keeping one's parents values so to speak

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  18. As for the actual crap on the CTA, as opposed to the word being used to describe it... Mr. Savage, who made the first comment here, posted on his twitter a while back a vintage '50's version of a CTA "please don't litter" reminder. I wouldn't know, but I imagine that it was about as effective as this one will be. As he noted: "Some fights never end." If people couldn't be "reminded" into doing the right thing in the 50's, what chance is there now?

    Is there a fine for strewing crap around on the train or bus? Is it ever assessed? Because that's the only thing that could ever change the status quo, it seems to me. I wouldn't necessarily want to live in Singapore, where you can only buy chewing gum from a pharmacist, e.g., but I imagine that the buses are pretty clean there, due to strict enforcement. I'm not sure that A-n-A's idea of using the cameras to "publicly shame" folks would work. In today's selfie-obsessed culture, methinks having one's picture highlighted would be seen as cool, regardless of the fact that one was supposed to be ashamed.

    As far as I can tell, the only thing that changes such behaviors is enforcement. I'm a grudging supporter of the streetlight cameras, despite all their drawbacks, because of this. People know that running red lights is wrong and that many of their fellow citizens frown on the practice. They know that if a cop is nearby, they could get a ticket. But knowing those things doesn't seem to change the behavior of offenders. I'm not even sure of this, but one would imagine that about the third time one gets a $100 ticket because of the cameras, one might begin to think about getting with the program. So, if the CTA could use their ubiquitous cameras to actually enforce the littering rules somehow, maybe some people might begin to take the rules more seriously. Otherwise, given the "slippery slimy slope" Tate refers to above, I expect that in 2050 folks can look forward to signs saying something like "Quit leaving your goddamn shit on the fucking train, assholes!"

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  19. If nothing else, the crap creates job opportunities that were going to ex-cons (who have an exceedingly harder time finding work), though I think there was a controversy recently where they were going to transfer those jobs to other CTA workers or somesuch.

    Eventually everything in the future as far as advertising goes is going to be like a George Saunders story - he already predicted half of it.

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  20. Completely off-topic, but noteworthy to me. The Lara Weber piece in the Tribune that Neil refers to, fire-walled and preceded by a 15-second mandatory ad, even for subscribers, has elicited 7 comments in the 7 days that it's been posted. Neil's piece ABOUT hers already has been remarked upon by at least ten people.

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  21. That's prob because few can get those darn Trib. sites and blogs open.

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  22. I was pretty glad someone had left their crap behind the time I was on the el and had to throw up into a discarded Big Gulp cup. (I was pregnant and, thank God, alone in the car.)

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    1. What a prissy story, Coey! Sounds just like you. ; )

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    2. I can assure you I did it in the most prim and proper way possible.

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  23. Saw some piece about millenials not using cars as much if live in the city or Evanston. In the suburbs you would need cars , often one per driver in families. But glad we don't have to deal with the dangers of dirty and dangerous public transport or waiting for that in all weather. Nothing as convenient as own car, we just don't buy gas guzzling suvs.

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  24. Saw this on yesterday's blog, took the liberty of reposting it here incase no one was checking the old blog. This person nails it on the head.




    Padraig ElliotJune 5, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    Caitlin Jenner will never experience the realities of life as a woman or as a trans person, because Jenner is insulated by extreme privilege. While women make 78 cents for a dollar earned by a man, Jenner's speaking fees are likely to quadruple as a result of his gender-reassignment. Jenner supports a political party which promotes a platform openly hostile to LGBT people. Again, the insulation of privilege will ensure that Jenner will never experience the negative consequences of that party's actions. Working-class, middle-class and poor LGBT people will not be so fortunate.

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  25. Oh, so the idiot Bruce is a Republican too? Now I like him even less. Talk about supporting a party that is normally against the likes of him-he must have fried his brain.

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