Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Everybody/Nobody Is Talking About ..." — A Note on Usage

      This is from an e-blast from the Bernie Sanders campaign, but I've encountered the line a number of places: "Here's something nobody in the media is talking about: ..." Or it's a rhetorical question, "Why is nobody talking about ...?" Or, for the flip side, the assertion, "Everybody is talking about ...."
      First off, as the wise-ass saying reminds us, "'media' are a plural noun," less plural than it should be in terms of serious journalism, but plural up the whazoo on the web. Whatever it is, there's a good chance somebody on the web is talking about it, and fairly often on a site that most of us would accept as a politically relevant medium. So before people hit Send for posts with assertions like "Nobody/Everybody is talking about," they should do a quick Google search and test the assertion. "The exception proves" — i.e., tests — "the rule," and if even one person out there is talking about it, it ain't nobody. "Everybody" is more difficult to test empirically, but common sense can be useful: just limiting ourselves to human beings on our planet gives over seven billion "somebodies," and short of basics like breathing, it's unlikely that everybody is doing it or saying it or believing it or whatever.
      A couple or three decades back, one of my students in a College Composition class ("Freshman English") started an essay with, "Since the beginning of time, Man ...." I asked him if he dated "the beginning of time" with the Big Bang or the rise of human consciousness or the first day of creation in Genesis — and whether "Man" included women and children. A few question got to the, uh, "data set" for his exposition: "Me and my buddies back in high school"; so I asked him why he didn't just write about his group in high school. He noted that I'd taught that a useful strategy for an opening paragraph was to start broad and then narrow down to a thesis statement. I said that the advice held but by "broad" I didn't mean cosmic. I also taught "Write about what you know about" — adding that sometimes that required research.)
      Similarly, there are all sorts of useful things one can say about the major media or the media one reads or some set of mediums where one could legitimately talk about "no one" or "every one" — or one can cut the absolutes like "everyone" and "no one"  (and a bit of the crap) and just announce "Here's a topic I wish more people would talk about, and here's a thing or two I wish you-all would get off your sorry asses and work on."
      We live in an era of hype, and pretentious bullshit like "From the beginning of time, Man" will get attention — it worked in a deodorant commercial — and sound impressive to people with a fair amount of schooling and insufficient education. Similarly for lines insisting that "Just everybody" is doing thus-and-so or plaintively asking "Why is nobody talking about ...."
      Such talk is excusable in a college freshperson or from your kids when they tell you how just everybody is getting tongue studs, facial brands, tattoos, and/or scarification. I pressed my student on just what the hell he was actually talking about, and if you've had any success at all raising kids you know to demand that they "Name two" with anything "just everybody" is doing.

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