Lost: A Common Language


The United States is losing a common language. Nonsense highway signs show this plainly.

Exhibit A
This highway ramp in Simi Valley may be closed “intermediately” for a year (photo taken 10/31/2015). Unfortunately, these words do not mean anything. Our good friends at California’s Department of Transportation intended to say “intermittently” rather than “intermediately.” I drove back to take a picture of this sign because this is not the first time California has goofed up this very term.

Exhibit B
A couple years ago, in this same county, California’s DOT spent thousands of tax-payer dollars on signs that said highway ramps would be closed “temporarily” for several months. “Temporarily” is not a substitute for “intermittently.” I did not take a picture then because I did not imagine that such a mistake could ever happen again. However, we have lost a common language.

Education to the Rescue?
California government policies do little to support a common language. Teacher accreditation, for example, has a very low bar with regard to English. At Parent’s Night at my child’s school, a teacher had three key terms for the class written on the white board with definitions—three words and three short phrases. One of the key terms was spelled wrong. For each of the other key terms, the definition was misspelled. I gently mentioned it to the teacher, hoping that it was an oversight. She asked me to show her the misspellings because she had no idea where her mistakes were! I wanted to take a photo, but I chose not to so that I would not hurt her feelings.

When I took a California teaching exam, the exam stated that if I found an error in the exam, I should tell the manager of the exam site. There was a mistake in the exam along with poorly worded questions, and I told the proctor. This person had no idea what to do with my notification. I wrote to two California state teacher certification offices to alert them that I had found an error and other problems. One did not respond. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing wrote to me that this was not their job.

We have lost a common language.


About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in communication, culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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