3.08.2007

Politically Incorrect: Adjectives?

There's a post over at Language Log that made me chuckle. It starts with an incredible anecdote--I almost doubt its authenticity--from one of their readers, Lydia:
I was in the Children's Museum in Baltimore when I overheard this conversation between a mother and a young son, concerning a bizarre "fun house" installation, which had sloping ceilings, "wrong" furniture, odd colors, and all sorts of other things meant to delight children with its absurdity:

SON: I want to go in that silly house again!

MOTHER: Don't you remember? We do NOT use ADJECTIVES!

SON: Sorry, mommy!

If I'd been able to scrape my chin off the floor in time, I would have asked, "You don't let you child learn colors?"

What she meant, of course, which wasn't any less ludicrous, was that her child shouldn't "judge" anything because "judging" is bad, and adjectives imply some level of judgment.

What exactly did the woman think her son would gain from visiting the museum? Perhaps she just wanted him to be seen there. Or to absorb all information exactly as presented to him, without any kind of thoughtful processing. As LL points out, if the mother had allowed her precious boy to use adjectives, he might grow up "to be one of those people who are always making academic judgments or expert evaluations of things. The kid might grow up to be an art dealer or a business ethics specialist or a literature professor or a high court justice...The child might grow up to have an interesting job."

Hmm, I'm now trying to think of a job where one doesn't have to make value judgments... I got nothin. (And actually, isn't scolding her son for using adjectives a kind of value judgment in itself?)

But here's my big question: if this politically correct mother didn't want her son to judge anything, then why single out adjectives? To be absolutely nonjudgmental, you'd have to get rid of all qualifiers, including adverbs (is the mother truly asinine, or only temporarily?) and prepositional phrases (No, she's just out of her mind).

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