Posted by: brian | August 24, 2007

Well I didn’t know that

According to Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr., “If you know a bit about language, you know it’s the consonants that matter, not the vowels.”

Really? I had no idea. Tell me more! Let me guess: It’s the nouns that matter, not the verbs. Et cetera. What about math? “If you know a bit about arithmetic, you know it’s the numbers that matter, not the operations you perform on them.” Or geography: “If you know a bit about geography, you know it’s the states that matter, not the lakes.” Ooh, or politics: “If you know a bit about politics, you know it’s the executive branch that matters, not the legislative or judicial branches.”

Mr. Johnson is a creationist who insists that Greek art proves the veracity of Biblical stories. He also rails against “name-calling” by those who accept the scientific validity of evolutionary theory. He dubs them “Slime-Snake-Monkey-People” and “mutant randomites.”



  1. I suspect he might be using talky-shorthand to be referring to the idea that over time vowels can change a lot more quickly than consonants tend to, which yeah there’s something to be said for that, but anyone who wants to have their writing taken seriously should probably be more careful about how they express their ideas so that the readers don’t have to dither back and forth about what the writer may have meant. (Yes I know I just used “their” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun. So sue me, English needs one.)

    As you know from reading “The Unfolding of Language” there are languages where this statement might be more apt, and the name in question might very well be from one of them, but…huh. Yeah, it would have been nice if he’d specified.

    I just saw the other day a comic strip pinned to a bulletin board over at my program office that featured two cavemen, one of them pictured saying something like “w rlly nd t nvnt sm vwls” — which you can do in print, but good luck avoiding vowel-like transitions from consonant to consonant in speech.

  2. Yeah, I just like it when people make simplistic statements like that. This comment provides a very concise critique, I think, of the statement – addressing different languages and their respective orthographies.

    Also: I fully support the use of “their” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun. Because yes, English does need one, and creating a word and then trying to introduce it into usage would be as effective as trying pick your own nickname. (Incidentally, how would one describe that particular usage of the word “your,” right there, where it means not the person being addressed, but something more generic sense like the French ‘on’?)

  3. Um, why, now that you mention it, that’s the, er…impersonal, ah, cromulent…pleonastic pronominal.

    GAH! Did the other grad students in my program pay you off to scare me out of taking one of the few TA berths available??

    Hey, Billy’s got an Oreo Cakester(TM)!

    Not distracted? Okay, well, I’ll probably think of the term in the wee hours, so I’ll try to keep a scrap of paper and stub of pencil on the bedstand.

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