Now, I am NOT going to engage in Trump bashing. I have no idea what he actually intended in this tweet or why it is so obviously an incomplete expression of anything which could make any possible sense. It does seem likely to me that the now infamous “covfefe” was likely to be “coverage” as the reference was to something the press does and that is usually described as “covering” the events of the day. Of course, I don’t KNOW that this was the actual intent, and the tweet never progressed beyond this point, so there it stayed until it was eventually deleted several hours later.
It did, of course, engender a great deal of comment, ridicule, confusion, etc. Since “conspiracy” theories seem to be current in US politics, Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, told reporters who asked about covfefe, "The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant."(ibid) Which certainly did nothing to either explain the intent of the tweet, to avoid looking stupid, nor to admit to a simple mistake; and, probably, led to at least three new conspiracy theories.
I point out the possibility of the “magic” word being a simple mistake because that would seem to be the simplest possible explanation and the principle of Occam’s Razor would appear to apply. You've probably heard of this idea before, although you may not recognize it: The simplest explanation is usually the right one. To me, I think it’s entirely possible that the President was simply sending out one his tweets, (I do wish he would stop as they rarely seem well thought out, but that’s another story), got distracted and hit the “Send” button by mistake.
Now, as I found out when the thought behind this posting occurred to me and I sent myself an email reminder from my iPad for the next time I was at my actual computer, many of our electronic devices (and/or the software we run on them) have “Spell Check,” or “Auto Correct” “features which most of us (I suspect) haven’t turned off and to which we don’t often pay a lot of attention. What happened? My email program (apparently) couldn’t deal with “covfefe,” (which I had used as part of the subject line) so that what arrived in my inbox was “coffee” instead of what I had written.
Now it’s perfectly plausible that I might write something about coffee since, as most people who know me are aware, I have been an avid consumer of this beverage (albeit having reduced the caffeine content of my own, personal, blend over the years) for all of my adult life, but that was NOT my intent in this email. This story does, however, point out the perfectly plausible idea that some technological “helper” could account for the appearance of “covfefe” and all of the subsequent humor, confusion, etc. Do I think it’s likely? No, but it IS conceivable.
That’s not really the point, though. The real point has been something of an axe I have been grinding for a long time. Words matter! The words we say and how we put them together should be of enough importance to us that we put at least a bit of time and care into making sure that they really communicate what we intended them to and do so clearly. As Albus Dumbledore has said “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic; capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”
This expresses my notion better than I probably did even when I was picking on student BFA theses and other papers. If something is worth expressing, it’s worth doing so clearly and accurately. Unfortunately, our technology, both hardware and software, doesn’t often help us to achieve that end very well. I do admit that I am frequently frustrated by the “autocorrect” feature on my tablet and cell phone, but I haven’t shut them off as they CAN be helpful, even if they often are not. I do like the “spelling and grammar checking” functions in Word, which I continue to use because I’m used to it, because it does NOT make changes until I tell it to, it just shows me that it’s confused by something and gives it a red underline for questionable spelling and a green one for questionable grammar.
And THAT is probably the real point. I like it because it leaves me in charge. On the other hand, it assumes that I know what I am doing and that I will make reasonably intelligent choices as to whether I’m going to follow Word’s advice or ignore it. (As a passing note I must confess that Word’s desire to use “that” as a universal substitute for “which,” “who” and “whom” does drive me a little nuts at times. But, overall, I can follow the logic behind most of Word’s editorial choices, even if I disagree with them.
However, I find it quite sad that far too many people either don’t know, or don’t care, about using language with some sense of it’s fullness, subtlety and accuracy. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the works of Shakespeare so much. His use of language (Yes, I am aware of how much he invented AND of the fact that there were few “rules” of “correct” grammar, spelling, etc. during his lifetime.) seems carefully chosen to express exactly what he wished it to do. I could argue that this is because he was a pretty good playwright and that’s what playwrights should do with their language usage, but I won’t push that too far because too many contemporary “playwrights” don’t seem particularly concerned about their language usage, I suppose in the interests of being “real” instead of being precise (at least in my opinion).
Now, I confess that I’ve never quite understood the obsession with “being real” in the modern American theatre. After all, the theatre is, by definition, “let’s pretend.” It’s make believe! Of course, the imitation which IS theatre SHOULD have some relationship to reality (much of the time, at least), but it’s NOT “real,” it’s “like” reality, but it’s (usually) heightened, concentrated, focused, etc. If you wish to be really bored sometime, just have someone make a recording of your life for a few hours when you are not doing anything special and don’t know if they are actually recording what you are doing. Then, watch it! My strong suspicion is that you will be reminded quite quickly that real life is often not very interesting, especially when it’s happening to others. After all, anyone who thinks “reality” television is real isn’t aware of the fact that, in the industry, in private, it is referred to as “unscripted programming,” and it is often highly edited to try to make it more interesting than it would otherwise be. And, the “contestants” (aren’t they always competing for something?) are quite clearly aware that they are doing a “show.” But I digress.
I suspect that much of the reason why we seem to have become a society which devalues careful language choices has to do with things like character count limits on various messaging formats, but also may well come from a movement in education of a few years ago which was so worried about “frustrating the child’s creativity” that it suggested that the only important thing was that a child “express him/herself without any idea that that expression should be accurate, precise or well thought. And such things as “rules” of grammar, punctuation and usage were frequently viewed as abominations not worthy of consideration, due to their “anti-creative” consequences.
That’s too bad, in my opinion, as it has done a lot towards creating a generation (maybe more than one) which has little appreciation of, or respect for, language. If this has encouraged creativity, it might have been worth it, but I have seen little evidence that that is the case. Yes, there almost certainly is more being written, but considering the ease with which the written word can be made public, it’s hard to see the situation as an improvement. To me, the real question ought to be; Is what is being said worthwhile? Is it clear? Does it make some sort of sense?
OR, is it just a bunch of covfefe?