Janesville75.2°

Ah, the good old days

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Frank Schultz
July 1, 2013

“The existence of mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people, especially in large cities, is an obvious phenomenon … Diseases of the mind are almost as numerous as the diseases of the body. … This intellectual condition is characterized by a brain incapable of normal working … in large measure due to the hurry and excitement of modern life, with its facilities for rapid locomotion and almost instantaneous communication between remote points of the globe.”

This quote comes to us not from a recent rant but from a publication called The Churchman, published in 1895.

It seems that the tendency to decry the horrors of modern life goes back more than 100 years. More proof of this phenomenon can be found on the often entertaining xkcd website, here.

(I don’t often promote quotations I read on the Internet, as people have taken to inventing them, but this website comes recommended from one of my Minnesotan aunts, who has a long career as a librarian. If we can’t trust librarians, who can we trust?)

It’s remarkable how modern-sounding some of these quotations are. For example this one, from 1891: “There never was an age in which so many people were able to write badly.”

I have been as guilty as anyone of righteous fulmination over the younger generation’s inability to learn the basics of spelling and grammar. Perhaps I have been a bit harsh at times. Perhaps we have always had our share of people who were not blessed with the talent or education to gain full mastery of our language. There was a time, after all, when reading and writing were only for the rich. Then we decided that everyone should learn. I would guess that’s when the complaining started from the likes of me.

Still, would it hurt someone to find out the difference between “you’re” and “your?” With the Internet at most people’s fingertips, it takes little effort.

Or -- even more radical -- one could go back to 1891 technology and use a dictionary.



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