Lance: To Rich Fitzgerald. The Allegheny County chief executive appears to think that Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Islamics don't believe in God. That's the take-away from his opposition to a County Council proposal, defeated Tuesday, to post “In God We Trust” in the council's meeting room. Mr. Fitzgerald said that would send a message to non-Christians that they're not welcome. He didn't have many takers among that cohort.I'll stipulate that the memo could have been a little cleaner grammatically. For example, take a look at this passage:
One of the area in which we could do better is our diversity. It’s the reason that organizations like Vibrant Pittsburgh were created, the reason that Allegheny County become a “Welcoming County,” and the reason that we continue to participate in efforts and initiatives that express that we are a friendly community that welcomes everyone.While it's a halfway decent use of anaphora in that second sentence, (notice the repeated use of the phrase "...the reason that..." to structure), the rest of the passage has a few minor errors. For example, the first sentence probably should have read "One of the areas..." rather than "One of the area..." as the "One of..." directly asserts multiple areas of which "diversity" is one. Interestingly, had the memo writer simply omitted "of the", the sentence would have worked very nicely indeed:
One area in which we could do better is our diversity.See? My guess is that in the memo writer's haste this error was made.
And then in the second phrase of the second sentence, the memo writer probably should have gone with the present perfect ("the reason that Allegheny County has become...") or maybe the simple past tense ("the reason that Allegheny County became...") rather than what's there ("the reason that Allegheny County become...").
Now, while I have the greatest respect for this essay by Stephen Fry and I admit that it's quite possible that I am committing the very pedantic snobbery he detests. However, I'll rest my case on what Fry frizzles here:
No, the claim to be defending language for the sake of clarity almost never, ever holds water. Nor does the idea that following grammatical rules in language demonstrates clarity of thought and intelligence of mind. Having said this, I admit that if you want to communicate well for the sake of passing an exam or job interview, then it is obvious that wildly original and excessively heterodox language could land you in the soup. [Emphasis added.]And then:
You can wear what you like linguistically or sartorially when you’re at home or with friends, but most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances – it’s only considerate. But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. There no right language or wrong language any more than are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention and circumstance are all. [Emphasis added.]So why is this important? Because of some less than clear writing in this sentence:
Support and passage of 8376-14 tells our residents and visitors that if they are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Athiest, Muslim, Islamic or any other non-theistic group, they are not welcomed here.The braintrust gets to absurdly assert teh goofie: that County Executive Rich Fitzgerald doesn't think that "Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Islamics" believe in God. The problem here is the word "other." Does it mean that Jews, Hindus and so on are among "non-theistic" groups? Or does it mean that they are separate from them? Interestingly, had the memo writer ordered the list differently, the sentence would have worked very nicely, indeed:
Support and passage of 8376-14 tells our residents and visitors that if they are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist or any other non-theistic group, they are not welcomed here.See? By grouping it that way, it's clear who makes up the non-theistic groups are and who doesn't.
Context, convention and circumstance are all.
A little editing by the County Executive's office would have left the Trib braintrust little grammatical room to snark.
Special note to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald: It's spelled atheist and not athiest.