In the fifteen minutes that The Spear was waiting in the departure lounge yesterday morning, he was once again reminded why it is he now reads far more than he watches TV. During the broadcast of a certain breakfast ‘news’ program - overwhelmingly composed of bushfire scaremongering and a preternatural predilection for the Golden Globes – a piece was run on the exceedingly high temperatures reached in the Queensland town of Birdsville. While nothing new in itself, what did grab The Spear’s attention was the closing sentence of the pre-recorded story as spoken by the journalist:
“If it’s any consolidation for the town of Birdsville…”
The Spear was at first unsure if there were perhaps some sort of amalgamation plan in the works for the town of Birdsville that the Journalist was singularly aware of. Maybe the breakfast program had decided to break the news of a yet-to-be-announced merger of the local council departments as forced by the hand of Campbell Newman? Or perhaps the town of Birdsville was still in the process of consolidating its debts in a case of epic post-GFC procrastination? Certainly, this consolidation of any kind that was seemingly on offer, was something so obvious that The Spear’s confusion as to its nature must surely have resulted only from his lack of knowledge regarding the fiscal positions of the regional towns of Queensland, and for no other reason?
Several agitated minutes of self-reflection later, The Spear began to have his doubts. Could it be that the fine journalists and editors of the well-known nation-wide program – all members of that elite sub-category of the media who are currently in good pay and actually making a living in the industry – had made a mistake? Could it be that where consolidation had been spent, a currency of consolation would have proved more pertinent?
Okay, so it’s not the biggest mistake in broadcasting history – perhaps it was written as ‘consolation’ but merely spoken as a malapropism - but The Spear reckons it goes to show how literacy standards in Australia might not be quite what they used to be.
The Spear doesn’t remember much about his English education in his primary years. He remembers learning running-writing, obtaining his pen license, teachers checking his log of ‘private reading time’ (not that there was ever any set texts or recommendations as to the level of book one should have been reading), and spelling tests. That’s about it. Senior English ditched the spelling tests and introduced set-texts and essay writing.
He can count on one hand the things that he can actually remember learning in primary English:
1. How to spell the words together and vegetable – ‘to-get-her’ and ‘vege-table’.
2. Nouns are the ‘names’ of things, verbs are ‘doing words’, and adjectives ‘describe’.
3. Use capital letters at the start of sentences and full-stops at the end of them.
4. Never use the word ‘but’ at the start of a sentence.
But The Spear and his peers never really mastered the use of those more distinguished marks of punctuation – ,commas and apostrophe’s; not by a country mile. Sentence structure was too a thing to be mastered not by standardised education, but by self-inflicted rounds of 1000 page fantasy novels (as a result The Spear can now construct a sentence, but at the cost of knowing far too much about the lives of Dwarves and Aes Sedai).
The Spear is quite confident that the above is not applicable to all schools in Australia, but that there are some that have a higher standard of literacy, and sadly many more that are even worse. The Spear by no means went to a bad school, relatively speaking.
The Spear hates to say it, but with about half of Australians having trouble with literacy, it looks like it is basically up to individuals to get out there and read more. This is, however, a real problem in our increasingly screen-dominated world, where if we are not passively watching, then we are reading something written far-removed from the world of fine literature (this blog being a case in point).
Perhaps The Spear is being too harsh. Perhaps it was all just merely a Freudian slip on behalf of the journalists and editors. People are bound to think more on ‘consolidation’ than on ‘consolation’ these days in our business-oriented world; M&A standing for Mergers and Acquisitions rather than Maturity and Acceptance.
Perhaps they have become one and the same. If the seemingly natural tendency for man’s creations to trend towards monopoly is any measure, humans may just be the first creatures capable of finding consolation through consolidation.