There’s an old saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln where he said, “It is better to remain silent and thought of a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” And it was H.L. Menken who said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public.”
But alas, where doth the blame lie and to which action should one point a finger?
Recently in a Bangor, Maine newspaper, a person had published his “opinion” and comment about the recent bear hunting referendum, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, to effectively end bear hunting. While some are licking their wounds and others beating their chests in triumph, some just don’t get it.
I think it was humorist/comedian Tim Sample who got a laugh when he said that some people not only don’t have a clue, they don’t even suspect.
This man with an opinion had a complaint that the referendum was worded wrong and suggested, “Was it malice aforethought or just stupidity?” At issue was that he believed the use of the word “or” in the referendum was in error. In part the referendum read, “An Act To Prohibit the Use of Dogs, Bait or Traps When Hunting Bears Except….”(emphasis added) The writer wanted to know if the referendum had passed, who would have had the authority to decide which method of bear hunting would be banned.
I seldom would come to the support of any government official, however, I have my doubts that the person(s) who drafted the wording acted with “malice aforethought.” And I know it wasn’t stupidity but it might have been ignorance.
I’m no English writing expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once. But it appears to me that the use of the word “or” in the context of this referendum is used in the collective sense. In other words, had the item been written something like this: To Prohibit Fred Brown the use of Dogs, Bait OR Traps…. then his assumption that somebody would have to decide which method would be banned. In the case of the actual referendum, the use of nouns and pronouns are in the collective sense, whether directly stated or inferred and thus the use of the word “or” then “collects” all three items, i.e. dogs, bait and traps, and then effectively becomes one item.
It is often said that stupidity can’t be corrected but ignorance can. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge. Stupidity is seeing no need to have knowledge. Or better yet, they don’t even suspect.
In this case, the writer was ignorant of the proper uses of nouns, pronouns and verbs, but was really stupid to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper in order to “open your mouth and remove all doubt.”