Linguistic Thuggery (making the syntax fit the crime)
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 93 02:44:10 PST
Subject: Linguistic Thuggery (making the syntax fit the crime)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Casey Leedom)
It has become commonplace to read in our newpapers of a crime somehwere
in America amusingly bungled by the criminal's ineptitude.
Droll though these news items may be, they reflect an overlooked cost of
our current national crisis in education. The basic learning skills of
criminals have deteriorated to a shocking degree.
Consider the following:
o ITEM. A bank robber in Bumpus, Tenn., handed a teller the following
note: "Watch out. This is a rubbery. I hav an oozy traned on your
but. Dump the in a sack, this one. No die packkets or other triks or
I will tare you a new naval. No kwarter with red stuff on them, too."
Dr. Creon V.B. Smyk of the Ohio Valley Educational Council says such
notes are, lamentably, the rule. "Right across the board, we see poor
pre-writing skills, problems with omissions, tense, agreement, spelling
and clarity," he moaned.
Smyk believes that the quality of robbery notes could be improved if
criminals could be taught to plan before writing.
"We have to stress organization: Make an outline of your robbery note
before you write it," he said. "Some of the notes get totally sidetracked
on issues like the make, model and caliber of the gun, number of bullets,
etc., until one loses sight of the main idea -- the robbery."
o ITEM. In Bent Forks, Ill., kidnapers of ice-cube magnate Worth Bohnke
sent a photograph of their captive to Bohnke's family. Bohnke was seen
holding up a newspaper. It was not that day's edition and, in fact,
bore a prominent headline relating to Nixon's trip to China.
This was pointed out to the kidnapers in a subsequent phone call. They
responded by sending a new photograph showing an up-to-date newspaper.
Bohnke, however, did not appear in the picture.
When this, too, was refused, the kidnapers became peevish and insisted
that a photograph be sent to them showing all the people over at Bohnke's
house holding different issues of _Success_ magazine.
They provided a mailing address and were immediately apprehended. They
later admitted to FBI agents they did not understand the principle
involved in the photograph/newspaper concept. "We thought it was just
some kind of tradition," said one.
Educators agree that such mix-ups point to poor reasoning and
comprehension skills, ignorance of current events, and failure to
complete work in the time allotted.
o ITEM. Burglars in Larch Barrens, Md., tried to cut through a safe
using a Lazer Tag gun.
o ITEM. Industrial thieves broke into the Bilgetek plant in Canasta,
Wash., by crossing a metal catwalk and then blew it up, having
forgotten it was their only means of escape.
o ITEM. Rustlers in Spavin, N.D., made off with three Saint Bernard
dogs, a stationary bicycle and the visiting in-laws of a farmer, after
having failed to correctly identify the valuable cattle on the
"No problem-solving abilities, no communication skills, no 'plays and
relates well with others,' no nothing," FBI regional director J. Paine
Bloomey said, reviewing the state of modern criminality. "We are talking
plain, flat-out, hard-boiled, stupid as pea turkeys."
By contrast, Japanese criminals score in the range 10 to 15 points higher
than their American counterparts in basic skills tests.
In the Japanese underworld, it is considered a matter of honor to execute
a thoughtful, grammatical, error-free crime.
Still, experts such as Smyk stop short of demanding a total overhaul of
the educational system. "For all their acumen," he says, "Japanese
criminals wind up sacrificing a lot of the joie de vivre you see in our
© 1993 Peter Langston