Time Essay: The State of the Language, 1977

According to unreliable sources, the first man's first words were, "Madam, I'm Adam." Since then, language has been like that palindrome: the optimists can read its messages forward, the pessimists backward. In 1977 American English gave both groups plenty of opportunity. The air was saturated with recent coinages ("reverse discrimination," "mainstreaming," "ten-four, good buddy"). Some phrases enriched the nation's tongue; many impoverished it with jargon and meaningless terms. For words are like prescription lenses; they obscure what they do not make clear. This year the Washington Star had no trouble finding examples that blurred. In a section labeled "Gobbledygook," the newspaper...

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