June 22, 2005

Enforcer Syndrome (pre-adolescent phase)

enforcer Sometimes the signs can be observed at a young age.  Unfortunately, no truly effective treatment has yet been found.  Here's a report of a case with especially florid symptoms, from A. J. Jacobs's The Know-It-All, p. 177:

    Grandma starts passing around the bowls of food.  "This is less potatoes than usual," she apologizes.
    [Jacobs's 11-year-old cousin] Douglas suddenly stops pecking away on his computer and looks up.
    "Hold it!" he says.  "That's incorrect!"  Douglas takes out a piece of paper and pencil, checks something off, then leans across the table and slides the paper toward Grandma.
    I pick it up.  It's something called a "grammar citation."  It's got a list of grammar infractions like "free gift" and " 'impact' misused as a verb."  Douglas has checked off a box that says " 'fewer/less' abuse."  Apparently, grandma should have said "fewer potatoes than usual" instead of "less potatoes than usual."
    "Douglas has gotten into grammar," explains Jane [his mother].  "He's an officer in something called the grammar police."
    "Word police," corrects Douglas.
    "Isn't that something," says Grandma, chuckling.
    "He gave a citation to his teacher last week," says Jane.
    "What'd she do?" says Grandpa.
    "She said, 'Between you and I.' " replies Douglas.  He shakes his head, no doubt feeling both sorrow and pity at her pronoun abuse.

What to do?  What to do?  Throttling him is illegal, and gagging him surely counts as child abuse.  Some authorities recommend a studied absolute failure to respond: just ignore the symptoms.  Other authorities report that the silent treatment fails to dampen the manifestations of the syndrome and may in fact exacerbate them.  It is known that the condition can persist throughout life; David Foster Wallace, for instance, is an admitted sufferer from Adult Enforcer Syndrome.

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at June 22, 2005 12:53 PM