A news flash from The Onion: "Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs":
Faced with ongoing budget crises, underfunded schools nationwide are increasingly left with no option but to cut the past tense—a grammatical construction traditionally used to relate all actions, and states that have transpired at an earlier point in time—from their standard English and language arts programs.
A part of American school curricula for more than 200 years, the past tense was deemed by school administrators to be too expensive to keep in primary and secondary education.
There's a nice comment by Senator Orrin Hatch:
Despite concerns that cutting the past-tense will prevent graduates from communicating effectively in the workplace, the home, the grocery store, church, and various other public spaces, a number of lawmakers, such as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, have welcomed the cuts as proof that the American school system is taking a more forward-thinking approach to education.
"Our tax dollars should be spent preparing our children for the future, not for what has already happened," Hatch said at a recent press conference. "It's about time we stopped wasting everyone's time with who 'did' what or 'went' where. The past tense is, by definition, outdated."
Said Hatch, "I can't even remember the last time I had to use it."
This led me to wonder how often, in fact, various politicians (or their speechwriters) use various tenses, aspects and moods.
Left out of the piece: the interview with Geoff Pullum, who asked why they didn't start by eliminating instruction about the "passive" tense.
[Update -- James Sinclair writes:
The recent article reminded me of one of my all-time favorites from The Onion: Rules Grammar Change. I don't have the time, energy, or talent to check the entire article for syntactic consistency, but I was impressed nonetheless. A few quotes:
U.S. Grammar Guild according to, the new structure loosely on an obscure 800-year-old, pre-medieval Anglo-Saxon syntax is based. The syntax primarily verbs, verb clauses and adjectives at the end of sentences placing involves. Results this often, to ears American, a sentence backward appearing.
The enthusiasm of government officials despite, many Americans about the new plan upset are. "Why in the world did they do this?" a New Canaan, CT, insurance salesman, said Brent Pryce. "There's absolutely no reason. It's utterly pointless and will cause total chaos throughout the country, not to mention the fact that it will cost billions of dollars to implement. And what's this U.S. Grammar Guild, anyway? I've never heard of it."
When of this complaint informed, government officials that they could not the man's words understand said, because of the strange, unintelligible way of speaking he was.
]Posted by Mark Liberman at December 1, 2007 07:11 AM