The interrobang, the pedants and the questioning of the IQ test | At the library column


American writer HL Mencken’s mastery of words, the courage of his convictions, and his pioneering work on our version of English, “The American Language,” outweigh for me his considerable flaws. His line, “The notion that all is gained by fixing a tongue in a groove is cherished only by pedants,” made me pause before gleefully recounting that the proper way to punctuate a forceful question is with a interrobang: a question mark superimposed with an exclamation mark, as in “What the hell‽”

“Interrobang” merges “question mark”, the technical name for “question mark”, with the printer’s slang for “exclamation mark”: “bang”.

The Economist wrote: “The interrobang was invented in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter, a journalist turned advertising executive, who disliked the ugliness of using multiple punctuation marks at the end of a sentence. ” ‽ is cleaner than !?!, but it’s close to pedantry. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a pedant is “one who conspicuously displays academic knowledge or pays excessive attention to minor details or formal rules,” and pedants, especially grammar Nazis, can be boring. I agree with former Poet Laureate Stephen Pinker: “Pedants of language hold to an oral tradition of shibboleths which have no basis in logic or style, which have been challenged by great writers for decades. centuries and which have been disavowed by all thoughtful user manuals. “Promoting accuracy is one thing, but flaunting knowledge is another.

That being said, it’s a natural tendency for librarians to get an endorphin-like charge from helping people find the exact knowledge they need.

Graduate librarians study how to effectively answer reference questions in library school; when I graduated, for example, I had taken courses in basic reference, humanities reference, and government documents. But even experienced librarians completely answer customer questions an average of 50% of the time without additional training.

It seemed like we answered in the 90% range, but taking a statewide training course for effective reference here in Fairbanks made me realize that people rarely think precisely about how to formulate what they want to know before asking a librarian about it. It is up to us to determine the real question without indiscretion.

When someone asks, “Do you have any books on dogs?” for example, we should use open-ended questions (“Yes! Looking for something about puppies or older dogs?” “Puppies.” “OK, are you hoping to pick a puppy or train one? etc.) to reduce it to allow the person to provide more details.

The process is thorough and complex, and it improves the accuracy rate for librarians to over 80% by always ending with, “Did this completely answer your question?” »

Librarians often carry auras of intelligence in the mainstream opinion, but having a high IQ doesn’t necessarily follow. An impressive article from, “What is Average IQ?” was written by Jacquelyn Cafasso and it was medically reviewed by Dr. Timothy Legg, and they insert “Trusted Source” when citing reliable studies.

They assure us that “IQ tests are made to have an average score of 100. Psychologists revise the test every few years to maintain 100 as the average. Most people (about 68%) have an IQ between 85 and 115. Only a small fraction of people have a very low (below 70) or very high (above 130) IQ.

Although differences between the IQs of men and women have not been observed, “research has found that average IQ differs around the world”. The US IQ rate came in at 24th, with Asian countries ranking among the top six countries (Hong Kong and Singapore – 108, South Korea – 106, China, Japan and Taiwan – 105). The bottom ten were all African, ranging from Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania – 72, to Malawi – 60).

However, the IQ tests used were from Western European sources, and a ‘trusted source’ study noted “that infectious diseases may be the only really important predictor of average IQ.” Researchers believe this is because if a child becomes ill, the body uses its energy to fight the infection rather than use it for brain development. Nevertheless, other contributing factors include good nutrition, “regular schooling of good quality” and “laws establishing safe levels of pollutants, such as lead”.

In 1908, American psychologist Henry Herbert Goddard first translated the French Binet intelligence test, the first practical IQ test, into English, and he distributed 22,000 copies of the test nationwide.

An outspoken eugenicist and segregationist who coined the term “moron,” Goddard was born in 1866 to a farming family in Maine.

When he was young, his father was gored by a bull and died, his mother became an itinerant Quaker preacher, and Henry was sent to boarding school and then to Haverford College.

Later, Goddard graduated in psychology in 1899 and became director of research at the Vineland Training School for weak-minded girls and boys, which, according to Wikipedia, was “the first known laboratory established to study the intellectual disability”.

“At the May 18, 1910, annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of the Mindless, Goddard proposed definitions for a classification system of mentally handicapped people based on intelligence quotient (IQ). Goddard used the terms cretin for those with an IQ of 51 to 70, imbecile for those with an IQ of 26 to 50, and idiot for those with an IQ of 0 to 25 for the categories of increasing impairment. norm for decades. A cretin, by his definition, was any adult with a mental age between eight and 12. Cretins, according to Goddard, were unfit for society and should be removed from society either through institutionalization, either by sterilization or by both.

However, “by the 1920s Goddard had come to believe that he had made many mistakes in his early research” and “devoted the latter part of his career to seeking improvements in education, reforming influences environmental issues in childhood and to promote better education for children”. practices.

But others continued to use his early work to support various arguments with which Goddard disagreed. They still do.

Stanford University’s first president, ichthyologist/botanist David Starr Jordan was Goddard’s contemporary and an outspoken eugenicist.

Born simply David Jordan in 1851, Jordan’s parents enrolled him in an all-girls high school, and around this time he adopted “Starr” as his middle name.

He ran in high circles in California, spoke publicly and vehemently about the need for racial segregation and “racial purity”, and in 1916 his college contract was not renewed.

Undeterred, Jordan became a founding board member of the Human Betterment Foundation which lobbied for nationwide mandatory sterilization legislation.

Meanwhile, the wife of university founder Leland Stanford died suddenly of strychnine poisoning while vacationing in Hawaii, according to the medical examiner.

Wikipedia reports that Jordan “sailed to Hawaii, hired a doctor to investigate the matter, and said she had in fact died of heart failure, a condition whose symptoms bear no relation to those who have were actually observed.

Her motive for doing this has been the subject of speculation “He wrote” the chairman of Stanford’s board of trustees, offered several alternative explanations for Mrs. Stanford’s death, and suggested choosing the one that would be most appropriate. .. Mrs. Stanford had a difficult relationship with [Jordan] and reportedly planned to remove him from his post at the university.

Goddard’s and Jordan’s research has been thoroughly refuted, denigrated and disavowed, but unearthed by today’s white nationalists around the world to bolster their sinister beliefs and vicious political agendas. At the risk of being one, I tell you, worse than a pedant is a pedant peddling lies.

Greg Hill is the former Director of Fairbanks North Star Borough Libraries. Contact him at 907-479-4344.


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