Ta-Nehisi Coates has an article in the current Atlantic, titled “Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War.”
What an excellent bad example of a title.
Coates just called you, me, and everybody else who reads English “stupid” on the topic of the American (I assume) Civil War.
First off, he’s wrong. Gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.
But calling your readership “stupid,” even by implication, let alone directly, is an unforgiveable professional (and personal) sin. No writer who does that deserves to be read, regardless of whatever good might lurk in his pen. For such a writer, truth is an inkblot: a mistake, a rare burp, from an instrument accustomed to the swift inditing of falsehood.
Secondly: don’t shame your readers. If you do, shame on you.
That entire stupid article hammers us with the words “stupid,” “stupidity,” and even the stupid neologism “unstupid.” All that remains is George’s Orwell’s bête noire: “not unstupid.” I’ll use it for the sake of completeness: the article is not unstupid. There.
I’m not even interested in commenting on the books recommended, or on the reasons why the author chose to recommend them.
This reminds me of that stupid “New Beginnings” program inflicted upon a former congregation of mine. The words “insane” and “insanity” were used about a dozen times in the space of two paragraphs, to no clear purpose except to disempower those who read it.
It was a final straw in my return to the Church, actually. I may be crazy, but I ain’t stupid.
Actually, I’m neither.
I have choices when I want to read something. The next time I have some leisure, I’ll get back to the memoirs of Hector Berlioz and Counterpoint by Heinrich Schenker. I’ll give our national stupidologists a wide pass from now on.