Barry Saunders

Going to call another politician ignorant? Make sure your words are correct

Anyone who loves government of, by and for the people will recoil at what the N.C. General Assembly just did: it bogarted the Greensboro City Council and changed the way council members are elected.

Anyone who loves the English language and its proper use will recoil at the fact that state Rep. Michael Speciale, a Republican from New Bern, doesn’t know the difference between “borne” and “born.”

The Republican-led legislature, which espouses smaller government and self-determination except when it doesn’t, reshaped the Greensboro council despite the objections of some of the city’s council members, residents and business leaders. The bill, introduced with minimal explanation by state Rep. Trudy “My wade or the highwade” Wade, changes the city council from a mix of at-large and district members to eight district council seats, likely forcing a number of incumbents to run against each other. Critics say the change will diminish the electoral influence of Greensboro’s black voters and make it easier for Republicans to get elected.

Gov. Pat McCrory called the bill “bad” and the process by which it was instituted “shameful.”

He was right. Rep. Speciale responded on his Facebook page that McCrory’s opposition was “borne of ignorance.”

Surprising and not surprising

This is the same “small government, jobs creating” legislature that has voted to wrest power of the Charlotte airport from the city, to usurp Asheville’s control over its water system and to require Wake County redistricting, so its meddling in Greensboro’s affairs is not surprising.

What is surprising is that Speciale, who voted to cut funding for schools, didn’t know the difference between born and borne, a difference Mrs. Blackwell taught us in – I swear – the second grade.

Because I like to give others the benefit of the doubt, I’ve resorted to linguistic gymnastics trying to justify his use of borne – meaning transported by – when what he most assuredly meant was “born,” meaning existing as a result of birth.

Of course, had Speciale simply said “borne of ignorance” in a news conference, no one could tell that he is guilty of confusing homophones.

What you call me?

Chill, homes. Homophones are simply words that sound alike but which have different meanings. His misuse is far from unprecedented, but if you’re an elected official, it behooves you to know the difference – especially when calling someone else ignorant. Speciale in March received an “F” grade for his votes on education-funding cuts from the public-advocacy group Progress NC Action.

Grating grading mistake

To what should be its shame, though, the Progress NC Action sign grading legislators read “Gradiing” – twice. Again, trying to give NC Progress Action the benefit of the doubt, that misspelling could’ve been an intentional, tactical error: see, we really need more money for education.

The editorial page of the News & Record newspaper of Greensboro urged the city to sue, to “take a stand against the bullying, intrusive legislature.” City Attorney Tom Carruthers told me that the city “held a public hearing Tuesday to solicit input. There was a strong consensus ... that the city should file suit to defend the constitutional rights of the citizens of Greensboro. I’ve been directed to do that by the city council. ... We have researched the history on this and have found no other instances where a municipal government has had its rights to self-determine the makeup of its council eliminated” by the legislature.

Speaking of things we learned in second grade, it was around then that we thought it the height of sophisticated humor to call up to King’s Grocery, ask Mr. John King “Do y’all have pig’s feet?” and when he answered “yes” to say “Well, keep on your shoes and nobody will notice.”

If Speciale and others would simply speak their views instead of writing everything on Facebook or Twitter, perhaps nobody’ll notice that they don’t know a homophone from a Homo sapiens.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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