"I left my, um … heert? … heart in San, uh, Frankie? … Francie? … oh, bloody 'ell!"

Rowan Walker has written a newspaper story one can appreciate on many levels:

Millions of adults have such poor reading skills that they struggle to keep up with karaoke lyrics at Christmas parties, research has found.

The Department for Education's Get On campaign found classic songs like 'Summer Nights' from Grease (starring John Travolta) require the reading and English skills expected of an 11-year-old, yet more than 5.2 million adults struggle to read them. About 17.8 million adults had problems with other favourites such as 'Angels' by Robbie Williams. Skills minister Phil Hope urged adults to brush up reading skills if they struggle to sing along.

'We might think we know these tunes inside out, but only on reading the lyrics properly do we realise that some of our favourite numbers are complicated,' he said.

Points for discussion:

  • Oh, sure. That's why reading skills are valuable: so you can keep up with the karaoke machine.

  • If you follow the link, or just notice the funny spelling, it turns out this research was done in England. So—whew!

  • You have to assume that the "researchers" didn't needlessly put their cancer-cure experiments on hiatus while they tackled this burning issue.

  • Still, at the typical Christmas party, what are the chances there is at least one other reason the connection between your eyes, brain, and tongue might not be working at full literate efficiency, especially given the clue that you've dropped enough of your inhibitions to do karaoke?

  • Look at that parenthetical "(starring John Travolta)" in the article. Why is that there? How does the mind of a British journalist work, anyway? Did he need three words to fill up the print column, and those were the best he could come up with?

  • Isn't the poor quality of British journalistic writing more worrisome than the poor quality of British karaoke singing?

  • Although I strongly suspect alcohol might be involved here as well.

  • And (in any case) how does just one person, illiterate or not, sing "Summer Nights"? You need Danny and Sandy, plus at least two Pink Ladies and two Thunderbirds, right? Otherwise it doesn't make any sense. Or does the karaoke machine do those other parts? I don't know much about karaoke, sorry.

  • "More than 5.2 million adults"? Would that be, like, 5.3 million adults?

  • Apparently the "Get On" campaign's permanent job is to hector and insult British adults. They appear in this 2002 BBC article as well, where they bemoan that "nearly one in three adults (29%) in England could not calculate the floor area of a room in feet or metres - with or without calculators or paper and pens." And hence were likely to "be buying too much paint and wasting wallpaper or seeds."

  • Our own research reveals, by the way, that 100% of British journalists can't write about this stuff without emitting tons of needless words. Shorn of waste, the above fact is simply: "29% of English adults could not calculate the floor area of a room."

  • Although I strongly suspect the real numbers, honestly reported, would be more like: "3% couldn't calculate the floor area of a room, and 26% told us to piss off, so we're not sure."

  • And for that matter, the BBC writer doesn't seem to know that areas are measured in square feet. (Or "square metres", whatever those might be.)

  • The 2002 article notes that the "Get On" campaign "is part of the government's "Skills for Life" strategy, which aims to raise skills levels in 750,000 adults by 2004." And yet, in 2006, millions remain karaoke-illiterate. Is this, perhaps, the least effective government program ever? A deafening silence from the British journalists on this point.

  • I don't think I've ever heard the song 'Angels' ("by Robbie Williams"), but the lyrics are easy enough to dig up. The longest word in the entire song is in line two:
    I sit and wait
    does an angel contemplate my fate
    Yes, "contemplate" is a toughie, apparently enough to make about 12.6 million Brits who had no problem with "Summer Nights" freeze up on stage for crucial seconds, then run off sobbing to the loo.

  • So who do you think has the most worthless job: "Skills minister Phil Hope", the researchers tasked to come up with these numbers, or the journalists that write about them?

(Original article via Dave.)

Last Modified 2006-12-19 6:18 PM EDT