IS THE PRINCIPAL YOUR PAL?

Indiana is currently embroiled in a battle over what its proponents are calling “education reform” and what opponents see as an attempt to dismember the public school system (personally, I’m in the latter camp, but that’s not the point I’m here to make).

Newspaper articles and TV coverage of the battle have been extensive, and the websites of these media outlets give voice to readers and viewers through their “comment” sections. Judging from many of those comments … particularly those from the pro-“reform” side … Indiana should spend a lot more money on education, not less. I base that on the plethora of spelling errors, grammar gaffes that go beyond picky mistakes, and leaps of logic that aren’t even in the neighborhood of what we call reasoning.

But the one misuse that continues to bemuse me the most appears in calls for fewer administrative-level personnel: referring to those supervisory employees as “principles.” Sorry, but a “principle” is a moral precept or basic concept upon which other concepts or actions may be based. The man or woman in the office near a school’s entrance is a “principal,” ending in “al” and not “le.” The simple memory trigger they taught me back in fourth grade was “the principal is my pal.” Obviously it stuck.

Adding to the confusion is another meaning of “principal” … that being “primary” or “first” among others. If the main reason you went to the grocery store was to pick up a gallon of milk, it was your “principal” objective. If you moved south because you hate snow, a warmer clime was your “principal” motivation. And if the main factor in the decisions your school’s administrator makes is the Golden Rule, that would be your principal’s principal principle.

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