Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Never seen nothin' like it

Language eh? It's a weird and tricky thing. Even though I may not always write so good, I am of the opinion that there are rules to be observed and there is such a thing as good English. Ok, call me a fascist but I assure you the rest of my tendencies are thoroughly to the left.

I was absolutely thrilled then to read this extract from John Humphrey's book. Although it seems he may be treading ground that Don Watson has already covered, I have to admit that Humphrey's version seems a tad more entertaining. His description of language pendants described several people I know:

The Pedants are those who think there is only one thing that matters: observing the rules. They will avoid a split infinitive however convoluted the resulting sentence may sound. They cannot see a dangling participle without wanting to hang it in the right place. Solecisms are scars on their backs. They feel almost physical pain when they see apostrophes in the wrong place and commas where no pause is intended.

There are fewer and fewer people in this world who wince when they see 'vegie's' on sale or a shop offering 'CD's'. People who take personal offence at such language are uncommon these days. They are swamped by those who tell us that language doesn't matter as long as people understand you. Understanding something is just the first step. It's when you move beyond understanding that the real magic starts to happen. I may understand what the language of a poem is saying but it wouldn't be a very good poem if that's as far as it went.

I don't think it's too much to ask to extend this extra dimension to everyday speech and writing. No, I don't think we should all start talking and writing as if we were bards but I do think a certain respect for language would make life a little more interesting. I don't want to hear of another document being 'socialised' or that 'going forward' we'll be doing such and such (well, actually I prefer going backwards so you can count me out of that one) or that 'we'll take this offline' when they really mean we'll talk about this later.

I accept that language changes, I accept that subverting language conventions can be effective, what I don't accept is pure laziness. I also don't accept the ghetto-ising and jargonising of language until it is beyond the comprehension of everyone except the person who wrote it. Are you listening project managers?

* A gold star to the first person who notes every error in this post. This does not include the ironic use of poor language in the title and the first paragraph. (In fact, if you didn't realise it was ironic you are immediately disqualified).


At 11:09 PM, Blogger Flute said...

Facist, but...

"The are fewer and fewer people in ..."

Should be....

"There are fewer and fewer people in ..."

You owe me a beer.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Georg said...

Thank you Flute, you are correct. I was a little lazy with my proofing. I do indeed owe you a beer, if I make it. Still looking for a babysitter...

At 2:10 AM, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

“…language doesn’t matter as long as someone understands you.” Yes, that’s all fine and well. Pidgin English does the job too, as it enables you to purchase a pig from your neighbor. Or take Pidgin American in its various dialects, which can be seen on any episode of Jerry Springer in all its Stars-n-Stripes glory.

But as you point out, understanding is only one part of it. I like reading. I love writing. My own grammar is a little dodgy at times, but I think it is a shame to waste this beautiful and terrible thing we call the English Language, particularly as so many people over the years have put so much effort into flogging words from other languages and constructing obscure rules to torment unwilling students. What other language can offer four different words for just about any written situation depending upon the meaning desired, yet still occupy less space on the page than any other language written in a Roman alphabet?

The written form of the language slacker is nowhere more evident than in emails. Just because you are writing a short message to someone doesn’t mean you can throw out all those happily learned rules of language. You are communicating with another person – don’t mumble. Use that punctuation. Give that shift key some exercise, damnit.

Death to the redundant apostrophe, I say.


Post a Comment

<< Home