English (the language, that is)

Words, Words, Words Are Important (a throwback post, but still appropriate)

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Anyone who had the pleasure of spending 6th grade English class in the presence of Sister Lois would instantly recognize the name of this post as being one of her famous quotes; I’m not exactly sure why she would admonish us with this little ditty, but she said it, a LOT.  She was a rather strict teacher, and I remember the dread of the whole “diagramming sentences” procedure, but, in truth, her catchphrase could probably be my mantra.

As you may or may not know, I have already admitted to the fact that I am a snob when it comes to the English language.  I am very defensive about it, and saddened by the state of its decline.  This is not a new thing for me; even growing up I was confused and alarmed at the number of word shortcuts, general laziness, and “wrong-ness” that seemed to abound in the world.

I remember being in the car once as a kid and seeing a sign for a laundromat, the name of which was something like, “E-Z Wash.”  I remarked to my father that it was weird for something to be labeled as E through Z rather than A through Z.  After several minutes of patient explaining, my father finally got it into my thick head that “E-Z” was “short” for the word “Easy.”

“But, there’s no ‘z’ in the word ‘easy’.”
“Well, you’re supposed to sound out the letters… the letters ‘e’ and ‘z’ put together sound like ‘easy‘.”
“But that’s not how you spell ‘easy.’”
“Well, maybe they were trying to be clever.”
“That’s not clever.  It’s spelled wrong. And why is there a hyphen in it?”
“I don’t know, maybe they didn’t have enough money to spell out the entire word.”

Ditto similar conversations for signs that read “tonite only” or displayed abbreviations like “Fri” without using punctuation.  Usually the conversation would end with the “they didn’t have enough money” or the “maybe the person was in a rush when they wrote it” excuse.  My poor father.  I’m surprised he didn’t throw me out of the car.

Of course, not knowing that “EZ” was a common way to imply “easy” was due to my age and inexperience.  But my indignation about the whole thing does say a little something about my attitude towards adults, and the adult world.  Back then, I believed that adults were generally correct about 99% of the time.  They knew the correct spellings of words, they had many more years of schooling under their belts.  So to me, signs with “incorrect” spellings were a bit strange, because they were part of the (imagined) unerring adult world in which I had come to believe.

Just the other day I saw a lawn sign advertising home repairs which read something along the lines of “No job is to small.”  Well, apparently learning to spell isn’t one of the services they offer.  I almost wanted to call the number on the sign and tell them what a shame it was to spend the money on advertising their services to the public, and they couldn’t even get a simple word like “too” correct.  I mean, come on.  People should know the damn differences between to/too/two.  It’s not like adding the extra letter is going to cost a lot of money or time.  It’s ONE LETTER.

I won’t even give them the benefit of the doubt that it was a simple mistake, because this is something they are showing to the world, and they should have proofread.  It’s not private notes in a diary, it’s there for the public to see, and judge.  In my eyes, this wasn’t about being too lazy, it was about someone not knowing the difference between three very simple words of the English language.

I know I shouldn’t care whether a roof fixer/handyman guy knows the difference between the words, but what if it’s a reflection on other things?
If he doesn’t care about appearing professional, will he, in fact, be professional?  Does he even know how to read?  If he forgot to add a letter to his public sign, what if he forgets to put a decimal point in his estimate somewhere?  Yes, yes, I know this is dramatic, but it all could have been avoided if he had just asked for some professional advice before making his sign.  It’s not a requirement for my handyman to write like Shakespeare, but I do expect him to care about his public and professional image.  His omission of one letter essentially lost him any opportunity for procuring my business.  Silly?  Perhaps.  But I know I’m not the only one out there who notices these things.

So you see, Sister Lois (who would be mortified to see what the world has come to) was right.  Words, words, words ARE important.  It’s two bad that people are to lazy too get it thru there they’re their thick skulls.

English (the language, that is)

The Decline of the English Language (another throwback, also still relevant)

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Now that you have been introduced to some of my prudish and old fashioned ideals, I figured it would be a good time to share the fact that I am a bit of an English snob.  I’m referring to the English language, not the country; though, England is very lovely.

Back when I was trying my hand at on-line dating, whenever I created my profile, I would always add the following statement:  If you cannot form sentences without the use of constant abbreviations, lol’s, textspeak, or some semblance of proper English usage, please do not expect a reply.

It may sound a little harsh, but, I thought it only right that I gave fair warning.  I found that probably 85% of the people on these sites didn’t even bother to read what I had written, anyway, so I felt no guilt in weeding out the “bad” ones immediately.

I will admit that I have used the occasional “LOL” (I used to type out “laughing” before I forced myself to just use the abbreviation), and, after having played World of Warcraft for many years, my l33tspeak vocabulary has increased tenfold.  For the most part, however, when I speak or write, the average human can understand what I am saying, without the use of an on line or urban dictionary.

I am not fully against gamer speak or textspeak, as there are appropriate reasons and environments for using such languages.  It’s when those abbreviations encroach into the “real” world- you know, the world where we actually speak to other human beings face-to-face or in formal writing- that I take issue.

With the massive increase of on-line communications, there seems to be a massive decrease in the use of proofreading or editing.  I have read countless news articles with misspelled names/words, improper punctuation, and such poor usage of pronouns that I’ve had to read the article multiple times to figure out to whom or what the author was referring.  The facts are barely laid out in any sort of order, it often appears that someone’s scribbled notes were just thrown onto a virtual page and left, as is.

Brochures and business advertisements are in a similar state of disrepair.  My first thought is often, “who was the editor/publisher for this crap?”  My second thought is more of a sad realization that there was likely never a proofreader/editor involved in the production of said brochures/advertisements, due to the wonderful opportunities for self-promotion available on the Worldwide Web.  Self-promotion is great, but if you want to sound somewhat professional, try to spell “lounge” correctly.  And to sound older than a 9-year-old.

While the ideals and assertions of the Academie francaise may seem a bit silly to us, I admit that I am slightly awed by their attempts to preserve their language.  I know, I know, their ambition is to keep the French language as French as possible, and to prevent evil foreign language expressions (mainly, English) from creeping in to formal usage.  They are decidedly elitist, old-fashioned, and anti-English. But I do admire their attempts at limiting slang and trying to keep things proper.  Look at this statement:

“We want to restore courage to all those in France and outside France who endeavour to defend and enrich the language. Let French remain a great language of communication and culture,” Jean-Matthieu Pasqualini of the Académie told Le Figaro.

If something similar were to be posted on line in respect to the English language, I’m guessing the replies would look something like this:

“LOL! idts bro”
“Lol to bad whats up with this dude get in the 21st centry”
“these people got there heads up there ass”

Sad, isn’t it?

I remember when Spenser was very young, and just learning to read and write, I would look at some of his schoolwork.  There was a new “philosophy” or “method” back then, which was based on the merits of attempting to spell a word, as opposed to actually enforcing (its) proper spelling.  “Kat” was an acceptable replacement for “cat”, because, isn’t it fantastic, they recognized the general idea of the word!  Sorry, but when do they start learning about the difference between a “hard” and “soft” “c”?  Tenth grade?  “Cat” is not a difficult word.  Really.

Of course, being the horrible Nazi-like Mother I was, I would point out, “..but, that’s not right.. I know your teacher didn’t mark it wrong, but, that’s not how we spell ‘cat.’  It’s spelled with a ‘c.’  Learn it now and you won’t have to re-learn it next year.  Now spell it correctly.” (sound of whip snapping in background)
It’s no wonder that half of the people in America can’t spell, if they’re starting out in this fashion.

Add in the need for the conservation of space and time required for texting and on-line chat through the years, and you have a recipe for disaster.  This is not about the new generation of young adults, this is about everyone, the French included.  Expectations (it always comes down to this, does it not?) have been lowered, and “attempts” are considered acceptable.  It’s not about getting in the 21st century, it’s about laziness, and the fact that most of us have forgotten usage rules, anyway.

When I write these posts, I proofread multiple times before hitting the “publish” button.  I am constantly recalling my high school English teacher (I love you, Mrs. Richardson) and her Evil Red Pen, and asking myself if my syntax is bad, if my pronouns are sloppy, if I’m being too colloquial (I am, but this is blogging), if my sentences would be understood by an alien race attempting to learn the language.  I take immense liberties, I use horrifically long run-on sentences, my use of quotation marks is likely abominable, and I continually start sentences with conjunctions.  As I edit, I consider whether anyone would actually give a crap if I have incorrectly used “who” instead of “whom.”  I blush to admit that my internal reply to that question is “no, Catherine, they don’t…just leave it..”

In the end, it truly does come down to expectations and what is acceptable.  Our decline as a whole is the product of these lowered expectations.  The less we care, the lazier we get, and standards will all but disappear from society. Join me in my (currently) one man crusade to encourage some noble standards.  Equip your mental Red Pens and “endeavour to defend and enrich” our language.  Challenge yourselves to spend a day proofreading before hitting “enter,”  to use no abbreviations, and to communicate your intelligence to the world without once using “LOL” in your musings.

Translation:  L2 rite.