Friday, July 23, 2010

Extra! Extra! Loann Agrees With Sarah Palin (sort of)

Oh, how it pains me to say this, but I don't hate the word refudiate or Palin for creating it. And, she is right, Shakespeare added a plethora of new words and phrases to the English language, or at least solidified them from the spoken of the time to what we know and accept today. Any language is a moving, growing thing. A river that is different from second to second and possibly no more so than English which has become the closest thing to a global language (for no particularly good reason other than Imperialism and the British navy). Sometime ago now, I read The Story of English and wrote a little about it--meant to write more and somehow didn't. To a certain extent, Shakespeare defined English. James Joyce gleefully broke it.

So what makes them geniuses and Palin an idiot? Well, there is the fact that their writing is lyric and lasting. That they make sense (even Joyce if you are as learned as he--which I'm not) while Palin is famously incoherent in other ways. She is also a hypocrite--whinging about press attacks while happily jumping on band wagons to bash her opponents--but that's political and I don't mean this to be. Liberals forgave President Obama for saying he had been to 57 states on the campaign trail but the right waived their arms above their heads and spouted all kinds of conspiracy theories. So, perhaps we should give Sarah a little slack on this one.

I am not the grammarian about whom your mother warned you. I admit to playing fast and loose with the English language. I can't spell worth a damn. I never learned to diagram a sentence and don't remember all the rules about punctuation or grammar but go with what seems right in my head at the time. A comma for a pause, etc. I have embarrassingly used irregardless. I mispronounce words that I have only read on the page and I am probably guilty of more malapropisms than I am even aware of (ending with a preposition).

But what is "correct" English anyway. At the time of Shakespeare there were wide divergences in spelling from region to region, probably even from street to street in London. It would be almost 150 years before Johnson would write the first dictionary and many of his sources and usages came from Shakespeare. Some of the finest and most moving sentences in the language flout proper usage of their time--BUT become proper usage because of their power.

There will always be those who pedantically try to stem the tide--akin to standing in sand and trying to stop a slow moving train. You won't get hurt but you won't hurt the train, and you will be pushed backwards. Even the least snobbish of us has something that just sets our teeth on edge in common usage. I cannot stand the New England "draw" for "drawer" especially since I have seen many people here write it as "draw" as in, "My socks are in the top draw of the bureau." I also despise Aks for Ask.

But who am I to say--in 100 years time they may be accepted, if not in place of, at least alongside my preference in the dictionary (Futurama plays with this in one of its earliest episodes):

An Englishman's way of speaking
absolutely classifies him,
The moment he talks he makes
some other Englishman despise him.
One common language
I'm afraid we'll never get
--Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady

Whether high or low, someone will be annoyed by the way you speak.

That said, I believe that we should all aspire to speaking accepted conventional English as well as we possibly can, not because its "right" in some absolutest way, but because it opens up more opportunities. Like learning English--although the same is true of us, English speakers, should try to learn other languages.

I also despise the use of "txt spk" in non-text situations. But I continue to use LOL, LMFAO, IMHO and OMG. And thus, these things enter the lexicon. When did email become the verb and not just the noun that one sends? When did it become understood that when one says they have too much spam they are probably not talking about the canned meat immortalized by Monty Python? Who decided that a device for moving a cursor about a windows environment should be called a mouse--why not a potato? At the turn of the last century there was a typewriting machine and the typewriter who used it. At some point the typewriter became the machine and the user a typist.

I certainly prefer the loose conversational style of English to the stilted business or legalese like this fine example that came across my desk for editing the other day:

This is pursuant to a continuing Securities and Exchange Commission approved
program which permits the custodian to no longer retain the physical
certificates in representation of the positions...What renders the certificates
as nontransferable, in this case, is the lack of the transfer agent...It makes
for an efficient maintenance process of these positions by eliminating
statements for accounts holding only these nontransferable assets.
Yer wot?

Which I rewrote as:

This is part of a continuing Securities and Exchange Commission program which
allows the custodian to destroy the physical certificates. Lack of the transfer
agent can make the certificates nontransferable. This makes it easier to process
these positions by eliminating statements...
I probably could have done even better if I'd taken more time. And if I'd managed to understand more fully what was being said (the party of the first part...).

I think what annoys me most is a laziness in speaking. (And I am sure I am as guilty as I am condemning). Cliches last because they are true, but they are so often thrown out as a way of not thinking. Business gobbledygook pains me because it generally means nothing; it is as bland and unchallenging, herd mentalliting as it can be. Holistic and proactive are two words that make me furious and I replace as often as possible (only to have my boss put them back--grrr). Holistic, IMHO, belongs in the realm of homeopathic medicine and proactive in preventative care.

But (there is always another side, isn't there) short-hand common terms, cliches and trite expressions exist to make communication easier, to put us all on the same page (hate that one too--we're all going to the same URL, we all occupy the same point in the space time continuum, we're all friended) so that we can seemingly understand one another quickly. All language is but a short hand, symbols for concrete things to allow us to work with our fellow man. No word is anything in and of itself except for the thing we define by it.

And if you tell anyone that I forgive Sarah Palin, I will refudiate it to the best of my ability.

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