Thursday, August 04, 2005

Grammatica! Grammatica!

No, that's not a cheer for the former placekicking brothers Bill and Martin. (Bill once blew out a knee celebrating a field goal in the first quarter.) That's a defiant chant for an uprising: a plea for clean writing, sound spelling, and proper punctuation. In short, I want to take back English.

Friend Joel
wrote it this morning:
"You and I speak English" has the advantage that it can be altered consistently to "I speak English." "You and me speak English" cannot boast such consistency; the phrase "me speak English" is still generally only spoken by those who don't.
Oh, but there are so many other phrases for them to choose from! Just today, food shopping, I was told that "Brand X Dinner's are half price." I fought the rational urge to rip out the sign and stomp on it; I still fight the irrational urge to boycott the brand. After all, they didn't write the copy.

Why do such things drive me cuckoo? Why does "ax" for "ask" make me grimace, and why do I lose sleep when I type "irony" when I mean "coincidence"? Well, because it's important. Once I had a conversation with a college freshman at Rutgers that was grossly one-sided... the student could not keep up with me. I'm no great intellectual myself; it's not a matter of her brainpower, since RU is a good school that doesn't usually admit blatant incompetents. (Well, maybe some of the professors, but I digress.) She was there because she was diligent enough to pull down the grades and do well on the tests - but I swear she couldn't string together three sentences with a guided tour. I grew convinced that she had the thoughts in her head, but had never been given the tools to get them out into the world.

Folks, that makes this bug angry. What's more, this student is not alone. Words are the medium of exchange in the marketplace of ideas; every day we run into native-speaking people who have been set free to wander around with no idea how to make change. Not surprisingly, they get ripped off. They have trouble handling the ideas that are offered and have the devil's own time giving ideas back; they have them but they can't bring them into the light of day, and the ideas never get fair hearing. They get swindled into mouthing lies or believing sweet-sounding folly: not from lack of a mind, but from lack of tools for the mind to use. This lack will hold her back, professionally and personally, and ought to be remedied.

Realistically, I'm not expecting measured treatises from the mailman or dissertations from the waitress. It's not a matter of everyone sounding like a Victorian novel of manners. It's just getting as much out of each person as can be given. Not everyone makes the effort, and that's sad enough, but those that do ought to have the maximum effect for their effort, and clear speaking is a huge step forward there.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said!
*stands and claps*
Marina

Janet said...

I wrote a post along these lines not to long ago...

http://www.theartofgettingby.com/2005/06/yours-mines-and-ours.html

Janet said...

Whoops..."too":)

nightfly said...

I liked the post, Janet. Maybe my knowing so many schoolteachers influences my thinking?...

Brian B said...

Thank God I'm not alone.