Matt Carberry (kingpin248) wrote,
Matt Carberry

Are we losing the English language? (I think so)

Today, a couple of friends shared a story from The Wall Street Journal. Sue Shellenbarger reports on the laments of businesses over the grammar employed by their workers. I felt as though Shellenbarger might be personally preaching to me by writing this. I've long been kicking around a post on the long, slow death spiral of the English language. This article has finally given me the impetus to write it.

The example that most infuriates me is the misuse of the word "anniversary." That word refers to a celebration of an event that occurred on the same day of the year, in some previous year. It has been co-opted to effectively become synonymous with "celebration" itself. There are two ways that "anniversary" is used incorrectly. One is that it should be used with ordinal numbers. "First anniversary" is proper; "one-year anniversary" is not. Second, if the number of years is not an integer, then "anniversary" is inappropriate. "Six-month anniversary" is just flat out wrong. My frustration over this word is due in large part to the fact that the problem has spread beyond everyday usage. The first incorrect example appeared in the June 2012 issue of Reason magazine, and the second is a quote out of a Reuters story from March about the Occupy Wall Street protests.

There are a few others that have stood out to me. I've seen multiple writers capitalize "high school" when using it as a common noun - that is, not referring to a specific establishment. I also saw that two summers ago, when I had to retake introductory composition at Hofstra and noticed that error on a few papers as we looked over each other's work. A particular synonym for exercise also induces me to shake my head from time to time. "Workout" is a noun; "work out" is a verb. I can't go without mentioning the trend of turning a statement into a series of one word sentences. (For example: "That. Just. Happened.") There also apparently seems to be a need to shorten or otherwise change words for make them sound hip - or worse, to make them sound cute. Rezzies, whatevs, ohmigod, heeze, natch, obvs, fav(e), totes, just to name some of the most obvious examples. The last one is slightly more maddening because my thirtysomething eyes still process it as the plural of tote.

I point to one reason that stands out for this trend, and Shellenbarger hits it:
Accustomed to texting and social networking, "[younger people have] developed a new norm," Ms. Erickson says.
A language is composed of two main forms - the spoken word and the written word. Over the last two decades - and particularly within the last ten years - writing has replaced speaking in a large swath of personal interaction. It started with instant messaging, and has since expanded to texting. This circumstance is now at the point where I have read, in multiple places, that some people are actually offended by the perceived intrusiveness of a phone call. As we have grown more accustomed to writing where we used to speak, we have tended to write in the manner in which we speak. This, in turn, has caused us to carry those mannerisms of speech into areas where they aren't appropriate. Don't get me wrong—brevity has an important role to play in communication. I think of a friend who, in an e-mail responding to a simple yes-or-no question, carried on for more than a thousand words before approaching anything resembling an answer. But on the whole, is this all really okay, because "[s]incerity and clarity expressed in '140 characters and sound bytes' are seen as hallmarks of good communication—not 'the king's grammar'"? What happens when those with such a cavalier disregard for the language today become the leaders of tomorrow, and see no problem with tolerating the grammatical indiscretions of future generations? Where might that lead us? Actually, I think Mike Judge has already explored that dystopia in sufficient detail.

I think I've said my piece on this issue. I'm going back inside and putting the soapbox back in the attic. One last thing - get off my lawn, even though it isn't actually my lawn.

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