Here Lies English, R.I.P.
One of my favorite Designing Women episodes – yes, that show from the 80s about four Southern-belle designers and their ex-convict partner living in the New South – is the one in which Dash Goff, the writer, moderates a reading club for the Sugarbaker Design Firm. Dash comments on the failing of our language today, to which Mary Jo, one of the characters, retorts (insert redneck accent here), “He means we don’t talk good.”
Mary Jo couldn’t be more on the mark. Our language skills have been boiled down to pop culture colloquialisms, lazy acronyms and internet jargon designed to keep us from exercising that muscle behind our failing tongues. If Webster is adding words like: pleather – a plastic fabric made to look like leather; teensploitation – the exploitation of teenagers by producers of teen-oriented films and HPLC – high-performance liquid chromatography, how can we be expected to even know what torpidly means? Or how about nugatory conjectures? And lest we forget insouciant.
Like letter writing, speaking well – or ‘talking good’ as Mary Jo would say – seems to be a dying art. We, who are reading this, are probably in the minority in that we read; most voraciously. Reading, in turn, boosts vocabulary. Our word tanks have been drained almost in half since one hundred years ago. Think, for a moment, to the last time you were in the doctor’s office. How many people did you see reading? I mean really reading – not just flipping through one of the office’s back issues of Readers’ Digest or Golfing Today. What about at the DMV while you are in a terminal holding pattern while waiting to renew your driver’s license – how many do you recall reading there? Or how about your favorite bookstore? Do you ever see new people there or do you know all the customers on a first-name basis? In a world of minute news bites, one-click updates, information digests and soon-to-be-made-into a movie of the week, why would we do anything but wait for the machine to fill our numbed and lethargic minds with images we could easily conjure ourselves if we would just pick up a book? Because we are lazy – that’s why.
Some will argue the English language is fluid and ever changing for a people who are changing, as well. While I agree with this, I don’t agree that it’s an excuse for improper use of the language or a reason not to have a library membership. As a professor-type, I am always amazed at the writing level of college students; or rather, the lack of any writing level. I wonder what our public schools are teaching our children. Are we back to the 50s-era race for space and Sputnik and all that? Are we focusing on everything (or anything) but language and the ability to speak it and write it? I wonder what lies on our childrens’ teacher’s night stands.
We will spend $30 a pop to take our family to the movies (this does not include snacks). We will spend several hundred dollars on gaming systems and $65+ a pop for new games to play on these systems. We will spend $80+ a month on 200+ channels for our TV. We will even pay $100 for a stinkin’ pair of tennis shoes for our child, but we won’t pay $200 for something like Hooked on Phonics? Here’s a thought; spend one dollar on your library membership and pick up a book.
Incidentally, one of the recent additions to Webster’s was clafouti, a dessert consisting of a layer of fruit (as cherries) topped with batter and baked. I believe you could find a recipe for it in a cook book at the library.
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