I’m wearing my curmudgeon coat right now. Today, I’m grumbling about language and the general decline of American literacy. Now, I’m not a trained grammarian. I can’t quote all the grammar rules, and I use sentence fragments when it suits me to achieve a certain informal tone. What I know about vocabulary and grammar I learned from voracious reading instead of formal training. Nevertheless, I wish to rant and therefore I shall.
The French language is lovely, precise, and protected. Consider a culture and an academy of letters that gets upset when the word “weekend” is allowed to creep into the language. “Le weekend” created quite a scandal a few decades ago. Zut alors! An English word being adopted wholesale? C’est incroyable, n’est-ce pas?
It’s probably safe to say that Americans are generally indifferent to such matters. Despite the steady bloat of government administration in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, most of us dislike bureaucracy and red tape. We take a native pride in dodging rules. Our culture is built on independence and doing things our way. We’ve made a mythology of it.
However, when it comes to our language, I think we might benefit from taking a page from the French and tightening our standards. After all, the English language is an intricate, complex, and fascinating tongue. English is filled with quirks, idioms, and inconsistencies. We enjoy a parterre of regular and irregular verbs. We possess an enormous vocabulary from which to draw. American English is constantly borrowing words and terms from other languages, and it flirts with British English without ever fully committing. (Post Revolutionary War, Daniel Webster was hired to alter American spelling from the English version. Therefore, gray is American; grey is British; pronunciation is the same.)
Okay, so given the richness of our linguistic heritage, why don’t we cherish it? Why don’t we preserve it? Why isn’t our educational system fighting tooth and nail to see that every jot and tittle is correctly learned by American youth? And why aren’t we bothering to protest as grubby, semi-literate gobbledygook crawls into our texts, emails, reports, letters, articles, and books?
Here’s the offending sentence and “word” that set me off on this diatribe: “Once the room is clutter-less, arrange the furniture for better flow.”
Clutter-less! I ask you, who in the world thought that one up? What writer, producing copy to be published in a national magazine, is so inept as to utilize such a ghastly term? Hyphenated, no less. (Undoubtedly because if you type “clutterless” without the hyphen, Word codes it in red to indicate a misspelling. And we wouldn’t want to misspell a word that doesn’t exist, would we?)
Quick, boys and girls! What’s the correct term?
That’s right. “Uncluttered.”
Let’s move beyond the hapless writer who stumped her toe and fell splat on this one. Let’s stamp indignantly on her editor, who let it go through. Let’s bellow at the magazine which published it. No, wait. They don’t have a letters-to-the-editor section. I could track down their email address on the Internet and send in a protest, but I doubt it would gain their attention.
After all, who cares? Uncluttered vs. clutter-less. What difference does it make?
I could draw on the parable of the tiny leak in the big dike, but I’m sure you get the idea. An illiterate population is a population that can be–and will be–controlled. Just give it time.
After wincing through novels whose authors don’t know the correct usage of “may” and “might,” and whose copyeditors obviously don’t either, I try to console myself by thinking of the past–say, Shakespeare’s era, when spelling wasn’t standardized and even the bard himself was wont to vary the appearance of his own name. Alas, such consolation fails to soothe me because American spelling has been standardized since the establishment of national public education. At least it was until the combined onslaughts of advertising slogans and phone texting. Now I understand that some language arts teachers allow students to spell as they please, as long as the teacher can guess the intended word.
Is that progress? Looks like regression to me.
Another peeve of mine is usage of the verb “shine.” It’s irregular, which means that the past tense should be “shone,” yet more and more frequently it appears as “shined.”
Maybe that doesn’t bother you, but when I read it, the experience is akin to watching a scorpion scuttle across my foot.
Then there’s the misspelling of the term, “all right.” It’s been clipped and smashed together into “alright.” Am I the only individual who finds that visually offensive?
When I hammer students into spelling all right correctly, they blunder forward and alter the spelling of “altogether” into the incorrect “all together.”
I see the logic of what they’re doing–poor dears. But it’s wrong, wrong, wrong! The English language isn’t about logic. It’s about flavor and spunk and vivacity. It’s contradictory and odd. It’s a hodge-podge of all that it’s borrowed and adapted. Without the peculiar spellings that make no sense unless you burrow deep into Anglo-Saxon history and Norman conquest and the Louisiana Purchase, Manifest Destiny, and Ellis Island, we are bland, featureless drones tapping out acronyms and calling it good.
It is not good. It is pap, when we could be eating steak. And not just steak, mind you, but filet mignon.
Clutter-less … phooey!