Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Long Goodbye

I have touched on this topic before, but I think an in-depth discussion is long overdue. I fear for the written word. The sad decline of proper grammar, punctuation and word use is like watching a loved one slowly succumbing to a disease. I admit to being a bit of a Facebook junkie and having my fair share of debates online, some completely silly and others quite thoughtful and intelligent. I see a constant stream of unpunctuated rants belched all over my screen like some sort of alphabetical vomit. How does one expect to be taken seriously if they don't have even the slightest grasp of their mother tongue? We have become a society of shortcuts and quick fixes and have sacrificed precision, elegance and clarity. I miss the beauty of a well turned phrase, I tell my kids when they have put a word to good use, I love exchanging thoughts with someone who knows how to put their words to good use. I like reading books, magazine articles or even instruction manuals of they are well written. I have nothing but the deepest respect and even some sympathy for English teachers because in this age of "textspeak" and bizarre shorthand, their jobs have gotten ten times harder.
I see horribly written books become bestsellers ('Twilight' lady Stephenie Meyer, I speak to you) and wonder what happened to proofreaders and editors? There is an entire industry dedicated to polishing and cleaning up the language before it goes out to the masses and I think they might have outsourced that as well. My children can attest to the red pen in my purse for quick corrections when we're out and about. The local grocery store manager gets a little twitchy when he sees me rummaging in my purse because he knows a new sign is in the works after I leave. We see poor language use on newscasts, in books, magazines and newspapers, those who should be the guardians of the language. We see words like"their, there and they're" used interchangeably and without regard to context. We are flooded with images of oddly spelled protest signs and while some may mock and point out, many don't even notice the error. I reflexively correct spoken grammatical errors (and my beloved has not smothered me in my sleep), I love the language.
I believe you can make people see things from your side far more easily if they can derive some pleasure from listening (or reading) to what you have to say. Proper use of the language is not reserved for college graduates or rich people, it is reserved for us, the people who speak, read and write it. Language is a living thing, it has the ability to move you, to touch you, to make you feel things. It can take you somewhere else, it can educate, enrage or enlighten. It can make you seems like the smartest person in the room or dumber than a box of dirt. Love it, cherish it, protect it and take it out and use it so it doesn't get sad and lonely. Language is the one thing a culture has that is exclusively its own, no one speaks it like we do. English in England and English here are different, completely identifiable to their source. Spanish in Spain and Spanish in Mexico are very different because each culture has made it their own. There are few things left that can be immediately identified as American, French, German,'s our language and how we use it. We can keep it beautiful and elegant and make it grow or we can abuse it and allow it to wither and die.
I'm here with chicken soup, Vick's Vaporub and a box of tissues for my ailing, sniffling but still hanging in there friend. Stay strong, language, you can make it!