Squandering our linguistic heritage
0 comment Thursday, May 1, 2014 |
A while back, I read this piece about the decline of copy editors.
...As newspapers lose money and readers, they have been shedding great swaths of expensive expertise. They have been forced to shrink or eliminate the multiply redundant levels of editing that distinguish their kind of journalism from what you find on TV, radio and much of the Web. Copy editors are being bought out or forced out; they are dying and not being replaced.
Webby doesn�t necessarily mean sloppy, of course, and online news operations will shine with all the brilliance that the journalists who create them can bring. But in that world of the perpetual present tense � post it now, fix it later, update constantly � old-time, persnickety editing may be a luxury in which only a few large news operations will indulge. It will be an artisanal product, like monastery honey and wooden yachts.''
In other words, with the disappearance of old-time 'persnickety editing', quality will decline. I'd say it's already happening, not only in the open bias of the news media, but in the increasing numbers of errors, sloppy grammar, and even bad spelling. The copy editors who still exist, and who are not yet 'outsourced' to India, God help us, seem not to have the strict standards of the old days.
That's no surprise; as I often lament on this blog, standards in general are under siege; we live in a rebellious age, an age in which 'individual self-expression' is king, and in which standards are seen as repressive, unfair, biased, and elitist.
Our obsession with being 'non-judgmental' has reached every area of life.
When I was in college, before I declared a major, I considered linguistics. However I found that in the introductory linguistics class I took, the orthodoxy was that 'prescriptive' linguistics was bad, and was passé. The ideal was supposed to be simply 'descriptive' linguistics, which does not judge how people use language, and above all does not lay down or enforce rules of grammar, usage, or spelling, but simply describes. No dialect of English is the standard; all are equal and equally 'proper' or valid. Language is also an 'evolving', living thing which should not be ossified by rules and standards. But is our language evolving or going backwards?
I've noticed certain misspellings and grammar errors that seem to be endemic on the Internet, whereas I had never seen them previously. Now, don't get me wrong; I make mistakes. I don't claim to be without sin here. Sometimes I slip up with the keyboard; I spell better than I type. So I make mistakes, though Firefox's built-in spell checker catches them for me usually. But here are a few examples of those viral Internet solecisms:
'Wrecking havoc' -- or in some cases, 'reeking havoc' instead of 'wreaking havoc.'
'Wreckless' instead of 'reckless.' This one is particularly humorous to me; when we read of someone being charged with 'wreckless driving', does the writer think that the wayward driver is being charged for not having had any accidents? I suspect this solecism may have had its origin with the 1980s rock musician 'Wreckless Eric.'
'Reign in' - this one is seen so very frequently that I suspect it will take over and replace the correct phrase, 'rein in.' I actually saw someone use the correct phrase 'rein in' over on the Mudcat Forum, and for a moment it looked wrong to me, since I'm so used to the incorrect spelling. The metaphor refers to 'reining in' a horse, and has nothing to do with 'reigning' as in ruling.
'One in the same' for 'one and the same.' This one is prevalent too.
'Tounge' for tongue. I think it must be misspelled at least half the time.
'Here, here!' instead of the phrase, 'Hear! Hear!'
'Baffoon' for 'buffoon.' Is a 'baffoon' supposed to be a cross between a baboon and a buffoon?
'Shoe-in' for 'shoo-in.'
'Toe-headed' instead of the correct 'tow-headed.' I suppose it's understandable that many people today are unfamiliar with the term 'tow', meaning flax. 'Tow-headed' people are those who used to be called in archaic language 'flaxen-haired', having very pale blond hair. Since there seem to be fewer and fewer such individuals in our country these days, maybe we will have no use for the term 'tow-headed' or 'flaxen-haired' soon anyway.
'Pour over' as in 'pouring over old documents'. What liquid, I always wonder, is being poured over the documents? The word, as I am sure my readers know, is 'pore'.
'Hypocracy' for 'hypocrisy'. Would 'hypocracy' refer to rule by hypocrites?
'Hoards' for 'hordes' .
'Boarder' for 'border.' As in frequently-seen phrases like this: 'hoards of illegals are crossing the boarder every day.'
Those last two would not be caught by spell checker, since they are words, but just homonyms for the desired word.
And then there are the gramatically tortured phrases like these real-life examples I've seen:
'Being a second-class citizen at home, America was the perfect place for the Scots-Irish.'
Or how about this one: 'Charged with child abuse, four psychiatrists diagnosed him with schizophrenia.'
And this one: 'Scared to death and shaking I took her home.' This sentence was supposed to convey that 'she' was the one scared to death and shaking; not the writer.
What is it about the above few sentences which so many people seem to struggle with? I see these errors more and more all the time, and not just among average people posting on blogs or forums; I see them in newspaper articles, magazine articles, and hear them spoken by educated people. Obviously even the highly educated are not exempt from making such mistakes. The problem is, though, that these mistakes seem just fine to most people when they read or hear them.
Another thing that seems to give most people problems is this kind of thing:
'...as reported to she and her husband.'
''The prize money was split between he and I.'
It seems that everybody is afraid to say 'to her and her husband' or 'between him and me.'
I suspect that people have been conditioned to think that, since sentences like 'Him and me went' are ignorant, then the phrase 'him and me' is not a legitimate phrase anywhere.
I don't advocate becoming a language vigilante; nobody likes to be corrected publicly, or in a tactless way.I don't go around correcting people, especially people I don't know well. I do think we as parents should correct our children, but in a gentle way. Needless to say, teachers and copy editors are paid to teach and to correct, and I suspect they are too concerned with harming somebody's 'self-esteem' so they let errors slip by.
The English language is one of the richest and most nuanced languages in the world. The sheer number of words at our disposal in the English language is quite staggering. And I suppose that in itself is part of the problem; so many words to remember, and to differentiate.
It's a shame that with such an expressive language we neglect it, and fail to develop and use the full potential that is there.
I suppose it's inevitable with the decline of our educational system, and the general dumbing-down of our culture, that our language is becoming less and less precise and careful. Maybe in the overall scheme of things, these matters are trivial, but I do believe that language shapes thought as well as thought shaping language. Both work together. The more precise and specific we can be with our language, the better and the more clearly we communicate.

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