Sunday, January 12, 2014

Language is a Liquid

I believe in the idea "If you're going to do something, you may as well do it right."  A place for everything, and everything in its place.  That sort of thing.  But when it comes to language, I'm of two minds.

Mind #1 values correctness.  This is the mind I use to screen resumes when I'm hiring.  One time I hired a typist who had an error in her resume.  I thought "Anyone can make a little mistake.  It doesn't mean that she's not a good typist."  Turns out she made a LOT of little mistakes.  In the end, I had to fire her.  There could have been serious legal repercussions from some of her errors.  It was not fun.  I wished I'd never hired her in the first place.

Mind #2 says that "correct" is only as good as today's consensus.  "Shoppe" used to be an acceptable spelling; now it's "shop".  Pretty soon "night" might turn into "nite".  Pronunciations also change with time.  When I was younger, the word "shone" always rhymed with "dawn".  Now, half the time, it rhymes with "bone".  What about the word "foyer"?  Is it proper to say it like the French word of origin "fo-yay"?  Or is the American "fo-yer" correct?

I enjoy the slipperiness of language.  It tickles my funny bone when a colleague who speaks English as a third language refers to a cookie as a biscuit, pronouncing it "bisk-wit".  Mixed metaphors can be quite poetic. I recall another acquaintance, who was going through tough times, describing her life as "all jungled up".  I thought it was an apt turn of phrase.

A friend is taking her no-good, drunkard ex to court to settle a divorce case.  He claims in his paperwork not to have a drinking problem.  My friend said that her lawyer is going to ask for a hair analysis test to prove the truth.  "What if he does a Britney Spears and shaves his head?" I asked.  Triumphantly, she told me "They can take it from his pubical hair!"  That, right there, is how great words and phrases are coined.

So, other than at work, you will not find me on the side of the grammar police.  I know how to say and write things properly, but sometimes it's more fun to do it wrong.  Like I always say, I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.


DarcKnyt said...

I'm with you. I'm of two minds on this. I have peeves, which can really get me. But other times I think the movement of language and the power of its adaptability -- especially English (or American if you prefer), one of the most powerful and adaptable languages of all time -- is pretty amazing and cool.

Heck, my career has depended on expanding the language into areas which didn't exist a century, or even a half century, ago.

But like all things, it can be taken too far. And I'd like to be confident in the knowledge those who break the rules do so effectively by knowing them perfectly.

I, of course, am not one of them.:)

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I do love too brake rules. ;-)

Lynn said...

I had to take a pronunciation test when I applied to my volunteer work of making recordings for the blind. And I got the word "often" wrong. I pronounced it with the "t" - but I know now that the "t" is silent. I always hear people say that word wrong now and think "see - you didn't know either." :)

Granny Annie said...

This post made me laugh so I hope it was supposed to be funny. It is easy to become nonchalant in our speech. My awards in high school were in speech and my original college direction was to be speech therapy. I did a lot of public speaking in my banking career. Now I am relaxed and have retired my efforts to the point of often being misunderstood. It is a good thing I don't have to apply for a job unless it is to speak chicken. "Cluck, cluck, cluck, cock-a-doodle-do".

Jameil said...

LOL I think irreverence for grammar has its place, too! Sometimes it's just annoying but the grammar police usually behaves far more annoyingly. AND they usually have a grammatical error in their complaint about grammatical errors. Just desserts, no?

Vanessa T said...

Ha! Love this, Spark! One part of me loves the adaptability of our language, the way new words can be created out of other words, or sometimes nothing at all.

The other part of me loves the solidity of our language. Rules are rules and we should be able to rely on them. I don't like it when the rules are changed in the middle of the race. B4 is not a word! (But LOL is, however! ;) ) :D

And don't let that guy up there fool you - he definitely has his grammar police moments! He's even corrected my shorthand notes-to-self on my grocery lists. If I leave a typo in a post, he will most assuredly tell me about it, lol.

Jenski said...

I love the idea of language as a liquid. Yet, I hate it when people refer to people as "that" instead of "who". I wonder if I'll ever get over that...

Sparkling Red said...

DarcKnyt: I think what's most irritating is when it seems like the person who is not following the rules is just being lazy. For example, when I get e-mails from job candidates that say "r u still hiring?" I write them off.

Ron: You're a rebel without a cause.

Lynn: I had to say it out loud to figure out if I pronounce the "t" or not. I do. I didn't realize that was considered incorrect. Maybe it's one of those Canada/U.S. differences.

Granny Annie: Wow, you're fluent in chicken as a second language? That's amazing! ;-)

Jameil: Exactly. Let he who is without sin etc.

Vanessa: Maybe every marriage has to have an editor. I'm the one in my marriage. It drives me nuts when Ken has work-related notes on his desk and I know that he's spelled someone's name wrong. I can't resist making a little correction.

Jenski: I hear you. I make a conscious effort to use "who" and "whom" correctly. No one's called me on wrong usage yet, so I guess I'm doing OK.

LL Cool Joe said...

I don't give a toss about correct language, as you can tell from my blog. I'd much rather hear or read something colourful and fun than correct and boring.