04 February 2010

nails on a chalk board

What is it that annoys you? Not the big stuff, the minor irritants? For each of us there is something.

I rely on spell checking software. My arthritic, carpal tunnel damaged fingers combined with a history of spelling creativity (not valued by my teachers) has led me to develop some fairly bad spelling habits. I am much better than I was -- the spell checkers teach. But software is never perfect.

One of my (few) readers might answer the question above with, "spelling "won't" incorrectly. This one gets past my spell checker because it turns out that "wont" is a legitimate word. Not the conjunction I want when I use it, but none-the-less a real English word. My reader reacts sharply (via email) when I use "wont" but mean "won't." I on the other hand was surprised to find the word had a real history and meaning aside from the conjunction's.

The grammar error that makes me want to scream is using, "myself" where the correct word is "me." That is, saying, "please let Mary or myself see your report soon" instead of, "Please let Mary or me see your report soon." The first is like a screeching chalk board in my ears but is ever more common.

I also wince when I hear someone using an "ed" to kill an irregular verb. Today one hears that a defendant "pleaded" guilty when correct usage was and to my ear remains, "pled" guilty. In fact, my Google spell checker sees "pled" as the error!

George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have observed that America and England are two countries separated by a common language. He was perhaps optimistic. The same might be said of California and Virginia.

Language, in common with culture, evolves. We are not our ancestors and our English or Spanish reflects that. Only France which actually has a government ministry that seeks to preserve French as it was decades ago, thinks this is a solvable problem The effort is doomed to failure.

This matters. We advance as a culture by communicating. Parables, the stuff of moral growth rely on language. It is no accident that the highest degree awarded by law schools is the "language of law master."

Facebook, blogs, Twitter and email have and are changing how we communicate. The enforced brevity of Twitter and Facebook is impacting how we write. Blogs are, I read this morning, seen by teens as too verbose. In that paradigm, books have no chance.

I suppose that there are several ways to end these observations. I think however that the key is this -- in any serious conversation you must be sure the simple fact that you both think you are using the same language does not obscure differences. Otherwise, only chaos results.


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