Language

Do you, like me, sometimes think that the world is not designed for human beings?

Take gravity for example. It’s great for keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground, and stopping us drifting off into space – Australians are particularly grateful for this. But gravity is a huge inconvenience when we drop something.

What about rain? Monday to Friday we gaze longingly out of our workplace window at the golden ball in the sky. Saturday and Sunday we are woken early by the rain beating against the bedroom window.

Now, there’s not much we can do about gravity and the weather, but there are many examples of situations where, in spite of having control, we have let things get out of hand.

Language is a good example. I hope you will allow me (and you have no real choice) to put in a plea on behalf of the English language.

In 1912 George Bernard Shaw said through the voice of Professor Higgins, “The English have no respect for their language”. I wonder what he would have said today, now that the language of Shakespeare is being slowly but surely corrupted. Today English has a lot in common with Latin in so much as no one speaks it any more.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those purists who think the so called ‘Queen’s English’ is the only way to speak and write. Language is, and should be, a living, breathing entity. It must develop, grow, move with the times, and all those other expressions that suggest continuous change. But this is the key, ‘change’ not ‘corruption’.

But, you might ask me (and it’s OK to ask me), isn’t corruption a bit strong? Is it? I would reply. Is it really, when words that should be found only in dictionaries of slang are used by ‘sophisticated’ people, or the meaning of words are completely changed.

Time for some examples I think, before you lose track of what I am talking about and don’t read any further (don’t you dare stop reading now)

‘Wanna’ may have been all right in ‘I wanna tell you a story’, (for those of you old enough and English enough to remember May Bygraves), but it does not belong anywhere near anything that could be termed ‘normal speech’. “Ah but it is in common usage” I hear you cry (do I hear you cry? I cry sometimes when I hear these things), “and therefore acceptable”. Well, ‘common’ might just be the operative word here.

Its partner in crime is ‘gonna’. In fact they can even be heard together in “I’m gonna go ‘cause I wanna”. Now, one could (I wouldn’t) stretch the boundaries of permissiveness and allow these two monstrosities in the spoken word, but to see them written down must surely make the most liberal cringe and despair for the future of mankind!

And what about words that completely change their meanings? The English language is supposed to have a rich vocabulary. Many times there are several words that can used to describe a particular situation, each with their own subtle meanings: just pick up a thesaurus of the English language. This is one of the things that make it difficult for non-English mother tongue people to speak the language really well. It’s in languages like French where the limited vocabulary results in avocat being a lawyer or a green pear shaped fruit (come to think of it, there might not be much difference in some cases). But the no-respect-for-their-language English allow words and phrases to be adapted to describe things far from their original usage. Why can’t we be more like Shakespeare and create words to suit new situations? He invented almost 2000 words. Where would we be without ‘critical’, ‘elbow’, ‘hurry’, and ‘lonely’, phrases such as ‘to be in a pickle’, ‘budge an inch’, and ‘vanish into thin air’?

Time for some more examples?

The expression ‘given time’, means ‘eventually’ as in “the wound will heal, given time”, right?. Not any more. Now it means ‘never’. Listen to any politician, “we will solve the unemployment (inflation, economic, health, education, hunger; select your own topic) problem, given time”.

The word ‘galore’, used to mean ‘lots of’. Now it means very few, as in ‘bargains galore’

I won’t even go near the word ‘gay’, which has been hijacked by a section of society for their own purposes.

Of course, I blame the people from across the pond. Like any form of corruption, it started small and mushroomed. Since the colonists were allowed to criticize (rather than criticise) the government of George III over the tax laws, it’s been downhill all the way. Even in the early stages it drove the poor king insane.

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