Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Invasion of the Language Zombies, Part 2

We are indeed in the midst of an invasion of  language zombies! The ignorant twit who started the horrendous misuse of the reflexive pronoun "myself" in place of the correct object pronoun "me," should be flogged with a grammar textbook. He probably thought it made his speech sound erudite, cultured, and sophisticated, above the hoi polloi. Nope. Just made him and all the nincompoops who followed suit sound stupid. If you are one who misuses this pronoun, let me explain: You (subject) may give the money (direct object) to me (indirect object-receiver of the object of the action), but you may not give the money to myself. Only I am able to give the money to myself. You must give the money to yourself. Get it? It's not that difficult. Oh, and if you do have some money, you are most welcome to give it to me.

I see multitudes of misused words and misspellings in the comments sections of online articles and news reports. Most of these problems stem from poor pronunciation. I have told students for years that they can spell most words correctly if they pronounce them correctly. Two problems I see often are the use of "of" for "have" and the use of "then" for "than." For example: "He should of voted for the bill," instead of, "He should have (or should've) voted for the bill." And, "He is taller then me," instead of, "He is taller than me." Both of these errors are the result of negligent pronunciation.

I understand that language is not stable, that languages change over time and that vowel sounds shift and consonants become faint; but it seems to me that in this age of mass communication there should be a much slower shift and more stabilization. When we constantly hear the lazy-mouthed talking heads in all facets of the media flatten the long vowel sound into a short vowel sound such as "fill" for "feel," "sell" for "sale/sail," "mill" for "meal," and "fell" for "fail," etcetera, we subconsciously adopt the same mispronunciation. It's an epidemic of viral lazy-mouth. I want to wash my mouth with soap and hit my head with rocks when I catch myself (correct usage) flattening a long vowel. Oops, I just heard three students and a teacher with lazy-mouth! Maybe I should throw rocks at their heads to keep them away from my infection prone subconscious. The language zombies are everywhere. There is no escape. Resistance is futile.

The Invasion of the Language Zombies, Part 1

Noel Coward said, “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.”  Unfortunately, I am unable to influence all the incompetent speakers and writers of English, the language zombies, to take a long walk and stop inflicting their substandard usage on me and the language deprived rising generation. We are confronted daily by illiterate grammar and syntax in newspapers, letters, posts, e-mails, tweets, ubiquitous text jargon, readers' comments online, television, film, modern "literature," etcetera, et al., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

There was a time in my teaching career when one could advise students struggling to choose the correct verb form in a sentence they were writing to say the sentence out loud. Once they heard themselves say the sentence they could with few failures select the correct form.  Because they rarely hear or read correctly spoken or written English, students cannot use that trick today.
While we do teach implicit vocabulary in English language arts classes, we no longer formally teach grammar and syntax on a regular basis. Language conventions are given short shrift. Students are supposed to pick up correct usage in speaking and writing by osmosis from reading. They are certainly not "picking it up" from reading social media messages from peers who are just as illiterate as they are. And then there is the teacher in faculty meeting a few weeks ago who, in a discussion of tardy problems, said, "Students are still moving slowly in the halls even after the bell has rang." AAIIIEEEEE!  That hurts my ears as horribly as the proverbial fingernails scraping the chalkboard. It's RUNG, not rang; has RUNG = auxiliary verb + past participle! It is not that difficult. No mental osmosis going to transpire there.
(I know everyone, even educated, intelligent people, makes an occasional mistake when he or she is speaking and sorting multiple thoughts at the same time. A slip or two is forgivable. I, even I, have made a few grammar and punctuation mistakes, typos, misspeaks, and actual misspellings in my 66 years. But, I do own a dictionary, several, and I do proofread 99% of what I write before I publish. [That includes texts, tweets, and e-mails!] Is it too much to ask that others do the same?)

Then there is the flagrant and mass mispronunciation of words. One that is especially noxious is the verb "harass" with the noun form "harassment." People see the a double s, and seemingly loving to say the "a" word as much as possible, put the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first where it belongs. My school district requires that all teachers view a policy presentation at the beginning of each year. One module of the presentation is on forms of harassment. The narrator must have said "harASS" and "harASSment" twenty times. Doesn't anyone have a dictionary? Just Google the word. There will be a dictionary listing showing the diacritical markings to help you correctly pronounce the word. If that is too difficult, there is a little speaker icon, which when you click on the icon, the  nice computer will pronounce it for you. It's not that difficult.

noun: harassment; plural noun: harassments
  1. 1.
    aggressive pressure or intimidation.
    "they face daily harassment by the police"

I shall not even try to eulogize the wonderful subjunctive of "to be." It has been bludgeoned to death and sucked dry by the language zombies. Would that I were eloquent enough to raise it from the bone yard. But, alas, if I were to do so, it would wander a stranger to all save me. Maybe I should just take a long walk with a medicinal dose of Bach.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Wife Says That I Am a Pessimist

My wife says I am a pessimist, having a predominant disposition to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen in most situations. I say I am a realist. I just subscribe to Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong." I also happen to believe that Murphy was an optimist.  Experience has trained me that everything wears out and falls apart sooner than it should, and the enemy no longer make spare parts for the thingy you haven't gotten your money's worth out of yet. To survive, one must always expect the worst and gain an occasional happy surprise, rather than always expect a good outcome and always be disappointed.
My recent round of pessimism is rooted in the abomination called "computer." You spent a truck load of money on a device of dubious character only to have it betray you at the first opportunity. All the optimistic experts and all their gadgets cannot restore order to the world when a "1" in the binary universe decides to betray its nature and become a "0."

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,"*

At such times, the only thing that is able to restore sanity is a little Bach.

* Yeats, William Butler. "The Second Coming." 1919