Barry Saunders

Language is dying – and I’m not chillaxed about it

Pardon us, General, but where do we turn in our weapons?

The battle – the one some of us have been fighting to protect the English language – is over. Not officially, mind you, but to continue fighting could take years and cost millions. The result would be the same.

America’s greatest writer, Mark Twain, wrote that “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Every time a complaint is lodged in this space or elsewhere about the destruction of the English language, one can count on hearing from confederates who believe the battle to save English, to use the right word, is worth waging. While being interviewed on a TV news show recently, I uttered “I” when “me” was called for.

Two viewers wrote to call me on it, and I was glad that someone cared and encouraged that there are still people who mourn the passing of a time when precision in language was valued.

It stinks, though, that you can also count on even more people seeking to legitimize or excuse bad grammar on the premise that language is meant to do nothing more than communicate an idea or feeling and, heck, as long you know what I’m trying to say – SHUT UP.

It’s dead now

The English language, they contend, has no fixed rules because it is a living, breathing entity that is ever-changing.

It may have once been a living, breathing entity, but it’s dead now. Suspected of landing the mortal blow is the once-venerable Merriam-Webster Dictionary, abetted by the Internet and “words” – or, more accurately, an amalgam of made-up, mashed-together slang – such as photobomb, twerking, jegging, chillax, amazeballs and clickbait.

Those words have been added to dictionaries in the past couple of years. One could conclude that the new list itself is clickbait – something designed to get readers to visit a particular website – as evidenced by Merriam-Webster’s tweet (ugh) about its new additions. “You won’t believe what we just added to the dictionary,” the tweet proclaims, leading one to conclude that some of the 1,700 new entries were added precisely to attract the attention of nay-naying columnists and others who care about the language.

I knew our language was in a bad way six years ago, when the Oxford Dictionary legitimized the made-up non-word “conversate.” For decades, young ladies were warned by their mothers to be wary of – to run from – any man who eschewed “converse” or “talk” for “conversate,” because it was usually spoken in a darkened club by a semi-literate pseudo-intellectual in the context of “Yo, Slim, can I conversate with you for a moment?”

Of course, people who protest the bastardization of the English language are often dismissed as pinheaded pedants who are out of step with changing times.

Plumbing the depths

Do you know what’s really out of step with the times? Centuries-old dictionaries that think remaining relevant requires that they make concessions to pop culture by – as one writer put it – “plumb(ing) the depths of the dark and dumb webs with their trawl nets, hauling up every specimen of word-plankton and offering them as a prime catch.”

These dictionaries, in their effort to be hip, are like the embarrassing old dude you see in the nightclub with a diamond in his lobe, the one saying “Yo, Slim. Can I conversate with you for a moment?”

Speaking of which, regardless of what the dictionaries say, ladies, you should still grab your purses, kick off your Manolo Blahniks or Steve Maddens and flee the first time that old dude or any other drops “conversate” into his rap.

Others from whose presence we should flee include people who say amazeballs and cray-cray – because the latter users obviously take their linguistic cues from performer Kanye West – and anyone wearing jeggings. Especially if they’re twerking.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobser.com

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