I am beginning to think that English should be taught to the American people as a second language. We’re not doing well with it being taught as our first. I know many foreign people who can speak English better than your average high school senior. For that matter, I’ve heard of a couple of trained apes and an African Gray Parrot that can, too. My point is that grammar and spelling are not language arts these days; they’re lost arts.
After making the above statement, I realize I open myself up to critics who will gleefully catch every grammar and spelling mistake I make and who will call and write to point the mistakes out. To them I can only say with the utmost sincerity, “Get a life.”
Don’t think I’m a ruler-on-the-knuckles strict grammarian, either. In fact, I am baffled constantly by commas (what Elena has just slipped into on All My Children), colons (long, squishy things in our bodies), and semi-colons (long, squishy things in the bodies of truckers), and I spell only with the aid of several dictionaries and any nearby person who I can ask when I’m unable to look the word up because I can’t even begin to spell it. I am not an English maven. So if the average person is writing and speaking worse than me, then it’s easy to see our language has deteriorated.
One of my biggest peeves is people writing “it’s” for the possessive of “it.” The possessive of “it” is “its”; “it’s” is the contraction for “it is.” In other words, it’s “its” for when “it” is possessive, and it’s “it’s” for “it is.” Got it?
And while we’re correcting things, “their” is the possessive of “they.” “They’re” is the contraction for “they are.” When people confuse them, I think they’re losing their minds.
People who freely interchange “ideal” and “idea” also bother me. “Ideal” is a perfect condition; “idea” is a thought, a notion. I think it would be an ideal world if people would get the idea to watch their usage of “ideal” and “idea.” (I’m told that, in Boston, it’s pronounced “idear.” Why?)
You know, another peeve I have is with people who, you know, say, “You know” all the time. If I already know it, why tell me again? Of course, I don’t find “you know” half as annoying as people who pepper their speech with “like” an inordinate amount of times. Some horrible day I’m going to meet a person who will say, “Like, the trip, you know, it was, like, really cool, you know.” And I will kill him on the spot.
I’m also tired of the amount of obscenity in movies lately. I don’t know if it’s because screenwriters lack a large vocabulary or they think we do. I do have a theory, though. I think they’re getting paid by the word. For example, I recently watched a movie in which the following was an actual speech: “If you obscenity1 obscenity2 think I’m obscenity1 going to obscenity2 give that obscenity3 obscenity4 obscenity5 Franklin the obscenity1 obscenity2 book, you’re obscenity1 crazy, you obscenity3 obscenity5!” If you cut the obscenities, you only have 13 words; with the obscenities, you have 25. The math is obvious.
Of course, there are people in the world who do use a lot of obscenities. I worked in a brick-yard one summer between college semesters and discovered a variety of new words and ways to use to them. I thought my education in foul language was over, but then I became involved in the theater and discovered a new level of language. And when I thought I couldn’t learn any more, I became involved in politics and discovered true obscenity. However, unless a movie is about brick-yards, theater folk, or politicians, the screenwriters should be able to leave out most of the foul language and still be fairly true to life.
Another benefit of cutting back on the obscenities would be they could be saved for situations that truly call for them. In the above movie, the main character got out of bed, stubbed his toe, and said, “Obscenity1 it to obscenity2 obscenity6.” Later in the movie, he learned his wife and children had been killed by mobsters who had blown up his house, the CIA wanted him dead, he had a heart condition that could cause him to drop dead at any moment, and his dog had died. He said, “Obscenity1 it to obscenity2 obscenity6.” I immediately wondered what he had hit his foot on.
Another problem I currently have really isn’t a sign of sliding language; it’s a sign of changing times. Basically, I remain confused about Miss, Mrs., and Ms. I often write to editors that I don’t know well. About half of them are women. What is their proper address? (And their phone numbers; I’m lonely.) For men, the sign of respect is to use Mr., which works even with the editors who have owed me money for a couple of years (Dear Mr. Scumbag). And it used to be that you could use Miss with any woman and let her correct you if she wished. Ms. came along, and everything’s changed.
A lot of women feel that Miss and Mrs. is a method by which men keep them as second-class citizen, denoting that their marriage status is more important than them as people. They prefer Ms. Another group of women feel that Ms. is used only by strident feminists who wish to destroy the American family; they prefer Miss or Mrs. What I think is that women should get together and vote: Ms. or Miss and Mrs.
At present, I have only two options: call the editor’s secretary and ask if the editor prefers Mrs. or Miss or Ms. (which I don’t like doing ever since I called one secretary who frostily told me that her boss was happily married and didn’t need me hitting on her) or use her full name as in Dear Jane Smith (which is what I do even though it bothers me because I feel I’m not showing proper respect to a person who could buy my book and make me rich and famous if I am properly subservient and fawn a lot).
I could go on and on, but I think I’ve proved my point. Remember my point? You weren’t paying attention, were you? Daydreaming again? How would you like a ruler across your knuckles? Answer me! And you there, raise your hand when you want to ask a question!
(Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. From the book Floozy and Other Stories, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BooksAMillion, and other online retailers.)