Monday, October 01, 2007


FWIW, IMHO.


Another sign of metamaturity I've noted in myself at my age is the almost reflexive lifting of the nose upon reading English as she is now keyboarded. Noselifting was much easier for my teachers, because the symptoms were simpler back in paleological times, and fewer. Now the act requires nare heights never B4 attempted, to accommodate English as she is, like, spoke, txted, LEETed, rapped and stuff.

In my day, which was closer to Babylonian times, we used to delight in our devilish 'aints' and dropped g's... How mightily our righteous teachers used to try to purge us of those elocutionary travesties! How quaint those times seem now. Those were small battles compared to the Battlestar Galactica kind of struggle that isn't even really being waged these days, when the most shocking and unspeakable words of yore ('yore'... now there’s a dusty term, get my trowel and brush, I think I've uncovered something here) are used on tv and pepper common speech like the schrapnel of distaste. There was no tv in the early inkwell era, when grownups not even in college commonly read thick books and we kids had to imagine a lot, play outdoors all the time, we were much more active, seldom passive, and it showed in our language. I feel we are losing ground, but I ain't really complainin' (Sister James Marie turns in her grave).

In those times - as they appear to me now - English was closer to the original language, the way it ws B4 teh changez. In grade school back then we had inkwells in the tops of the genuine wooden(!) and cast-iron(!) classroom desks at which we studied the Palmer Method, when handwriting and correspondence were still major skills and pigtails could be dipped. That was, like, way before keyboarding. We practiced scrolls and loops and other calligraphic fundamentals several hours a week, using steel-nibbed straight pens pretty much of the type Jefferson used to write out the Declaration of Independence, by hand, with a pen dipped over and over in ink!

Linguistically, not much had changed during the centuries between Jefferson and me. We used to study letter writing too, of the same old snailmail type Jefferson used, when replies could be weeks away. Snailmail used to have salutations, like Dear Sir(s) or Madam, or To Whom it may concern (they used 'whom' back then...). Pretentious sounding greetings now, a far cry from the lower case 'dude,' 'yo' or nothing at all used in email.

Also big at the time were diction and elocution, which you don't hear much of, or about, these days, whose chronic lack makes the Declaration a puzzling read to, like, students today. It was a different world, only just recently released from the reins of horsepower and the flicker of candles, what I've come to think of as the Palmer Method days. It was a slower language in a slower world, where handwriting and rhetoric were essential social skills. More studied, less frenetic, those times felt more like history was happening, in contrast to a txt msg.

And BTW, whenever I myself slip into the slovenly comfort of these shortcuts as into some formally ragged denim cutoffs, I feel traitorous somehow, I can sense the absence of what has been and is being lost: care for eloquence, honoring the past, concern and respect for correspondents, even if only mannered, as in diplomacy.

Also being lost is a general love of the rhythm and visual beauty of handwriting. I know that it's all going away, as things always do, much as horses and oil lamps went away for my grandparents; and with those no-longer essentials went the slow way of life that had trotted along in sync with daylight and nightlight since Babylon. Now that we've morphed to a reality as perceived through the window of an air-conditioned car on a superexpressway, who has time for extended and stately salutations? Road rage is quicker. And what does it matter? Who really cares? Respect is no longer accorded much anyway, except by the surviving metamature.

Now that LEET is here, poetry and good writing are fading away as well, like blacksmiths and buggy whips did; there's no time anymore for slow, elegant things. I read an article the other day that asked, is the novel going to disappear, the way poetry has? The fading of poetry already a given.

To my paleological eye, you'd need a bathyscaphe to plumb the depths to which English has declined. Apostrophes and general punctuation have pretty much gone the way of, like, horseshoes, along with logical capitalization, that/which distinction, linguistic pride and spelling in general (misspellings in the New Yorker!), to say nothing of the semicolon; I'm one of the small coterie who still uses that period-comma. And I remember when TIME magazine was an eloquent touchstone of quality English. Writers now just wnt 2b yr frnd.

I don't mean to sound curmudgeonly, but now that I have time for it, what the hell. These are times when curmudgeoning is called for, pointless though it may be. I know that, in a sense, these are simply the ramblings of a Babylonian, much like those of Sister Marie once were to me, but I also know, from experience, that the young don't have a clue as to the value of time. By the time you get to my age, you do. IMHO, FWIW.

6 comments:

Maya's Granny said...

Sometimes I think that the language is devolving and taking us with it. Is it possible that the ear that doesn't cringe when it hears "between you and I" also doesn't cringe when it hears the statement that the Geneva Convention is quaint? Is the inability to speak correctly caused by or causing the inability to think corectly?

Bob Brady said...

It all just doesn't seem to be as important as it once was; who knows, maybe there's a neodark age ahead...

Chancy said...

Whatcha mean "ahead"???

Bob Brady said...

Actually, chancy, things DO seem to have gotten a lot more shadowy in recent years...

M Sinclair Stevens said...

I love the semicolon!

As for the rest, I think that the connection between expression and technology should not be overlooked. It used to be that I didn't understand why there were so many mistakes in email or YouTube comments until I tried to type a response on my phone. Painful! I'm definitely not one of the thumb generation! And when you can't go back and edit a mistake, well then it's there forever. If you're limited in the number of characters you can type, then you become creative in your abbreviations. Just like you say TV rather than television.

When one wrote more slowly in longhand, one did have time to write more thoughtfully. I still like writing letters longhand; however, I don't find many fellow correspondents who share my passion.

Trace said...

Robert, you have very cleverly written of the sad facts here. Nicely expressed.

Oh, and I use the semicolon quite a bit. I also enjoy it.

Unfortunately though, I do think the truth is we are living in a hurried world and therefore our state of mind becomes hurried; everything else follows suit. The thing is, where are we so hurriedly going? Sad indeed...