I went to meet a friend in a popular chain of coffee shop today. Whilst considering how I was going to attack the creamy pyramid hat on my overly priced but "ethically sourced" beverage, I struck up a conversation with a friend of a friend's. Let's simply call him "Guy" as I've forgotten his name.
Guy; "I smashed my Iphone last night, F.M.L"
Guy; "Yea F my life"
Me; "It's just a phone"
Guy; "When I tell my girl she's gonna tote lulz"
Guy; *shakes head at me. "Laugh Out Loud!"
Me; "I thought that was lol?"
Guy; "Na cuz"
Me; "Cuz? Becuz of what?"
Guy; "Na CUZ not because"
Now I'm used to falling victim to general douche-baggery, but this guy bugged me. He bugged me, not because of the dirty Che Guevara T-Shirt he was wearing in a naive attempt at hipsterism...(Ok maybe that bugged me). But what bugged me more was the look of exasperation he gave me because I couldn’t keep up with his new age and muddled attempt at the English language. I would have made my feelings known but by now I was wearing a milk moustache that I imagine would make me hard to take seriously.
Now I grew up in a community where slang is the norm. I won’t embarrass myself with an explanation of inner London slang, ya get me blud?
But I've noticed over the years how our colloquialisms have become even more outlandish. "Yea fam dat man was wedge but he got sparked". Wedge? For those of you wondering, means muscular, it's taken over from the previous popular word "hench".
So what? I've used once popular words (werd!) before, and though I often engage in ridiculously ghetto but un-ghetto conversations in an attempt to cling on to the last strands of street cred I have left...It saddens me.
George Orwell famously said "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way." (I think he said this somewhere in "Politics & The English Language" 1946).
I'm not asking for us to turn into a nation of pretentious, bombastic, sesquipedalian prats (I use those words in irony). A simple "Hello, how's it going" "It's going fine thank you". Would suit me just fine.
Now this mangled dialect isn’t a problem when you're having a conversation with your mates, we all do it. But it does make it difficult to explain the same thing to different people. I noticed this during my first year of university when I was tasked with presenting an argument to my fellow students. I stood in the lecture hall facing my peers and though I had thoroughly researched my argument and understood it fully, I couldn’t explain it. I remember thinking "if my mates were here they'd get it". But communicating it to a group of 400 plus students from different backgrounds and countries proved difficult.
And after my muddled presentation there came a time for questions. And someone asked a question about one of the writers in my presentation being perspicacious. I stood there thinking "what the hell does perspicacious mean?”
So long story short I answered his question through the medium of contemporary dance and was awarded with a top grade....no not really. I googled the word on my phone while pretending to go over my notes.
It was an embarrassing experience.
At the time I was dating a foreign exchange student from Japan. She knew exactly what perspicacious meant, but when I told her ‘’I couldn’t give a monkeys’’ she had no idea whyI was talking about monkeys. Strange…I was born and raised in England but she had a better understanding of the official language than I had.
From that day onward I would sit in the library with a dictionary and a four pack of red bulls, making certain I wouldn’t end up lost for words again.
It’s a sad feeling. But I’m not the only one who feels this way, Nordquist sets out a brief history of others who felt similarly. He goes as far back as 1667 with Thomas Sprat’s damning of a ‘’vicious abundance of phrase and metaphor’’. All the way to Dick Cavett’s explanation of our ‘’loosening grip on language’’ in the New York Times back in 2007.
The guardian published an article in 2008 detailing the failures of GCSE students in England and their failure to distinguish adverbs from adjectives. I’m not going to damn these students when I’m also part of the problem. And in a world of texting and twittering (other social networking is available) and where words like whatevs and onesie are added to dictionaries I doubt things will get much better.
And when I’ve questioned who is to blame, I’ve come up with nothing. I guess it’s just the way things are and I have to accept that. Even if I wish things were different. And before you all condemn me, let me reiterate I’m not asking for big and unnecessary words. A simple unburdened and untangled use of words would please me well. And again I offer no solutions (I have a habit of doing that) I’m merely making an observation.
Besides you may have by now realised how defeatist my argument is. Look back at the words I’ve used, ‘’Hipsterism’’ ‘’Douche-Baggery’’. Yes…I am yet again a hypocrite. And I am almost always grammatically incorrect.
But before I end another one of my nonsensical rants, I have noticed something else happening in our colleges, universities and work places. That is, the subtle ridicule of those who are trying to learn proper expression through language. I’m constantly damned for my numerous spelling mistakes. I make a lot of typos usually because I type with a cigarette in one hand.
And I’ve seen people ridiculed for improper use of a word or phrase. We should be encouraging them, not laughing at them. Recently I used the word prodigious when discussing something boring like our taxation system. The word prodigious simply means big or huge. After using the word someone exclaimed ‘’prodigious? Do you know what that means?’’. My eloquent and very immature response?
‘’Your mothers ass’’ .