Jim Kayes’ Blog: Defending the Queen’s English
This week Jim, is like, totally, worried about vocabulary and grammar.
We were driving up a hill, and she was driving me to despair. Then she suggested it was my fault.
“Dad,” said she in a voice heavy with exasperation, “you’re like a human auto-correct. Can’t you switch off and let me finish?”
So I did. If I weren’t driving, I would have had my head in my hands.
My daughters are articulate and have wonderful vocabs but, alarmingly, they lack some of the very basics of grammar.
Ok, ok, with that one line I sound like an old curmudgeon, but I just can’t help it.
And yes I know that times are rapidly changing and that we don’t speak the English of William Shakespeare’s era, so I have to accept that the way my children converse is different to how I do.
But please, for the love of all things Collins and Oxford, can they not remember how to use “me” and “I” in a sentence?
And don’t get me started on some of the stuff I see written, especially in social media and not just by my girls. There is, I promise you, a difference between “your” and “you’re”, and between “their” and “there”.
But then, perhaps I’m King Canute trying to hold back the tide. After all, there are a lot of nonsensical things about English, and it could be that my grandchildren will only know a light bulb as a ‘lite bulb’ and that it is better to do ‘rite’ than wrong. (Ooh that hurt to write).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect, and my English-teacher Mum would often wonder out loud about my intelligence when I got basic usage wrong.
But her diligence paid off, and I now know the difference between fewer and less (my easy rule of thumb is that less is volume and if you can count it, use fewer).
I am, though, lousy at spelling while both girls are excellent in this area. I was once told that ability in jigsaws, maths and spelling are linked, and as I am appalling at maths, it really should be no surprise I’m average at spelling.
What’s also changing is how words are used. My kids and their friends talk about teams ‘versing’ each other, a ‘stitch-up’ is back in vogue but used to describe a range of things so wide I’m really not sure what they think it means, and if it’s good, it can be ‘bangers’ or ‘sick’.
Good things can also receive the affirmation of ‘fully’ with a nod of the head as company, and ‘literally’ is literally used too often and inappropriately.
And then there is ‘like’. Where do I begin with ‘like’? It’s like, just used subconsciously like, as a pause, like, a word used to fill space. I don’t like it.
But I am from a vastly different generation swimming against a tide of teenagers brought up on acronyms and media platforms limited to 140 characters. So perhaps their inability to speak England proper should be excused.
The eldest is reading The Help, for school. It’s the magnificent novel by Kathryn Stockett that was made into the equally superb movie starring Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, among others.
It’s the tale of black maids in Mississippi in the 1960s as told to Skeeter, a society girl who came home from college intent on being a writer.
It’s wonderful with lines like: “Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person” and the equally cool “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”.
My girl is struggling with the language, with the southern and African American slang used to tell the story. The tenses are wrong; words are flipped around, that sort of (all too familiar) thing.
“How can I read this,” she asked. “It almost needs a translator.”
Don’t worry love, I know how you feel.
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