Posts Tagged 'grammar'

Well, well, well!

Those who read this blog – if there are any – will know that I am prone to grumble about the way our English language is changing. In part, this is the routine reaction of an old pedant who sees ‘rules’ that he learnt as a boy being flouted and disregarded by the young. And I am, of course, well aware that such changes will continue long after I am gone, and that any living language is bound to change over time. I just find it regrettable that so many of the current changes are, in my view, changes for the worse  in terms of clarity of meaning.

Even when I am not grumbling, though, I remain fascinated by questions of how, when, where and why such changes arise.  The use of the word ‘cool’, for example, to indicate approval (as opposed to low temperature) still sounds alien to my aged ear. I believe it originated in the jazz culture of the American South – but how did it acquire this new meaning? And why has it been adopted by almost every English-speaker under forty?

Again, I am puzzled when I ask someone how they are and they reply “I’m good!” – as though I had enquired about their moral welfare. What’s wrong with the “I’m well, thanks!” that I grew up with?

And talking of the word ‘well’, I find it equally odd to hear it used as a qualifying adjective in place of ‘very’ – as in “He was well angry!” To me, that sounds wrong; but then I sheepishly remember that there are precedents, even in such an authority as the King James bible: “… in whom I am well pleased.” And, come to think of it, I have written ‘well aware’ in the first paragraph of this post. So I must declare myself  a ‘logophage’ (a word I have just invented, from Greek roots, to signify ‘one who eats his own words’.)

I suppose, then, I must accept that I am fighting a losing battle on the language front. I will continue, however, to man the ramparts, and decline to adopt what I consider inappropriate usages. Ah well . . .

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Writing goofs

When I was at school (a very long time ago) I was taught how to write. I don’t mean just how to form letters; I mean how to put words together so that their meaning is clear and unambiguous. And I was taught that it is important to spell correctly, to observe certain rules of grammar and syntax, and to punctuate in a way that aids understanding.

So deeply were these rules ingrained that, to this day, I just cannot help wincing when I see them broken.

I am aware however that, in the intervening years, a more relaxed approach has come in. Younger people have been encouraged simply to express themselves, and not to worry about ‘correctness’. Indeed, the pendulum has swung so far that oldies like me are made to feel like fastidious old pedants, fussing on endlessly about things that don’t matter.

I was particularly glad, therefore, to come across Joanna Young’s blog at http://coachingwizardry.typepad.com/confident_writing/. She, it seems to me, has the right approach. She advocates the correct use of language, not for its own sake, but for what it says about you and your organisation, as well as for that clarity and precision that we all strive for.

Her ‘five common grammar mistakes’ chime precisely with those that most commonly make me wince these days. They are:

  • Confusing it’s and its
  • Confusing they’re, their and there
  • Confusing your and you’re
  • Using apostrophes to try and create a plural
  • Forgetting to use apostrophes to show possession
The first and last of these are, of course, linked. People write “the book and it’s title” because they think the apostrophe is needed to indicate possession – forgetting that “its” is a possessive pronoun in its own right, just like ‘his’ and ‘hers’, whereas “it’s” is just an abbreviation of “it is”. Yet one sees this error in the copy of major advertisers, whose (not ‘who’s’) agencies really ought to know better.
So – thanks, Joanna, for highlighting these points. I’m on your side!
Oh – and one more thing that makes me wince: the creeping use of lower-case”i” for the first person singular.