Speak the damned language, people!

I had always assumed that stupidity was an individual thing, that it cropped up in singular cases. Evidently, I was wrong. It’s an epidemic.

You’ve noticed, no doubt, the overwhelming number of people who, when posting their erudite, well-considered, highly educated, and inarguable thoughts on the interwebs who simply cannot spell! I admit, I am only 45 and have just three years of college to my name and am therefore highly ignorant of anything and everything that may come my way, but I believe I am at least intelligent enough to know some of the most basic rules of grammar.

You know the idiots I’m talking about. There is no differentiation between “their,” “there,” or “they’re.” “Loose” and “lose” evidently mean the same thing. Who knew a single female could be “a women?” “You” and “your” have apparently become far too complex to spell, reaching levels of difficulty far beyond words such as sesquipedalian, circumlocution, or pencil. “Its” and “it’s” have taken on a nearly indecipherable relationship that now requires Stephen Hawking to untangle their hidden meanings.

And when the f*ck did “conversate” become a word?

I have no idea exactly when this downward slide in intellectual capacity began, but I’m fairly certain it started some time in the mid- to late-seventies, back when I was in elementary school. Back in the day, shortly after the earth cooled but prior to the invention of this thing called “fire,” I attended public elementary schools in Colorado, Arizona, and California with a brief stop in (West) Germany in the 80s, thanks to an Air Force dad. I spent most of my school years in what were termed “gifted” programs for kids who were apparently ahead of their peers. All it really meant was that we used pointy scissors and generally didn’t eat the paste. I didn’t realize how badly my schools were failing me until I ended up in a DoDDs school outside of Ramstein AFB and got stuck with a teacher from the old school. (Boston and Fulton Elementary in Aurora, Erickson Elementary in Tucson, I’m looking straight at you.)

Now why did I get stuck in those classes and how does it relate to my rant? Simple: I blame this entirely on my dad. One of my earliest memories was of him reading to me from The Fellowship of the Ring—the “Old Man Willow” segment where Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin run afoul of the barrow-wight—and that was at about four or five. Later, at about six or seven, every time I’d complain about nothing being on TV or having nothing to do, Dad would aim me at the bookshelf or hand me a book at random. I would end up with Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and more. As a result, my exposure to the English language, in addition to being several years more advanced than most of my peers, came from people who were much more skillful in its use than even my teachers.

As a result, my locution seems a bit off, particularly in a formal setting, and I’ve even had less-educated people ask me if I’m really Canadian because I “don’t talk like an American.”

Really. (No, I’m not Canadian. I know the proper spellings of “favor,” “flavor,” “color,” and the like. Damned Commonwealth types, anyway…)

I understand that English can be difficult; I recall someone somewhere mentioning that while most languages, like German or Japanese, have rules with a few exceptions, English was more a collection of exceptions with a few rules thrown in. While that may be true, it’s not an excuse. The vast majority of residents of the US grow up speaking English and are exposed to it on a daily basis. To my layman’s eyes, that would make them native speakers, but perhaps I’m wrong again. I’m also operating under the impression that education is both free and compulsory—which means “you have to do it”—in the States, and that schools everywhere teach English skills as part and parcel of the curriculum, all the way to high school. When I was in high school, the requirements were only for three years of English, but your mileage may vary depending on your locale. With all that going for you, what is the excuse for not knowing the rules?

Bottom line: the educational resources are there. Use them. You’re exposed to proper grammar and syntax every day. There is no excuse for constant failure to speak or write correctly.

Let me point out a few refreshers:

  • There.” That’s a prepositional phrase. It indicates a direction or location. The clue is in the word: pre-position-al. It’s right there.

  • “They’re.” A contraction of “they” and “are.” A collective third person pronoun and a verb combined for your ease of use, yet totally unrelated to the other two except by sound. They’re entirely different words. (See how that works?)

  • “Their.” A third person possessive. It means that persons separate from you and the person listening to you own something, and you are discussing that item. Try this: “They’re talking about their car, which is over there.”  Bam.

Just because a word sounds close enough doesn’t mean it’s right. You can get away with saying “there” in spoken conversations and the listener will be able to discern whether you said “there” or “their” by context, but in written words, it doesn’t fly.

  • “Lose.” This is a verb. It means you aren’t winning or that something is being misplaced. You lose a race or you lose a key.

  • “Loose” can be a verb, but then it means “to release” or “to unleash.” As an adjective, a descriptive word, it is the opposite of “tight.”

For my money, how anyone can fudge that up on paper is beyond me, unless you napped through that part of your English class.

The root of conversation is the verb to converse. “Converse” is not exclusive to a brand of shoes. I’m certain this is where some of the confusion is generated. You converse with someone when you have a dialog with them. “Conversate” is not a word, regardless of what the pseudo-intellectuals on evening news programs want you to think. I recall Al Sharpton using this word once, and it bears mentioning that if you cannot grasp the most fundamental rules of a language, how can you be expected to formulate a cogent, rational, and coherent argument in that language? You certainly can’t be taken seriously by using your own made-up words.

Woman: a singular mature human female. Women: several of them. If you are really “a women,” thanks for referring to all your personalities in one tidy bundle, but actually you’re just one “woman.” I end up laughing at people who post and refer to themselves as “an educated women.” (Hint: you’re not.)

Another gem: “of.” Oh, dear God, the use and abuse of “of.” This one trips people up all the time, both in written and spoken forms. You’ll see people posting “should of,” “could of,” and so on. I know where this one was spawned. In real life, you might hear me say something like, “He should’ve seen that coming.”

What happened there is probably improper, a colloquial quirk that crept into the vocabulary through laziness. Either it’s slipping a contraction in where it probably shouldn’t be or it’s a habit of not aspirating words that start with “h.” Maybe it’s both.

When heard, it sounds like “should of,” but it’s obviously not. With the prevalence of contractions in daily speech, you’d think someone would recognize what was being said. Certainly the listener’s brain interprets it as “should have,” else the whole sentence would be misunderstood. (I’ve actually had to explain that to someone when I was speaking. I was corrected by someone who wanted to sound educated and intelligent and insisted loudly that it was not “could of” but “could have.” I ended up having to explain that I knew that already, followed by correcting him with a few quick tips on locution, diction, and their perception to untrained ears versus written text.)

While I’m ranting, quit shortening your damn words. “Convo?” “Illo?” “Resto?” Is it too difficult now to say “conversation?” (Wait…that’s twice that word has come up. It must be nigh-impossible to use in daily speech!) Can you not wrap your lips around “illustration” or “restoration?” I know you’re trying to make yourself sound hip and trendy and worthy of your Facebook avatar or something, but shortening words in an attempt to make yourself sound intelligent doesn’t work. It just makes you seem like a “reto.”

You should be able to figure that one out.

Yes, I know this sounds petty and I’ve got two words for anyone who wants to accuse me of being a grammar Nazi. You should be able to figure those out, too. There actually is a reason for this, and here ’tis. I’m well aware that English has more than its share of pitfalls and contradictions, but it also has rules to follow. The beauty of being able to follow those rules is not to be one of those that falls in line blindly or one of those who say, “It is because I say it is!” By learning to follow the rules and to master the intricacies of language—of anything—is to empower and elevate yourself.

You may hear people lamenting that they’re not “empowered” or they’re at the mercy of this or that. Well, I just gave you a tip in the preceding paragraph. Learning is empowerment. Using language effectively and efficiently is a key. You don’t have to be Shakespeare. That might actually be counterproductive in this day and age, but you should have a vocabulary suitable for not only everyday use but one appropriate for your field of work and you should be well-versed in its use. Your speech defines your image.

One of my English “teachers” in college took me to task on this matter when I stated this position to her earlier. In her words, text-speak and these related failings are the “evolution” of a language. I repeat here what I said then: it is not “evolution.” The mistakes and ignorance today are not the product of a language evolving and taking a new shape more suited to its environment. It’s generations of users who refuse to learn the language and make their own shortcuts because it’s too much effort to become educated. It is, more accurately, de-evolution. Raise yourself to the standard. Don’t dumb things down to your level.

Use your language correctly and well. It doesn’t matter if your language is English, Cantonese, Urdu, or Finnish. It is an invaluable tool that can help elevate you or help bury you in scorn. Your call.

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