Walt’s language blues
It has become increasingly challenging for me to endure, much less enjoy, what passes for news and entertainment in modern U.S. society. Although I haven’t owned a television in over 20 years, I do keep up with the goings-on in the world through podcasts, radio shows, and documentaries, along with all the mindless entertainment you can find online, which I hope would provide occasional distraction from my writing.
Lately, however, I find myself having to stop watching these videos, shutting them off and deleting them in frustration! Why? It’s the language, the use—or, more accurately, the misuse—of words, the bad grammar, the negativity, the vulgarity, the profanity.
Let me explain.
I’m a firm believer in the truth that you become what you think about; you become what you focus on; you become what you listen to and what you watch; you become who you associate with. In other words, the images and sounds that enter your mind through your eyes and ears have an effect on your mood as well as your health, emotional, mental and spiritual states.
Consequently, I’m very vigilant and discriminating about what I allow myself to be subjected to. I refuse to allow destructive, sadistic, negative, ignorant or vulgar language or images into my mind—whether it be the scenes in certain movies and programs, the lyrics of certain songs, the constant barrage of reports of misogyny, corruption, violence and racism that pass as “news,” or the attitudes of people I meet. It may seem extreme to some, but I will exit situations, conversations and even relationships to avoid such exposure.
Lately, however, what’s been most maddening has been what I see as the decay of language. I encounter it in online videos and the public comments section of those videos. I hear it in the newscasts perpetrated by supposedly educated reporters. Words are being misused and mispronounced. Rules of grammar are being ignored. Punctuation is virtually nonexistent! Contractions are the order of the day in this new paradigm. People are even saying “OMG” now in face-to-face conversation!
There are those who believe that language will and should evolve to meet the needs of each generation. I respect that sentiment, but I also believe some things should be inviolate—that there should be some hard and fast standards we all agree to uphold.
Recently, in a single video on YouTube, I found myself assaulted by so many instances of mispronounced and misused words, bad grammar and poor style—each like a fingernail scraping on a blackboard—that I simply had to turn it off! This video did, however, make it easy to list a good number of my pet peeves!
Listen and look for yourself! All across the news, entertainment and social media landscapes, people are writing or saying:
▪ “excape” (“escape” incorrectly pronounced) instead of “escape” (correctly pronounced)
Sadly, this was actually said—repeatedly—by police and prison authorities in a documentary on prison escapes.
▪ “Nukular” (“nuclear” incorrectly pronounced) instead of “nuclear” (correctly pronounced)
Does it worry you even a little bit that politicians who vote on sending the nation to war, and even a few past presidents who held the nuclear missile launch codes aren’t able to pronounce this word correctly?
▪ “they” used as a possessive (incorrect); instead of “their” (correct)
Use: The bikers had to park THEIR (not “they”) motorcycles on the sidewalk.
▪ “have went” or “had went” (incorrect) instead of “have gone” (correct)
This part of speech is called the past participle. Examples: “I have gone there many times.” “She has gone there also.” “She has seen me there as well.”
▪ “at” unnecessarily (e.g. “Where are they at?” (incorrect)
Try “Where are they?” or “Where are you?” instead.
▪ “should of” (incorrect) instead of “should have” (correct)
Use: “I could have, should have and would have paid more attention in English class.”
▪ “Continue on” (poor style) instead of “continue” (correct)
Use: “We continued our journey.” Continue means keep on, carry on, go on; therefore, there is no need to use “on.”
▪ all manner of vulgar curse words, even in informational videos
How can I, in good conscience, refer an otherwise informative video to parents or teachers to educate their children on a given topic if the narrator is cursing inappropriately and unnecessarily to make his or her point.
▪ the “N-word,” gratuitously
It’s not a word with which I grew up in Jamaica, only heard it for the first time when I came to America and have never uttered it, so given its historical origins, I simply can’t relate to or abide its use in everyday speech by celebrities, comedians, and the general public.
▪ “could care less” (incorrect) instead of “couldn’t care less” (correct)
This one’s pretty evident, but just in case: If you COULD care less, that means you do care and that there’s a lower level of caring you could get to. If you COULDN’T care less, that means you’ve reached the bottom level of caring, which is where, I believe you wish to be, right?
▪ other misused or confused pairs and trios, including “loose/lose,” “their/there/they’re,” “to/too,” “its/it’s”
…and finally, the one that’s been sweeping the nation:
▪ “literally” (used as a synonym for “unbelievably,” “practically,” “actually,” “amazingly,” “virtually,” and every other adverb known to man.)
Definition: The word “literally” should be used to describe an action or situation that is typically a metaphor. For example, the phrase “walking on eggshells” is a metaphor that typically refers to someone being extremely careful about his or her behavior for fear of offending another. (Use: “Because of his alcoholic father’s tendency to get mad at the slightest perceived provocation, John grew up walking on eggshells around him.”) Therefore, if you, for instance, dropped a dozen eggs on the floor, and then had to tread across them to get to the mop, you might say, “I was literally walking on eggshells,” meaning you were doing something in reality that is typically only metaphorical in nature. Tip: if there’s no metaphor being referenced, you’re using it incorrectly!
Putting together both the written and spoken violations would result in something like this (Trust me, it’s not as far-fetched as it seems!):
“There’s literally no way to excape they bad grammar. Its like they could care less about it to. Sometimes I wonder if they had went to school at all. If they did, they should of continued on with there education in the *$(^*$)(*^[insert expletive] school where they were at. I’m loosing my mind!” [Can you find all 13 violations?]
Yes, the language is devolving
their grammar’s incorrect
A sign of times no doubt I’m sure
but what if left unchecked?
Entertainment is just vulgar
all the comedy’s profane
News anchors are no better
and it’s driving me insane!
The spelling is atrocious
the speaking just sounds dumb
The parts of speech forgotten
and their future’s looking glum
It’s all across the spectrum
yes, no matter who they are
Presidents and politicians
speak like sailors in a bar
I never learned Emoji
and it’s not my native tongue
I can’t relate to music
nor the way the songs are sung
Perhaps I’ll just get over it
Forget or just forgive
Some say that language must reflect
the world in which we live
I wouldn’t be the first
to rant and rail against things new
My only consolation?
If you write and say, “Me too!”
Walt’s Friday Life Rhyme #491 “Rant & Rhyme: Walt’s Language Blues” (See archives at http://www.liferhymes.com). Leave your comment below this article on the www.saipantribune.com website. Be careful, though! The language police are on patrol!
Walt F.J. Goodridge is author of over 24 books and conducts writers’ workshops to help those with a passion for writing publish their work. Join the group at http://saipanwriters.com to be notified of upcoming workshops.