Monday, April 11, 2016

Say good-bye to English

A young man I recently met had some words tattooed on his arms.
“What’s that say on your arms?” I asked him.
He held up one arm and I saw one big word, “Poetic,” which I read aloud.
He held up the other arm and in big words, I read aloud, “Hustla.”
“Poetic Hustla,” he said.
“What in the sam hill is a hustla?” I said, “and what makes it poetic?”
“Hustler,” he said, repeating it more clearly, “It’s hustler.”
“Hustler?” I said. “Well, they misspelled it; you ought to get that fixed or get a refund from the tattoo parlor.”
“It’s slang,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “in my book, it’s misspelled. You won’t find ‘hustla’ in the dictionary. You really ought to get that fixed. It’s embarrassing.”
“It’s in The Urban Dictionary,” he said.
“That isn’t a real dictionary,” I said, being familiar with that particular website. “A real dictionary will have the word ‘Webster’ in the title, or ‘Oxford English.’”
He glared at me and walked away.
I have that effect on people. I didn’t mean to make him mad. I was just trying to help him, for I know how embarrassing a misspelling or typo can be. I’ve been writing for over 30 years. I have no doubt that I have read more words than most of you, and I’m certain I have written more words than all but a handful of you. I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, because mistakes happen, no matter how hard we try to avoid them.
Heck, I find mistakes in library books all the time. I used to make corrections to the library books, like marking up a galley proof, but I found out the librarians frown on that practice so I quit.
It seems to me I find more errors in newspapers, magazines and books nowadays, and I think it is because we rely on computers. Also, I suspect English is not taught as thoroughly and as deeply as it was in the previous century.
I got into a discussion one day at lunch with a woman who said schools do not teach English nowadays; instead, they teach language arts. I hope she just misunderstood what her children were telling her. At Rolla Board of Education meetings, the administrators usually say “English language arts.” If they formally drop the word “English,” from that title, I will raise some hell.
Let me make a prediction. Fifty years from now, the English language, at least in its written form, will be unrecognizable to people like me who were born in the previous century. Of course, we will be dead, so we won’t recognize it; I know that. What I mean is, if we could somehow live another 50 years and maintain some sense about us, we would not recognize written English.
Here’s my logic: Even though modern Americans use the English alphabet to communicate, they don’t write, they haven’t learned to write and they can’t write. Many young people I have run across can barely speak a coherent sentence, so I know they can’t write one. They use abbreviations and slang only; that practice has become so commonplace that these shortcuts are found in all forms of writing.
I am not opposed to slang or colorful language. If you’ve read my column over the years, you’ll know that I will often use slang or colloquialisms. I’ve started many columns off with “Boy, howdy” and slipped in references to “some ole boy.”
I don’t mind some use of offbeat expressions to enrich a piece of writing, but I’m sick of seeing “ur” for “your” and “r” for either “are” or “our.”
I’m also sick of seeing signs in foreign languages in the United States, but that’s a topic for another day.
Say good-bye to English. In 50 years, you or your grandchildren will be writing in a mish-mash of what used to be English churned with the language of immigrants, whipped up with urban slang and frosted with digital expressions and shorthand. If I live to be 110, I won’t be able to read it. I’ll have to ask for ancient texts from the 1950s and ‘60s to do any real reading.
Good grief, I sound like my parents and grandparents!
I really am an old goat.
Maybe I’ll have “Ole Gote” tattooed on one arm and “True Dat” inked on the other.

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