They’re Only Words, Right?

Author’s Foreword: This post is lovingly dedicated to my dear friend Andrea, a woman who shares many of my compulsions. Language is only one of them. Reading thesauruses may be another.

While earlier pondering this blog post, I was formulating what I thought would be the perfect opening anecdote. Upon further consideration, I realized that whether it related to my topic or not was moot, so I’ve decided to drop it altogether and cut to the chase.

What’s the deal with language these days?

When ICQ made its first appearance in 1996, chat speak was born. Words and phrases became abbreviated and emotions were instead expressed through cleverly strung together punctuation marks. Further still, punctuation itself was completely thrown out the window. It’s a slippery slope, my friends, and since then we’ve been inundated by way of MSN, AOL, text messaging, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, e-cards, blogs, webcams and smart phones.

While technology has certainly made the world a smaller place and brought people closer together (though that is still open to debate), it has also turned us into incredibly disgusting and ridiculously languid communicators.

Only Words

Photo: MrPhilDog on Flickr

It can be assumed that the majority of Canadians have been taught, generally speaking, a basic education in the public school system. Many more of us have been fortunate enough to attend post-secondary institutions. The expectation concerning our quality of work only increases as we pursue higher levels of schooling. Words – both written and spoken – are arguably the strongest method of communication no matter which language one speaks.

Have I missed something along the way? I was by no means the most scholastic student in any given class. I made efforts when warranted, pulled off a consistent ‘B’ average throughout most of academia and never gave one subject more attention over another. Yet somehow I’ve still managed to walk away with an understanding of spelling, grammar and punctuation.

An alarming rate of educated adults still mix up contractions with possessive words. “A lot” has always been, and will always be, two separate words. When joining two thoughts with “and,” why use a comma? The “and” in the middle is the conjoiner. Run-on sentences are never acceptable and the only exception to this rule is if your name is Ernest Hemingway or Raymi. Though, even those two know what’s what.

The truth is that this unfortunate phenomenon is not restricted to chat windows and Facebook walls. Glaring blunders are popping up in grocery store fliers, newspapers, magazines, work-related correspondence and on billboards. I can’t help but wonder if our educations have failed us or if we simply no longer care. It’s time for the lost art of language to make a triumphant return.

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11 Comments on “They’re Only Words, Right?

  1. Comma usage is tricky. I’ve taken several university level English courses, and there’s never been agreement on all aspects. I tend to use commas where I would naturally pause when I say things, which isn’t always required, but I think makes the sentence easier to read (at least it does for me). It’s not wrong to put a comma before a conjunction, it’s just preference (in fact, many references still encourage it).

  2. @Duane – I totally agree with you; I just think people have become too reliant on punctuation to convey something rather than making use of language itself.

  3. I agree and I am lazy enough to make most of the mistakes pointed out. But I also think that most people just don’t care. It’s not uncommon these days for a average person to be able to type at 80-90 WPM, and when typing that fast you often forget punctuation and Grammar.
    Guilty. I think it started going downhill when I was introduced to MSN, that’s my fallback!

  4. See! I made a mistake ( I put a , before a AND )! Wow, has my education really gone downhill?!

  5. Don’t get me started! I feel your pain. Misplaced apostrophes drive me BANANAS! As for school… well I’ve taught Grades 9 and 10 English and my background is in science. I have 2 university-level English classes, but still have a better grasp of language than many. I’ve come to realize 2 things: you’ve got to be prepared to hit the ground running in Kindergarten, and some people just seem wired to pick up the code of grammar and spelling better than others.

    To prepare your kids to “hit the ground running” in Kindergarten, they need to see books in the house, be read to, know all of the goofy kids’ songs, listen to and make up stories, paint, colour, draw… anything and everything that grabs their imaginations!

    Sorry… I got started!

  6. A great example:

    I always told my high school biology students that “Yes, spelling counts. English is the language in which we communicate!” I had an intern teaching my class once who was HORRID at spelling. One of the students pointed out an error, and he told them that they were in biology class, not English class. The student responded that “Ms. Campbell says that ‘English is the language in which we communicate, so spelling counts.'” (please don’t even look up my quotation use… stick with the story ;D) I was surprised any kids were paying attention to me!

  7. Disclaimer: I’m not very good at English; spoken or written 😉 As for commas, like Duane mentioned, I think would be best used for pauses in a sentence. Or at least that is what I thought it was for. Then again the English language has funny rules where commas should go and what they are for.

  8. @Tyler – Regarding commas, it doesn’t bother me when people use them to either pause or conjoin in a sentence. What drives me bonkers is when two conjoiners are used, such as:

    I’m going to the store, and then I’m going to call you.

    While not incorrect, it’s excessive in my opinion. Use a comma or use “and” but don’t use both.

  9. I think this issue is a result of one of three things; maybe even all three. 1. Laziness 2. Convenience 3. Apathy

    Put all three of those together and we have a cryptic, abbreviated, disected, mutated English language that before we know it will need its own Babelfish and language as we know it today will all of the sudden become lumped into Olde English.

    I’ve called many people on their improper use of the word your and their reason is always “I know, I just don’t care.”

    This makes me cry a little inside.

  10. “It’s time for the lost art of language to make a triumphant return.”…YES YES YES! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way! Thank you!

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