It’s time to address something very near and very dear to my heart: the English language.
Now, I could go on a rant about how we were a perfectly good Germanic language, until the Norman French got involved and decided only Romance was any good, thus mucking up any semblance of a standard of pronunciation or order.
I could go on a rant about how the “10 Items or Less” sign should read “10 Items or Fewer.”
I could go on a rant about the great benefits of English, like non-gendered nouns and the lack of ending changes based on the tense and subject of a verb.
I could go on a rant about how no one uses ellipses properly (and indeed, it bugs the heck out of me).
I could go on a rant about how standards in English are changing constantly, with even the possessive form of a person’s name ending in S having been altered in the past few years (note: it’s Jones’s, not Jones’).
Or I could just say that, when it comes down to it, none of this really hits the crux of the issue. The history of the language, the etymology of words, the intricacies of grammer—these are all important, and should be studied by all who take an interest. But what I have to say is important not just for enthusiasts, but for all people: Don’t let it die.
English is evolving constantly, with new words being coined by teenagers taking photos of themselves, new constructs being invented as people strive for clarity, and entire definitions of words changing based on how people alter the language just by speaking it (look up “egregious,” if you’d like an example; people were straight-up so sarcastic when using it that the opposite of its original intent became the norm). Many people shun this evolution of language; we’ve tried for so long to codify a system, why add words like “selfie” to the dictionary just because they show up in common parlance? Can we truly stoop to such base debauchery as bringing in any word the populace invents? Well, yes. Yes, we can. And we do. Because language isn’t static; it’s not something that can be written down and stuck to forever. Language flows just like the thoughts of the people who employ it.
And here comes the more ranty bit, because there is one major issue that strikes me to my core: the loss of words. Every word is a concept; even synonyms express different meanings, and even the same word can be heavily influenced by context and connotation. To lose words is to lose our ability to think in about a greater number of concepts, to embrace new ideas, to express ourselves in different ways. Don’t believe me? Look at the language used in Orwell’s 1984. Orwell knew that the way to restrict thought is to restrict language; no one can commit thoughtcrime when they don’t have the words to understand the concept of the criminal thought.
And the same goes for grammatical structures; I have seen so many comma splices in my years that it pains me, because it feels like an injury to the semicolon. When I point out comma splices to people, the most common response I get is, “Well, I know it’s technically two sentences stuck together, but a period gives it too much of a pause. I used the comma so it flows better.”
“What about using a semicolon?” I ask.
“I never really figured out how to use one. I just avoid them for the sake of ease.”
“You know,” I prod, “a semicolon works just like a period in this case, but signals the reader to keep going so it doesn’t break the flow like a period does.”
“Yeah! So do you think you’ll use them more often?”
“Nah. I don’t trust myself to get it right. I’ll just stick to using commas.”
I don’t pick at grammar because I’m a stickler for rules. I don’t think we should all be held to a strict standard, never to deviate. But grammar helps us. Words help us. And without a concerted effort to preserve the ones that we have—even as we add new ones—we risk losing the complexity of our ability to think and express ourselves. I don’t ask that everyone pay their local reference section a visit and start memorizing, but I do believe that we should give English classes more credit than they currently get. They teach us how to analyze a body of work, how to read between the lines, how to compose our thoughts and put them out for the world to see. Shouldn’t we lay the foundation, then, of how to employ the building blocks that make up our language?
(As a bonus, the more words we have, and the more ways in which they can be used, the more puns we can make!)