Endangered English: The Lost Art of Grammar

Thursday, October 7th, 2004

Published 14 years ago -

Years ago, back when Al Gore invented the Internet, grammar began to ebb with the tide of changing times.  One foot inside the grave, in imminent danger of falling into the same hole as Latin and Yiddish, our beloved friend suddenly found itself subdued by the forces of a society gone mad with newfound possibilities of convenience.  The Internet was a godsend, an answer to the war cries of a billion frustrated telephone users and letter-writers.  Phone calls were too expensive; writing a letter was too time-consuming.  Our people needed an answer.  They needed a miracle.

Enter the Internet, a savior for a collective consumer appetite already whet by the invention of vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, and countless other conveniences.  As with any profound social movement, language evolved and argots emerged.  The English language as we knew it was never again to be seen, having ceded its remaining shreds of purity in favor of cyberspeak and shortcuts.


HI DIS IS JESYKA, OMG, i Am So HaPpEy 4 U wRiT mE bAk l8eR I <3 U LOL BYE 😉

No, this is not Esperanto.  In fact, it only fits into the realm of English discourse by a mere technicality, one-hundredth of a point on the ratings board.  At first glance, this unintelligible amalgam of letters, acronyms, and symbols registers as code.  Logical enough, considering that friends have spoken in code for eons.  However, this is no esoteric jargon between friends.  No, this borderline illiteracy is pandemic in the English-speaking world at large, especially within the adolescent population.  Enter any online journal community, and a majority of the 13-18 demographic there will have employed this same literary “style” (if lack of style qualifies as “style”).  Call it sticky-typing, call it spelling deficiency, but, for God’s sake, don’t call it writing.  For the purposes of this argument, we’ll call it “trendy anti-grammar.”

Let’s face it.  Some are born good spellers, with an intuitive sense as to how a word should look on paper.  Others struggle, weighing each syllable carefully and sounding out a word phonetically until arriving at a logical conclusion.  However, when spelling deficiency reduces a junior in high school to the reading level of his five-year-old counterparts, we must ask ourselves how much of a godsend this thing, the Internet, truly is?

It is a bizarre universe, one devoid of copyright laws or editors.  A website emerges boasting daily news articles, but there is no one to mandate its contents.  Dangling participles sway in the cyber-breeze and people misspell rudimentary words “alot.”  Academic discourse broadens in scope to those capable of employing polysyllables correctly.  Those who adhere to the dictates of classical grammar are dismissed as “purists” or “fusty.”  Or, in the spirit of today’s linguistic trends, grammarians are “whack” and “uptight.”  Who needs rules?  Throw the word “closure” or “paradigm” into a sentence and one is hailed by the masses as the second coming of Shakespeare.  When confronted by a professor or editor with the news that his writing is riddled with faulty diction and split infinitives, a writer dismisses the advice as antediluvian.  Then again, since that word is almost as archaic as Latin itself, he would be more likely to exclaim, “Nobody conversates like that anymore!”  Hell hath no fury like an ignoramus scorned.  Still, the editor (if he is worth his weight in paper) gets the last laugh at the impassioned emphasis on the nonexistent verb.

The Internet is not entirely to blame for this rapid descent into functional illiteracy.  No, we must blame our educators, whose grading standards have shifted from technically inclined to “constructively” inclined.  College writing curricula everywhere have adapted the new-fangled constructivist theory, which focuses upon inventing knowledge and takes the spotlight away from technical flaws.  Professors must not be oppressive in their quest to produce technically masterful writers at the end of each semester, but, instead, must allow students to create their own knowledge in writing and support it with personal anecdotes (thus introducing the taboo “I” pronoun into formal writing).  Students rejoice and spell-checkers everywhere go into hibernation as this mode of writing renders technical execution obsolete in favor of rhetorical expediency.

What follows is an introductory paragraph from a college essay yet to be written:

I really liked The Grapes of Wrath.  John Stainback is really good at expressing his ideas in writting and also making sure we understand his main ideas.  Even though I didn’t live during the Dusty Bowl, I was really suprised at how similar I am to Tom Joad.  First of all I love the song “Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen and think its really awesome that they made a song based on an old book.  Anyway, he’s a man who is ruled by his desire to get away from the poor life.  I think we can all relate to wanting to run away, which Stineback really gets across effectively in this book.  This paper will talk about how we all want to run away and how this book is a primary example of why running away is a bad idea.

Granted, this writer (who chooses to remain anonymous) has composed a paragraph that adheres to the traditional structure of an introduction.  It moves from the general to specific, but reads more like an eighth-grade book report than a college essay.  This is not hyperbole, folks.  This is the level at which many college freshmen write, and the constructivist theory congratulates such an admirable (yet technically appalling) attempt at thesis construction.  How can grammar thrive when college writers no longer concern themselves with typographical errors (“typos”) and tense inconsistency?

The answer is simple, my friends.  We must take a stand against this rampant apathy and spark a revivalist movement.  Start small.  Proofread E-mails and instant messages from your friends.  Chide others with an obligatory “LOL” (for good measure) when they fall into the chasm between a split infinitive.  Rearrange their sentences for them if they close with a preposition.  At the beginning, you will be a virtual pariah, shunned for your efforts to revive something left for dead.  This is how all revolutions begin, and that is what you will be:  a revolutionary.  However, centuries from now, when a misplaced modifier warrants capital punishment, your efforts will not have been for naught.

Proofread an E-mail today.  Someday, the world will be a better place because you had the courage to challenge the institution of trendy anti-grammar.  Let the renaissance begin!

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