I was listening to Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders while I wrote this post.
The pragmatist in me is confused by the perpetual irritation of self-professed “language lovers”. You know who I’m talking about; the people on Facebook and in the “comments” section of blogs who are constantly correcting people on which spelling of their/there/they’re or effect/affect should have been used. I find it irritating. Like somebody who sits in the passenger seat and is constantly informing you that you’re speeding.
These people claim to be language lovers, but they aren’t; they’re rules lovers. The fact of the matter is that the singular purpose of language is communication. Rules aren’t required beyond “do you understand what I’m saying?” A large part of comprehension is context. If someone decides to get all worked up about a sentence like “I don’t know where there going” it’s unlikely they do not understand the meaning of the words. It’s more likely they are upset because the word they’re wasn’t used. That is a love of rules, not a love of language. Ironically, they sometimes complain about these types of “errors” so intensely that they feel the need to punctuate their outrage with 17 punctuation marks.
“Text language” also gets smacked around quite a bit, which is weird because who among us didn’t complain about the shortage of phonetic spelling when were in school? To this day I have no idea why sugar doesn’t have an h in it. Text language is beautifully intuitive and concise. It’s a wonderful example of optimization. I h8 when ppl btch about it. Did anybody not understand that last sentence?
Most people are fond of the dictionary as a definitive resource for acceptable and unacceptable words, but love to complain when the highly respected Oxford English Dictionary adds new words that are in common usage. Have a quick look for all your favourite curse words in the Oxford or Webster’s dictionary. You’ll find all sorts of stuff that is far more offensive than “LOL”.
Here’s my point: A true language lover would embrace anything that makes written and spoken communication more accessible and therefore usable. English is a living language. Visit this page to see examples of Old English, Middle English and Early Modern English. If a high school student handed in anything that resembled any of that stuff, he/she would be instantly handed back an F. Imagine the disappointment of Chaucer and Shakespeare. I would suggest the beauty in Shakespeare is present in the story and the rhythm of the words. Spelling has very little to do with it. It’s the same reason people who don’t speak a word of Italian can still enjoy the opera (and even some native English speakers can enjoy death metal).
English has evolved since the days when Beowulf was written, as it is evolving today. In 1000 years, the language we use today will look just as foreign to the people of the 31st century as The Canterbury Tales looks to non-academics today. However the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare and Dickens and Vonnegut and some new genius who won’t be born for another 500 years will still be considered timeless works of art.
Capitalization and/or lack of capitalization also seems to me to be over scrutinized. However most people don’t even understand why certain things are capitalized and others are not. According to the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins: “Ego has nothing to do with the capitalization of the pronoun I. Printing and handwriting have everything to do with it. In Middle English the first person was ich – with a lower-case i. When this was shortened to i, manuscript writers and printers found it often got lost or attached to a neighboring word. So the reason for the capital I is simply to avoid confusion and error.” That is why me and we and various other pronouns are not capitalized. It’s not a language rule per se, it’s a typographical rule.
I know plenty of people who can’t write a decent letter to save their life, but their adherence to accepted language laws is impeccable. That’s because they have poor communication skills. So let’s stop enforcing rules for the sake of enforcing rules, and start communicating more effectively.
You can call me a language anarchist if you want, but I see myself as a language pragmatist and an iconoclast in general. However, if you re-read this post you’ll notice the spelling and punctuation conforms to all our currently accepted language rules. So I guess you can more accurately describe me as a hypocrite.
Anarchist – a person who promotes disorder or excites revolt against any established rule, law, or custom.
Pragmatist – action or policy dictated by consideration of the immediate practical consequences rather than by theory or dogma
Iconoclast – a person who attacks established or traditional concepts, principles, laws, etc
Hypocrite – a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives.