I’ve been reading a book written by an Englishman . No offense ( sorry : offence ) to English authors , but I find their lingo a bit cubersome , often too flowery , and occasionally just plain weird . So , they might generally also say the same about whatever I write . So what ! I don’t care. I wanted to write some thoughts about the English language ; but I don’t mean necessarily English English . Just so you know.

By the way , as an aside , I should say that I always enjoy listening to English speakers from the United Kingdom , so don’t get me wrong. They all seem to have a charming accent that captures the listener’s attention and distracts from their peculiarily weird lingo . It’s easy not to listen to what they say so much as to be focussed on the accent .

My daughter-in law , a Polish woman , studied specifically American English at her university in Poland . Well , it’s not her university , but you know what I mean . By some strange turn of events , I was the first “native speaker” that she met. Ah , so from then on the onus ( note: I think this is my first -ever use of the word onus ! ) was on me to be the spokesperson for American English . Not a good plan , if you ask me .

She focussed on grammar and proper usage in school , I guess , and not as much on simple down-to-earth communication . She asks me questions like : Isn’t that participial phrase that you just used future past -perfect superlative conjunctive subjuctive ? (……. or something like that ; it’s all Greek to me . If I ever knew what past-perfect is , for example (and I think on that once upon a time I probably did) , I’ve long left that bit of undoubtedly essential knowledge far behind me , most likely in some high-school classroom near downtown L.A. I could go back there and try to find it but 1. they wouldn’t let me in , and 2. they’ve emptied the trash cans since then and I’d never find my discarded notes .)

I’ve told daughter-in-law several times over the years that she must have missed that day at school ( studying American language ) where they told you that Americans don’t really care if your grammar is perfect or not . If you can be understood , then that seems to be good enough .

I used this little bit of what I thought is witty conversation on another Polish woman once . She was bragging about her daughter who was at university in England —- Oxford , I think . I’d never met this woman before . Her boyfriend at the time was an old friend of Ada’s and the four of us were eating dinner at a restaurant in Szczecin . I threw out , for some specific reason that I can’t remember right now , the line about Americans not really caring about using perfect grammar . This woman then lashed out at Americans for the next couple of minutes . ” That’s what’s wrong with Americans ,” she began , and proceeded to voice some of her anger at such lakadaisically slovenly lazy and generally irresponsible Yankee attitudes . I want you to know that I stood up for the country . I told her that that hasn’t held us back much in the world ; but she wasn’t listening at that point and so I shut up for the rest of the dinner .

She had missed my point , at any rate , and was stuck in her misconceptions about the purpose of lingo. Oh , don’t get me wrong , I like to know that influential people are using the language properly . I notice when TV news people , for example , screw up syntax ( note: as opposed to sin tax , which could be , maybe , added fees that Las Vegas hotels might charge on the room bill ), or grammar or usage ( not electric power usage , or water usage , which also seem to incur additional fees on a regular basis ) . Politicians , for example , ought to use the language correctly . At least most of the time . I like to imagine that they have some basic education which should be reflected in generally correct use of the language .

I’m not as bad as my Aunt Mary , however , who used to cringe when she heard even a small misuseage of the lingo on TV , etc. She had a more better command of verbal communication proprieties than I have when it came to English ( etc. ) , and she cringed at the notion , I understood , that the country was falling apart , coming apart at the seams ; the clues were clear when so many glaring boo-boos were somehow allowed to slip by on the airwaves and in print to constantly corrupt everyday life . Well , she had a point . She probably would have got along with the daughter’s-at-Oxford woman at the restaurant in Szczecin .

I had a uncle who was a journalist . His wife had been a journalist , too . At some point in time his kids were going around using the expression ” don’t got ” ( eg. ” I don’t got no more candy”. ) It was frustrating my uncle , who said that he finally chewed them out a bit about it . He said that he told them that the right misuse of language was ” ain’t got “. He wanted them to use “ain’t got” instead of ” don’t got “.

My friend Joe has a master’s degree in literature . He taught the subject for several years after he retired from another field altogether . Once years ago I couldn’t help but notice that his use of English was all of a sudden bad . Just plain bad . So I asked him about that and he said that he had decided to use the language of the people . Something like that .

My -daughter’s- at -Oxford woman wouldn’t have like Joe’s attitude . Not one bit . That’s what’s wrong with America , after all ! For one thing , as my Uncle would have pointed out , we don’t even make the right mistakes . And I somehow became the expert on the language in my daughter-in-laws eyes merely because I was born in America even though she has an advanced degree in the subject and me , I just kind of hope to get by day to day , having forgotten most of what I may or may not have ever learned in school . Lord , help us !


Filed under humor

4 responses to “language

  1. I don’t go t much to add to this, Dan. I lean toward being understood.

  2. Ha ha ha! That was hilarious! I too am an English major (university, not army) but I also learned a very important lesson: it’s not how well you speak that is important, it is how well you are understood. And I understood you just fine!

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