July 15, 2010 in Washington Voices

English-only push begs extra care

By Correspondent

We’re getting pretty darned adamant about speaking English in America. Not going to touch the politics of that, but for Pete’s sake, if we’re going to speak the language, let’s actually speak it – not necessarily as the American founders did (that might sound a little stilted today), but at least so that we don’t sound quite as ignorant as we so often do.

I have no quarrels (well, not too many) with regional accents and certainly have none with the accents of immigrants working on learning the language. Or even with some slang, a lot of which can be fun. Wassup? But I have a big quarrel about lazy-speak, about people who are supposed to be intelligent who just butcher the language.

Take pronunciation. There’s a politician whose current TV ad shows him objecting to the spending policies of the govmint. There’s a local attorney advertising his services as an advocate for helping you get disability payments from Sosh Security. And there are people of my acquaintance who borrow books from the lyeberry and – forgive me for mentioning this for about the zillionth time – declaring that they live in the state of Warshington.

Object, advocate, borrow and reside at will, but how hard can it be to do all these things with a little better pronunciation? Yes, yes, I know, school’s out for the summer, but good grammar and diction are never on hiatus.

I had an aunt who used a number of shortcuts in her speech, some of which became endearing to the family. “Jeet?” she’d ask when you walked into her house. It was her mission in life to be sure everyone was properly fed, so what she was asking was “Did you eat?” It made us all smile, even as kids, and she as much as anyone knew it was linguistic shorthand. What it wasn’t was on television or out in public and being passed off as good English.

And by the way, if we get mad at one another and call each other names, please let’s understand and use the epithets correctly. In response to something I wrote here not long ago, someone wrote in that I was clearly a fascist leftie. I’m pretty sure that’s anatomically impossible, and it doesn’t even roll off the tongue very well. How about lugubrious leftie-leaning lout or frumpy fascile feeble fascist? If you’re going for it, let’s at least have a little sense of poetry, please.

Many of you have written in to share your own issues with English language assassination. A teacher named Bill wrote in about the redundancy of saying that something is very unique. He said he never lets students even use the word unique. “It has a fancy sound and can never be wrong, since everything is unique in some sense.” He said he had heard an advertisement for a restaurant that invited people to come try one of its unique steaks. “Would anyone really want a unique steak?” he asked. “Or do you want a steak that tastes like the best ones you’ve had before, which means it would not be unique.”

I’m also starting to clench a bit when I go in to my favorite coffee shop and hear a chirpy high-pitched voice behind the counter ask, “What can I get started for ya?” Now I don’t object to her cheerfulness (unless it’s really early in the morning), but how hard can it be to form the “ooo” sound on that last word so she doesn’t sound quite so junior high school? And, oh lordy, please save me from acronyms. I know texting is full of them and that everything in popular culture spills over into the mainstream, but if I have to stop to look something up or ask a nearby 12-year-old about it, then communication has come to a screeching halt.

On the “Today” show recently, someone commented that something or other was DIY. What the heck is that? Not being a total dinosaur, I Googled it. Turns out to mean do it yourself. Would it have killed the guy to have just said that?

Is this all too fussy, too contrarian? If so, too bad. I want English to be as good as English can be.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists.

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