Darling Wendz, today, expressed her views on the annoying use of over-elaborate language that is used, not only in blogs – which were where her arrows were directed – but in daily conversation and, particularly, in writing. I wrote a draft of a post, that wasn’t finished or posted, a week or two ago, which actually [although I entirely agree with Wendz in virtually everything she says, except for some of her linguistic bêtes noires (what on earth is wrong with ‘pad’ for walking softly over a carpeted floor in bare feet or slippers?)], came to almost exactly the opposite conclusion.
I am becoming more tolerant. I feel happier for it. I do not mind how people express themselves, especially in blogs, which they set up for their own self-expression and I need only read if I wish to.
I first ruminated on this (you know, after what Wendz said, I’m a little wary of using any long word when a short one would do, but self-confidence reigns on this blog) when I had watched an episode of the television programme ‘Grumpy Old Women’, an equal opportunities spin-off from ‘Grumpy Old Men.’ I could relate to everything they said but, and no doubt the outrage was emphasised for its entertainment value, I rejected almost all of it. I do not want to rejoice in grumpiness and intolerence.
The future doesn’t belong to me. My values are old fashioned, but who am I to say they are better? Language is there to communicate (although, as Wendz suggests, jargon and cliché and polysyllables can get in the way of communication) – and I no longer care if someone confuses different spellings of the same word. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, I would be stuffy and pedantic to mind. If the meaning is clear, that is what matters. I will draw a line of differentiation here between formal and informal writing. I hate it when I receive an official letter with misspellings and bad grammar. Especially when it comes from the Education Department, as is not unknown. If I’m paying your wages, either through taxes or by buying your products, I expect you to write correctly.
Some years ago, I was on a train, coming home from London, when a woman of about 60 got on. She proceeded to peel and eat an orange. A few minutes later, a man lit up a cigarette – it was a non-smoking carriage. She protested. He pointed out that he hated the smell of orange, but he hadn’t said anything to her. Now, of course, the point was that it was, indeed, a non-smoking carriage, so he was breaking the rules and she wasn’t, but his point, that they were equal in terms of nuisance value, had a specious persuasiveness. There was a silence, while everyone watched with interest. She got to her feet and stormed out of the carriage. She was a Grumpy Old Woman*, he was an Awkward Young Man. They were both Inconsiderate. Neither was better than the other. None of us was better either, because she was ‘right’ and we should have spoken up but we did see his point as we hadn’t liked her zest any more than his smoke.
I don’t mind incoherent and awkward young people. I think David Cameron was a twit even to associate himself with the phrase ‘hug a hoodie’ but I see what he meant. Young people are awkward and frustrated, and who can blame them. They are nagged and pressurised at school, expected to rein in their natural energies, told their exams are worthless and far too easy to pass, allowed too little freedom until their teens, when suddenly they are given too much, and then watched with suspicion by everyone who assumes that they are up to no good. There are huge problems, largely with drugs. There are disaffected and aggressive thugs. But they are not going to improve by being disapproved of by old bats like me.
What I know, I think everyone should know. Dates. Geography. Literature. History. What used to be general knowledge, but has been squeezed out by the National Curriculum. But I break the very rules I was taught – by, for example, starting a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’. Using the words ‘a lot of’ or ‘got’ – a pang goes through me, it’s true, but my feeling is now that if it works, do it. Not in an official letter, but in a colloquial blog, it is not unacceptable. Furthermore, my general knowledge, recognised by my parents and grandparents, has gone. I do not necessarily care about the things my children’s generation do and I don’t think it matters. But if I shrug ‘same difference, so what?’, why shouldn’t they? Why should niceties of behaviour or language matter to them? Or the date of Agincourt? Some ignorance is shocking, but I am no better. Before I complain about the speck of dust in their eye, I should fish the bloomin’ great plank of wood out of mine, as the bible neatly puts it.
I don’t want to try to ape them. That would be embarrassing. But I’ll be a great deal happier if I can find a note of concord and live peaceably, rather than complain about the good old days.
*I do not mean to suggest that 60 is old, but that GOW’hood is a frame of mind that can strike at any time.