The last stand of English

October 17, 2011
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

Kacper Niburski

Assistant News Editor


Few people truly enjoy language.

Instead of smashing words together for the sheer sound-sex of it or attempting to trip the tip of their tongue with impossible sentences, most people gripe on about how the English language has evolved into a wasteland of verbal smut.

In their limited perspectives, neologisms are deplorable, forgotten apostrophes are a crime comparable to murder, and a failure to follow syntax is like dying of the Black Plague.

Haunting as these mistakes may be, it is simply a shame that this behaviour has characterized much of the conversation about English. Such mistakes do not taint the English language. On the contrary, they enhance it.

Rather than shaking a fist at misspellings, muttering on about past participles and wincing at a verb replacing a noun, one should embrace such mistakes. They are the verbal delight that is language and the yoke of progression in its truest form.

Let me explain.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the intricacies of the English language. Each piece we write is a composition of rules and regulations that have evolved into their current state from thousands of years of development. Without these regulations, the language would fail to take on any distinct form and communication among vast human networks would be impossible.

While this evolutionary selection may be true, it is all too conveniently reductionist. Language is not as simple as a rapid progression and then a steady state leveling. It is not punctuated. It is not inert. It evolves as we do.

Consider the English language. It magnificently evolved from a smattering of gurgles into gags, gags into grunts, grunts into gargles and, finally, gargles into grammar.

From there, it crossed continents, absorbed with other existent languages, and spread across the globe. At no point in its evolution did adjustment cease.

To some, certain English dialects were considered bubbling with linguistic mistakes, as seem in early Welsh compared to later Anglo-Saxon patois. However, only through the mistakes, common to evolutionary theory, did the language evolve and become as it is today. To say it simply, orthography and syntax change as the time rolls on.

It can be said then that we define our language, not the other way around.  We are not chained to the dictionary. Instead we are the dictionary creators. The common conventions administered today are nothing more than a series of recognizable, evolved and agreed-upon grunts.

Who is to say then that the grammatical incorrectness of modern day is not a form of this evolution? The pedantic literary lackeys will claim that it goes against the evolution that was built up to this current state. Modern English, if it is indeed an evolution, has only evolved as it has because it was able to progress beyond such common mistakes of language.

Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. Being a grammar-flub myself, I feel that the pedants fail to realize that evolution, by its very nature, transcends the current state of things. It is akin to revolutions, almost all revolutionaries were originally frowned upon. The Dutch Jews excommunicated Baruch Spinoza. Pablo Picasso was considered a madman with a paintbrush. So it goes when one grinds against the grain.

And yet while the great minds may think alike, it is the genius who thinks differently. Mistakes are necessary in order to recognize that which is not a mistake. So perhaps then grammatical incorrectness is a form of literary genius waiting to be recognized, a revolution waiting to happen.

The pedants will scoff at such a claim. They will harrumph that grammatical incorrectness will lead to conventions of language that are purely and utterly nonsense. Language will lose its form. Start with one mistake, and soon the whole language will turn into a shitstorm. A messy, ungrammatical, made-up kind of shitstorm, that is.

Besides harping on a slippery slope fallacy, if the pedants truly feel as if made-up words are something to be shunned, then they should avoid Shakespeare, James Joyce and Lewis Carroll. Shakespeare made a living of changing nouns into verbs, adding prefixes to suffixes, and devising words wholly original. Carroll created words such as ‘Frumious Bandersnatch’ in Jabberwocky and James Joyce invented a word in Finnegan’s Wake that consisted of 101 letters which seems to spell out nothing but nonsense: ‘Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk’.

That last word alone should give us encouragement that linguistic originality is not something to be disparaged.

Though by listing the nonsensical wording of these great authors, there is no direct comparison between them and common literary mistakes. Instead there is a demonstration that the lords of literary language created words to fit their purposed meanings. Despite the originality of these great authors’ words, many of them have become common terms; for example “eyeball” used by Shakespeare in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Before Shakespeare’s literary inventiveness, the circular ball located above the cheek was just that: a circular ball. In this way, made-up words are not inherently bad; they may one-day become recognized in the English language.

So why not the common blunders of English?

The critics will bark that among the myriad of English words, people invent words to fit their sentences out of ignorance and laziness. “The same is true of grammatical incorrectness,” they most surely harp.

While some errors in syntax may be the product of laziness, and others may just be of ignorance, there is no doubt as to what common errors such as ‘three items or less’ means. The same could be said of ‘whom’ and ‘who’ or ‘a lot’ or ‘alot’ and many of the other mishaps of language. What pedants claim as vague, incorrect and downright hideous are in fact failures to see the clarity in the unclear. The English language is nowhere near perfect, but it is wholly understood, even when riddled with mistakes.

As such, the fight of literary lackeys isn’t for clarity; it is for their inability to fill up the void where language can be enjoyed. They can never see the mystifying majesty of sentences that froth and cream and bubble with literary originality or that make one’s mouth fumble foolishly like a football player flailing furiously or even those that exhaustingly run on as an attempt to challenge the reader.

No. Instead they grumble on and on and on.

But there is a hope that this may change. If English is truly an evolution, then unlike the pedants, it will not become a fossil when they do. Rather, it will use the fossilized remains of our literary past – mistakes and all – like a coal turning into a diamond. Years from now, words like ‘alot’, although seemingly awful to some, may be considered the rule.

Until then, the English language must bear the assault of the grammarian-barbarians.

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