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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 27-Oct-16 17:55:03

Is our language going to the dogs?

Is good grammar a thing of the past, something the younger generations have been chipping away at gradually with text speak and auto-correct? Author and grammar expert Caroline Taggart isn't quite ready to blame our grammar failings on the youngsters...

Caroline Taggart

Is our language going to the dogs?

Posted on: Thu 27-Oct-16 17:55:03


Lead photo

Is good grammar a thing of the past?

Whenever I do talks or radio phone-ins about grammar, usage and language generally, I'm struck by the number of people of my generation (let's say 50+, though I have to admit to 50++) who think that English is falling apart, that the young are ignorant and illiterate and that recent changes – particularly those brought about by texting and social media – are to be deplored.

I'm always slightly saddened by this, because it feels like part of the 'any change is for the worse' mentality that too often characterises advancing years. That said, I can be as guilty as anyone: years ago I had to supervise two young graduates working on a publishing project. They were bright, willing and articulate, but their spelling was atrocious and I found myself saying, 'If you kids had done Latin…' Good grief, I thought. I’m 35 and already I'm turning into my mother.

But hey. I write books about English, so of course I'm a bit of a pedant. I object to people writing should of instead of should have and using jargon such as firing on all cylinders (unless they are talking about a car) or the elephant in the room (unless there is one). I like precise language, too: when we have words that express different meanings – such as alternate and alternative, incredible and incredulous, moral and morale – losing those distinctions weakens the language.

The way we speak and write is as much a part of the way we present ourselves as the way we dress. Just as few of us would turn up for an interview or a formal dinner in torn-off jeans and a scruffy t-shirt, so we should tailor our language to the occasion.

It does matter, whatever the anti-pedantry brigade says. If ever I am on trial for my life, I hope that the jury will be disinterested rather than uninterested.

It matters. But it doesn't matter all the time. And there's the rub. In the pub with friends on a Friday night, we can get away with saying, 'Well, you know what I mean.' In a job interview or being introduced to sticklers of an older generation, we should try harder. The way we speak and write is as much a part of the way we present ourselves as the way we dress. Just as few of us would turn up for an interview or a formal dinner in torn-off jeans and a scruffy t-shirt, so we should tailor our language to the occasion. The important thing is to know the difference and be able to smarten ourselves up when it matters. IMHO.

That's an expression I find myself using more and more, as I become more dogmatic in my old age. It's short for 'in my humble opinion' and you use it – or at least I do – when the opinion you've just expressed isn't very humble at all. I like it because of a story a friend tells from the days when he was a magazine editor dealing with a particularly pompous contributor. The contributor ended a diatribe with this abbreviation, provoking the tart reply that the man had never had a HO in his L. My friend was well into his sixties at the time – don't tell me that we have nothing to learn from the young, and that there is no room for innovation in our language.

Caroline's book, Misadventures in the English Language, is published by Michael O'Mara and is available from Amazon.

By Caroline Taggart

Twitter: @citaggart

Swanny Thu 27-Oct-16 21:12:43

My pet hate at the moment is should/could/would of instead of should/could/would have, closely followed by use of d rather than th to start words such as the/them/they. I also find because of jars my senses and was surprised to see it in Caroline Taggart's blog.

BUT (and I know you shouldn't start a sentence that way!) we know our language, and its usage, is constantly evolving - I just didn't expect it to be so noticeable during one lifetime,

Bellanonna Thu 27-Oct-16 21:28:24

Why not " because of" ? And why not start a sentence with "But" ? One can, you know...

Ana Thu 27-Oct-16 21:31:08

I don't understand what's wrong with 'because of' either.

And you can start a sentence with whatever word you like these days! grin

Luckygirl Thu 27-Oct-16 21:46:31

I am happy to see language develop. I know it grates sometimes, and, as someone with a Latin O-level under my belt, I do sometimes feel disturbed by the wrong use of words. Indeed on this site, some people regularly spell things wrongly (lose and loose are particular problems) but I am never in the position of not understanding what the OP wishes to convey; and since language is about communication that is what matters. I will have to beat down my irritation!

If language had not gradually changed we would still be speaking and writing like Chaucer. Today's irritating error will be the norm in 100 years.

Wobblybits Thu 27-Oct-16 22:22:14

Laugage always changes with time, had it not we would all be speking old English or various invaders tongues. I attended a lecture recently on the origin of English dialects, apparently Cockney is pretty close to old English.

grannypiper Fri 28-Oct-16 08:23:25

Try understanding anything a Glaswegian says and you will no doubt be flummoxed, I am and i only live 40 miles away in South Ayrshire.Their language has evolved into a sentence that contains only one word nomatterhowmanywordsthesentenceshouldhave, they seem to have lost the use of their space bar.

gettingonabit Fri 28-Oct-16 08:37:22

I'm all for language evolving. But poor spelling in a graduate? No.

I think social media has a lot to answer for too; poor grammar/spelling are more visible as more people take to online communication.

The confusion between "lose" and "loose" annoys me particularly for some reason.

Anya Fri 28-Oct-16 08:49:36

Of course there's no elephant in the room, that's the whole point! Is this woman missing out on understanding the beauty and the subtleties of our language in her pursuit of precision?

sarahellenwhitney Fri 28-Oct-16 19:41:47

My climbing up the wall in frustration is the separation of certain kit-ching wat-ching and since the royal wedding Duch-ess.Many many more around no doubt.

Bellanonna Fri 28-Oct-16 19:47:44

Didn't quite get that sarahellen. Could you explain? Maybe I'm being thick? What actually is "kitching" ?

Swanny Fri 28-Oct-16 22:31:47

Bellanona and Ana I know it's acceptable these days to start a sentence with 'But'; however it wasn't when I was studying and underlines my comment that language is constantly evolving.

I don't understand why 'because of' jars on me and I know it is in frequent use. I just feel that 'due to' or 'as a result of' is more appropriate. I hadn't previously thought of myself as a pedant but maybe I am hmm

wot Fri 28-Oct-16 22:35:36

I think starting a sentence with and or but can make it more dramatic.

wot Fri 28-Oct-16 22:37:38

And I might be right. But I might (or may?) Be wrong.

LadyGracie Fri 28-Oct-16 22:57:09

Where did 'return back' come from? It's my pet hate.

etheltbags1 Fri 28-Oct-16 23:04:38

I too would like someone to explain itching please. I must be getting old never having heard of these words

etheltbags1 Fri 28-Oct-16 23:06:02

Meant k itching. Is it the same as kerching

GrammaM Fri 28-Oct-16 23:42:36

I also get annoyed at- 'literally' 'basically' to explain simple things,'ciddy-liddle' instead of city and little for example. one of the others is 24/7.. AAGGH thlangry

ninathenana Sat 29-Oct-16 00:51:38

Ethel I assumed k-itching was a mispronunciation of kitchen
I could be wrong thlsmile

M0nica Sat 29-Oct-16 08:52:55

When I was very young and green and thought the English of my childhood was carved in stone I used to feel censorious about those, who in my opinion, debased the language, now I know better.

Of course there are phrases and language use I do not like, 'looking to (do)' instead of 'want', '(something) going forward' instead of 'in the future', but those are personal preferences. Evey generation adapts the English language to its own uses and culture and the older generation always complains. Always has, always will.

Luckygirl Sat 29-Oct-16 10:57:30

I think the interesting thing is that we are ancient enough to have seen the language evolve - we know things that were frowned on at school in our time are now fine and an accepted part of speech and writing.

Did anyone see HIGNFY last night? Very funny bit about "Essex girl" which has apparently made it into the dictionary and the definition has not gone down well! They then played a very unfortunate clip of an Essex girl defending their position and unfortunately she demonstrated much of the definition! Oh dear! I can say thee things because I too am/was an Essex girl!

Daisyanswerdo Sat 29-Oct-16 12:36:34

'I've got a cold.' 'Oh, do you?' and similar make me (inwardly) scream. What's happened to 'have'? The original statement was 'I have got a cold.' How can the answer be 'do'?
Do got? Just listen - you'll hear similar exchanges on the radio, on television, in everyday conversation. I don't see how this can ever be acceptable usage.

gettingonabit Sat 29-Oct-16 13:46:35

For some reason people saying "etcetera, etcetera" to complete sentences bothers me.

And I keep seeing "to" instead of "too" lately.

norose4 Sat 29-Oct-16 17:54:31

My pet hate is 'bought' being used instead of 'brought 'the first meaning to buy , the second to bring ie I bought you some sweets , as in purchased them , or I brought you some sweets as in physically giving them to you. , Must be my age ?!

muskrat Sat 29-Oct-16 22:52:40

I can't 'bear' people who say 'bare' with me.... do they intend to get me to strip off with them? There there are the people who advertise their 3 'birth' caravans. Are they going to have three babies in them? lol