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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

JanT8 Sun 30-Oct-16 09:25:55

It's the appalling spelling that I find so irritating!! Whenever I read some of the posts on Facebook I itch to correct the spelling. Perhaps it's another 'age thing'.

grandMattie Sun 30-Oct-16 09:31:19

Many, many irritating things - pressurised instead of pressured; practise/ce; advice/se; "off OF"; the use of plural verb with a collective noun "the govt. HAVE" Grrr...
On the whole it is slovenly use of language and laziness - perhaps I'm unkind and people don't know better?
We should correct bad grammar; I'm frequently correcting my GS, telling him that sometimes it is very important to speak/spell correctly, poor child! hmm

missdeke Sun 30-Oct-16 09:41:27

It's not just the written language that is irritating, I find so many people are just inarticulate: obviously, basically, literally, like, I mean, are words that pepper interviews these days.

Pittcity Sun 30-Oct-16 09:50:31

I am a member of the Association for the Annihilation of the Aberrant Apostrophe and spot more and more every day.
If you don't know how to use them then leave them out!

GrannyGalactica Sun 30-Oct-16 10:16:17

The words "and" and "but" are conjunctions. They join two parts of a sentence or, in the case of "and", items in a list. A full stop marks the end of a sentence. That's why it is incorrect to put a full stop before "and" or "but". A comma marks a division between parts of a sentence. The use of a comma before a conjunction is nonsense. Pedantic rant over.

Bellanonna Sun 30-Oct-16 11:21:01

William Blake got away with it, viz: "And did those feet....etc", starting a whole poem thus !

mischief Sun 30-Oct-16 11:40:18

My pet hates are:
1. Pronouncing 'th' as 'f'. i.e. somefing, firteen.
2. Pronouncing Envelope as Omvelope.
3. Saying 'upping' instead of 'increasing'.

I know language is always changing, all through history we have been influenced by other languages. In fact a lot of words we would say are English now are in fact words from other languages. But these really annoy me. Grrr.wink

Bellanonna Sun 30-Oct-16 11:58:04

1. is more likely to be somefink in London, Mischief.
2. I think omvelope would probably be emvelope. I pedantically don't like the way the piece of stationery has become envelope as opposed to onvelope, but I know language changes. Train station is now quite common and I accept that it's logical but I'll stick with railway station as it's what comes naturally.
Regarding f for th, it's quite usual in the London (cockney) dialect. Possibly elsewhere too. I don't mind because it's someone's way of speaking. People often criticise the London "was you"? But are more accepting of "when I were a lad". Both incorrect, but neither bothers me.

NonnaAnnie Sun 30-Oct-16 12:21:19

What saddens me is that there is no need for bad spelling. Every device has spell check so no excuse.

What really annoys me is the way American English is adopted, why? Is it just common use?

Bellanonna Sun 30-Oct-16 12:27:32

Media influence? Wonder if it works both ways?

Mauriherb Sun 30-Oct-16 13:03:09

My pet hate is the addition of a k at the end of words like somethink nothink anythink .

amber22 Sun 30-Oct-16 13:24:21

Those of you who use Facebook might like the group Extreme Pedantry where you'll find rants like all the above and many more.

Bellanonna Sun 30-Oct-16 13:29:16

No thanks, life's too short

GailMarie1958 Sun 30-Oct-16 13:50:49

I am sure if Shakespeare heard the language in Victorian times he would have wondered what had happened to the English language, as l am sure Dickens would have found the 50/60s language sounding alien.
My point being that language is constantly evolving and changing, how we communicate is changing, and like Dickens most of the time l wonder what is happening to our language but then the way the younger ones talk is there way of communicating.
Plus as the world gets smaller in time I envisage a universal language made up of language from many different societies

NonnaAnnie Sun 30-Oct-16 14:25:03

Bellanonna, I have a English friend living in Seattle I will ask her.

NonnaAnnie Sun 30-Oct-16 15:26:03

Apparently not Belladonna, It doesn't work both ways. In America you don't find English used unless someone has lived in the U.K. or is an Anglophile. I'm not sure if that surprises me or not?

Blinko Sun 30-Oct-16 16:32:44

I would just like everyone to know when to use there, their and they're correctly. How difficult can it be?

gillyknits Sun 30-Oct-16 16:51:24

What about ' He was Sat' ? I've seen this in a lot of newspaper articles and on T V. news! Eek!!

gillyknits Sun 30-Oct-16 16:54:18

That should have been a lower case 's' in sat. (Auto correct thinks it's a day of the week.)

Jaki64 Sun 30-Oct-16 17:12:43

How about defiantly, instead of definitely. I see this everywhere. I'm assuming it's pronounced correctly, just wrongly spelled.

Aslemma Sun 30-Oct-16 19:40:48

I too hate the use of 'of' rather than 'have' as it simply proof that the writer/speaker has no understanding of the words. I was also taught not to use 'could' for 'would', as the first relates to ability and the other to willingness, You are obviously quite able to make a cup of tea but you may not be willing to do so.

123kitty Sun 30-Oct-16 20:41:58

Why have people started saying myself when they mean I or me?

Penstemmon Sun 30-Oct-16 20:49:34

123kitty 'myself' is my current irritation too. The headteacher, where I am chair of governors, keeps putting it in letters to parents. I find it so annoying.
e.g. Please speak to myself or Miss Brown!! Aggghhhh!

My irritating habit is being too liberal with !!!!! grin

Rinouchka Sun 30-Oct-16 20:52:49

I cannot bear the use of "good" as an adverb in answer to " How are you?" This crossed the pond from the USA. I hated it there; I hate it here.

Equally annoying is the current use of " amount of" instead of " number of". I hear it all the time, including on the BBC, which is truly shocking!

Penstemmon Sun 30-Oct-16 20:54:19

I use good, " I'm good, thank you" it irritates me to but habits are hard to break!