What’s Weird About English?



Grammar Nazi






You say Grammar Nazi like it’s a bad thing.  Weird Al Yancovic has just released his most recent album.  To promote it, he has also released 8 music videos of the new songs in 8 days, including one sung to the tune of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.  Not a parody of that song, it’s named Word Crimes, and contains lots of examples of what OCD word-nerds like me, rail about.

Weird Al





And so, I almost swooned when I read a recent post about it.  Written by a female English teacher, from south-east England, she had all kinds of strange questions and objections.  With regards to the English language: Why are there rules?  Why is one way correct, and all the other ways wrong?  Why is the pronunciation and usage of the south-east area of England the accepted norm?  That’s Classist!  We all manage to communicate.  English is an evolving language.

Where to start?  Where to start??!  If there are no rules, then in that direction lies anarchy and Babel.  Nowhere, in English, is there the equivalent of L’Office de la Langue Francaise, which insists on what is and is not allowed within the language.  However, like a newspaper style guide, there is an informal association of rather learned scholars, who have decided on the clearest and most accurate constructions and usages.

The speech of south-east England is the norm, because that’s where the Queen lives.  If we’re going to speak the Queen’s English, then we should speak it as she does.  We don’t need to use precisioneer grade language in all situations.  It is often best to speak or write for the level of the audience, but in general, we should aspire to better usage, not be content to roll around in the gutter of the likes of exclusionary Cockney rhyming slang.

We don’t “all communicate.”  We often barely manage to communicate.  Many attempts are laughable, tear-inducing or just eye-rolling.  English is indeed, an evolving language, but I would like the changes driven and guided more by intelligent scholars who have studied it, than by some pot-smoking dude with his name on his shirt – by those who know where it’s been, and where it should go.  We’ve seen some examples from Bob the burger-flipper, and they are not for the better.

She complained that Weird Al’s humorous little rant was too “Prescriptive,” that is, insisting that one way was correct and all others were different levels of wrong.  She felt that we should concentrate on “Descriptive” language, which allows people to be creative.  We had Hippies.  They didn’t work out.

Creative people are really not all that common.  They are the occasional goat among a fieldful of sheep, some of who think they’re creative, when really, they are all baa-ing, just in different accents.  You can be creative within the rules.  Often, the rules show where creativity starts, but a bottle full of urine, with the Pope’s picture in it, isn’t creative “Art,” that’s adolescent scatology.

Would you like some “Descriptive” descriptions of most of these “creative” people??!  Try Lazy, Iconoclastic, Inattentive, Incompetent, Uncaring, Rebellious, Entitled, Incomprehensible, and far too often, (Reverse) Classist.

They look down on education and proper usage, and insist that “they are as good as anybody else.”  Maybe in providing lube jobs, or French nails, but Bubba, there are people who can use words as effectively as you can use a torque-wrench or a nail-buffer.  These are the Bart Simpsons – underachievers, and proud of it.

Jeff Foxworthy admits the Southern U.S. accent is not the most sophisticated in the world, and you may be surprised when you get to Heaven, and St. Peter says, “Y’all git in the truck.  We’s goin’ up the big house.”  Maybe, but I’m betting against it.  If you don’t get out much, and are satisfied with sounding like the rest of the redneck yokels in “yer holler”, or the “known to Police” denizens of your urban slum – that’s okay.  I want to be able to efficiently and accurately communicate with English-speakers all over the country and around the world.

If this is the best that Our Miss Brooks offers to the formative and impressionable minds of her young students, then I truly worry for the future of our language, and our society.  Drop your socks and grab your….dictionaries.  Sound off – comprehensibly.

6 thoughts on “What’s Weird About English?

  1. Jim Wheeler says:

    As an enthusiastic devotee of Strunk and White I always appreciate appeals to more-effective communication. When I was in the early grades the study of English grammar and usage was a rote job and was generally despised as dry stuff. A few of us however found not only logic in it but clues to versatility and creativity. Prose that is dense in concepts and clearly expressed is more interesting. George Will is, I think, an exception to this. He doesn’t wander into pedantry, he wallows in it.

    The most creative tribute I ever heard to clear expression was one set to music and I’ve not seen or heard its equal since:

    Henry Higgins: Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter,
    Condemned by every syllable she utters
    By right she should be taken out and hung,
    For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.
    Eliza Doolittle: Aaoooww!

    Henry (imitating her): Aaoooww!
    Heavens! What a sound!
    This is what the British population,
    Calls an elementary education.

    Pickering: Oh,Counsel, I think you picked a poor example.

    Henry: Did I?
    Hear them down in Soho square,
    Dropping “h’s” everywhere.
    Speaking English anyway they like.
    You sir, did you go to school?

    Man: Wadaya tike me for, a fool?

    Henry: No one taught him ‘take’ instead of ‘tike!
    Hear a Yorkshire man, or worse, hear a Cornishman converse. I’d rather hear a choir singing flat.
    Chickens, cackling in a barn, just like this one (pointing to Eliza)

    Eliza: Gaaarn

    Henry (writing, imitating Eliza): Gaaarn..
    I ask you Sir, what sort of word is that? (to Pickering)
    It’s “aoow” and “gaarn” that keep her in her place
    Not her wretched clothes and dirty face
    Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
    This verbal class distinction, by now,
    Should be antique. If you spoke as she does, sir,
    Instead of the way you do,
    Why, you might be selling flowers, too!

    Pickering: I beg your pardon!

    Henry: An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him,
    The moment he talks he makes some other
    Englishman despise him.
    One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get.
    Oh, why can’t the English learn to
    set a good example to people whose
    English is painful to your ears?
    The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears.
    There even are places where English completely
    In America, they haven’t used it for years!
    Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
    Norwegians learn Norwegian; the Greeks have taught their Greek. In France every Frenchman knows
    his language fro “A” to “Zed”
    The French never care what they do, actually,
    as long as they pronounce it properly.
    Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning.
    And Hebrews learn it backwards,
    which is absolutely frightening.
    But use proper English you’re regarded as a freak.
    Why can’t the English,
    Why can’t the English learn to speak?


  2. aFrankAngle says:

    You tell ’em Archon!


  3. benzeknees says:

    I know they have programs to correct spelling & grammar – but if you never learned the proper usage of the English language in the first place, you’re going to be up the creek without a paddle should the doomsayers predictions come true & we have no power in the future. How are you going to spell or write when you have to do the work yourself?


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