The English as She is Mis-Spoke ~ Dorien Grey: Outside the Margins

Join us as Dorien Grey goes Outside the Margins.


The English language is one of the most fluid and fascinating in the world. It is also, I understand, one of the most difficult to learn. This is hardly surprising considering that so few people for whom English is a first language seem to have any idea how to use it to good effect.

I’m not talking about rock-bound, textbook, inflexible-rules-of-grammar usage. I’m talking about common sense expression and simply being able to say what one wants to say in a way that is clear to the person/people to whom one is speaking.

For those who love words, English is a source of endless fascination. It is, for example, the only written language I know of which contains at least one word which can be easily spoken but cannot be spelled. (The concept of a plural for the sound of the common words “to”, “too”, and “two” cannot be expressed in writing: “In school today, we studied two of the three to’s/too’s/two’s.”) English also contains a confusingly large number of words which are pronounced the same but spelled differently depending on their meaning (read/reed; lead/led; can’t/cant; scene/seen, steel/steal, right/write) or tense (read/read).

I’m not sure how many words are currently recognized as being part of the language—in excess of 250,000 last I checked—but more and more are being added every day. Dictionaries often weigh several pounds and are crammed with wonderful words just waiting to be used. Yet the total vocabulary of probably 85 percent of the population could be written on a Post-it note.

Even speaking English seems to be a challenge for some. Years ago, gaps in one’s speech while trying to think of what word to use next were filled with “uh…”. Today’s most popular gap stuffers seem to be either the maddening “…you know…” or the even more infuriating “Ya’ know what I’m sayin’?” (I am sorely, sorely tempted to reach out, grab the speaker by the throat, and scream: “Yes, you total idiot, I am quite capable of following your poorly expressed thought.”)

But because English usage is always in flux, there is some small degree of comfort in knowing that fad words and phrases tend to fade away in time. I take comfort in realizing that such Valley-Girlspeak fads such as the use of the word “go” for “said”. (“And I go ‘Well!’ and she goes ‘Fer sher,’ and I go….”) seem to be relatively short lived. But they are infuriating while they last.

Using yet another all-too-common butchering of the language, let me ax you a question…Why, with such a rich pool of words from which to draw, do 2/3 of the words used in today’s casual conversations and “popular” music seem to be expletives? I suspect it is either because trying to find another word is just too difficult, or it is a form of verbal swagger (“Look at me! I’m tough!”). To hear so many teenagers and younger children spew this garbage both saddens and enrages me.

An occasional expletive can add a dash of spice; but like most spices, a little goes a long way. Again, for most people, expletives are a substitute for the need to think. And ours, sadly, is a society less and less reliant on independent thought.

So much beauty and wonder is lost in not recognizing the power of words to raise us up; or every human being’s ability, with just a little effort, to combine them in such a way as to not only clearly convey thought, but to paint vivid and indelible pictures in the mind and heart. Writers know this, as do those who still read for pleasure.

Is there any hope? What can we possibly do as individuals to reverse the dumbing down of the English language?

I despair that the current generation(s) may be beyond redemption. But the children! Those of us who care have the power to catch them while their minds are still as flexible as the language. Read to them. If you don’t have children of your own, urge those people you know who do to read to them. Books are the doorway to infinite wonder for children (and for adults), and are the perfect gift for anyone of any age and for any occasion. To give and read books is to give and appreciate words, and words are our past, our present, and our future.

~ Dorien Grey

About Dorien Grey

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Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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