by Mike Crawmer
Tacked to a wall in my work cubicle is this Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. It pretty much sums up the dilemma I face in my job.
Calvin: I like to verb words.
Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when “access” was a thing. Now it’s something you do. It got verbed. Verbing weirds language.
Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.
That strip appeared in the 1990s. If anything, understanding is harder to come by today than it was then.
In my job as an editor in the publications department of (ready for this?) an international human resources training and development consulting firm, every day I battle the forces of evil in an attempt to slow the sad decline of the English language. Some days I win, some days I don’t.
For one thing, my “axis of evil” won’t play by the rules (of good grammar or good common sense). The folks in Marketing seem duty-bound to manipulate and mangle English in their drive to persuade. The consultants—over-credentialed but amazing undereducated—treat words like annoying children they are happy to dump onto the nanny (me and the other editors). Then there are the clients, who live by the motto: “I want it yesterday, quality (that is, good grammar) be damned!”
Yet, the challenge of battling these forces can be invigorating and, yes, sometimes even fun. The keys to surviving and thriving are a sense of humor and taking the long view—I’m the first to admit that English is ever-evolving, but there’s also this: Some day in the not-too-distant future I’ll retire and saving the language will be somebody else’s problem.
In the meantime I nit and pick at such delightfully clumsy constructions as “I’ll flip chart that” (as in “I’ll write that on a flip chart”) or “He was very planful.” (If “wasteful” and “dreadful” are legitimate words, why not “planful”? Yeah, right.)
These I could edit, but I can only do so much. I can’t edit what people say (that’s my 85-year-old mother’s job!). So, I put on my actor’s mask and barely blink when a co-worker blithely spits out “Let’s action that.” “Let’s action that”—I have to repeat it in print, like pinching my arm to make sure I’m not dreaming. I thought about sending the Calvin and Hobbes strip to the person who uttered that statement, but decided against it because (1) she probably wouldn’t get the point and (2) she’s the daughter of the owner of the company.
So, I look forward to the evening hours when I wallow in the utter delight of creating another world peopled by characters from my own imagination. Plugging away on my work-in-progress is the perfect therapy for the post-traumatic syndrome that comes from a day spent on the front lines fighting the good fight for the beauty and integrity of English, our (more or less) common tongue.