by Mike Crawmer
I beg your indulgence as my rant about the use and abuse of the English language continues. (I promise to be less cranky in my next entry.)
Take “I,” that self-centered pronoun so beloved of the “me” generation. They love it so much they use it everywhere, even when “me” is the obvious choice, as in this example taken from an e-mail message I was copied on at work: “Please let Mike and I know when you get a chance.”
To the college-educated author of this note, I say, “Tell I this: Do you ever listen to what you’re saying? Take it from I--probably not.”
Then there's the case of the disappearing “go.” It wasn’t that long ago that people “went” somewhere; nowadays people only “come” or “came.” (The same problem afflicts “take,” which is fast fading from use as everyone “brings” things to and fro.) The chattering heads of the broadcast media go out of their way to muddy the “going” and “coming” of people. One local TV reporter told of an assailant who “came into the house” to shoot his gun at terrified occupants. Was the reporter in the house when this happened? Of course not. Was the intruder invited? I doubt it.
Eventually, I fear, I’ll have to accept the loss of “go,” “going,” and “gone.” The English language is always in flux, continuously adding, dropping and adapting words. But I will never accept a clerk or waitress (or waiter if male, but never a server, a term better suited to a robot) referring to me a “guest.” Where I come from, guests don’t pay, so don’t call me a guest if you expect me to hand over money. “Customer” was good enough for me before, and it still describes me. Hell, I’ll even accept “sucker” before I’ll accept “guest.”
Is there any hope for the salvaging what’s left of the integrity of a fickle language? Or are we (well, me at least) doomed to suffer the slings and arrows of these outrageous stupidities?
Maybe not. It seems that dismal scores in the verbal section of the SAT college entrance exam have prompted some educators to re-evaluate grammar instruction. The Washington Post reported recently that some schools in the metropolitan D.C. area are instituting structured grammar instruction for the first time in decades. And instructors are starting to consider grammar when grading papers (gee, what a concept!).
That is good news. I should be happy. But what does this trend portend for the editing profession? Will the return of grammar education mean a future where everyone knows that “action” isn’t a verb? That a comma never goes between the subject and the verb (an all-too-common outrage at work)? That dangling modifiers are a no-no?
Somehow, I don’t think I need to worry about the future for editors. We didn’t arrive at this muddle overnight. The solution that pulls us out of the muck will be a long time a-coming.