Nestled deep in the laundry list of my vices is my tendency to judge people at the blink of an eye (and perhaps even at the blink of a high speed camera’s shutter). If you wish to be swiftly judged thus, you can do one of the abbreviated list that follows:
- Wear leopard print clothing or massive sunglasses
- Order an extra large soda
- Be unnecessarily touchy-feely (No, I do NOT need to talk about it!)
- Claim to have insatiable quality requirements for tea/coffee/wine/food
- Flirt shamelessly
- Give gratuitous hugs
- Use adjectives to make things sound sexual when they are obviously not
- Say “Awww...I love x!” when x= birds, babies, kittens, mouse-sized dogs
- Act unnecessarily manly
- Act unnecessarily intelligent
- Wax cynicism (dual standards, I’ve been there and done that)
- Have dual standards (yes, I judge myself as well)
- .....let’s leave this blank for now
You’ll notice that something is conspicuously absent from the list. This is something that tends to be quite the vogue among ladies and (in a broader sense) gentlemen who have had the privilege of a higher education. You guessed it: using imperfect pronunciation or grammar. I have come to the conclusion that this is snobbery of the worst kind and the product of a moribund and vain intellect.
In the interest of full disclosure, I spent years making very cruel jokes about individuals who couldn’t write or speak with as few flaws as me. I was a writing tutor for three years and I discharged my duties with with wit sharper than a guillotine and crueler than Morgana Le Fay. Looking back, I think of myself as a vituperative vulture who slouched in a lonely corner and picked at what I thought at the time to be cadaverous language. My salvation came almost two years ago through a wonderful podcast by the lovely Mr. Stephen Fry. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7E-aoXLZGY
Mr. Fry, in the podcast, asseverates with considerable vehemence that people who truly care about language are less concerned with a “greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe” than they are delighted by the beautiful etymology of words like asseverate (assert + veracity), or tickled by the feel of words like behemothic in their mouths. Essentially, they show their appreciation of the English language in an inappropriate way-- through the denigration of those who don’t have as good a command of the rules and mechanics of the language as they do.
Pragmatically speaking, we use language to communicate. You’d have to have a skull denser than uranium (twice as dense as lead) to not understand that a supermarket sign that say “Five items or less” commands you to pick five items or fewer. Language has grown organically. Obviously, we don’t speak the english of Shakespeare or Chaucer anymore. To them, our version of the language would sound adulterated and heretic. Can you imagine, for instance, Shakespeare’s befuddlement were he to come across a modern verb such as “googling” which has entered our vocabulary so naturally. The usage of language by people evolves and to wave a set of rules from 19th or 20th century under their noses and huff and puff about proper english is pedantry of the most futile kind.
One of the worst examples of this pedantry is seen with respect to split infinitives. Oftentimes, I meet college educated individuals who speak with considerable passion about the necessity of preventing the splitting of any infinitives. I frequently remind them that infinitives are not atoms; splitting them will not unleash a thermonuclear blast that’ll instantly vapourize everyone in a quarter mile radius. Recently, one of my friends --I’ll call her Audrey Hepburn-- outed herself as a self-proclaimed defender of the unsplit infinitive. I tried telling Audrey that split infinitives are about as innocuous as Mahatma Gandhi.
Audrey: I disagree. Split infinitives definitely hamper the clarity of communication. When someone splits an infinitive, I interject with a lecture about proper grammar. Invariably, the person storms off and the conversation is never concluded
Pranay: One could successfully argue that it's your overzealous adherence to old-school grammatical mores that hampers the communication, not the splitting of an infinitive
Audrey: Damn. You're correct about that.
And that, ladies and gentlemen (-ish) is my point: stentorian denunciations of those who don’t have as masterly a control of the language as you is pretentiousness of a pretty pathetic kind. No good can come from it. I won’t say I am completely rid of it. I still notice ‘errors’, but I try not to dwell on them and make conclusions about individuals who make these errors anymore. When you spot mistakes, try and ignore them. Everyone may not have been blessed with your quality of eduction. Focus instead on the delicious dance your tongue conducts when you say words such as diabolical or unmitigated. You’ll be happier and so will the chaps around you.
Ah yes, the 13th item on my list of things that’ll earn you instant judgement from me: Being a self-appointed guardian of grammar