As far as I’m concerned, the concept of grammar and language will soon go the way of the dinosaurs. However, that may not be a bad thing.
To drop a name. As Winston Churchill once said: “Bad grammar is something up with which I will not put”.
And neither should he have. Nor should we. In these post-Churchillian days of cryptic social media and people’s thumbs glued to their texting phones, not only grammar but language itself, as we know it, is under the threat of extinction. WTF. LOL. Letter-writing is almost extinct. Australia Post just announced a 70% drop in profit.
I know this column will see me labelled as a pedant, but that’s OK because I am a pedant.
I risk your scorn and approbrium (good word) because there was a recent Twitter debate, with an entertaining thread, about words and spelling and pronunciations that annoy you.
It started when a Tweeter (a twitterer?) named Ben sent out a plea: Would you stop writing “with bated breath” as “baited”. He was right. It has nothing to do with fish. It’s bated.
That was followed by the very common “medium strip” for “median strip”. I wonder if those people order their steaks “median rare”?
My contribution was what I call “the lying down disease”. Because many people call the condition “prostrate cancer”.
I have to confess that I have been as guilty as the next word scrambler.
Then, former politician Craig Emerson got involved with his pet hate. When “lead”, past tense, correctly becomes “led”. People actually argued that it was still “lead”. And don’t start me on “one foul swoop”.
And then there is mispronunciation. Or mispronounciation as some people insist on calling it.
Example: The people who butcher “nuclear”. Even some US presidents, the men with the finger on the Armageddon button, say “nucular”.
My current pet hate, because I fly a lot, is the mangling by the PA voice giving safety instructions on planes.
They talk about if you are seated near an emergency “egg-sit”. No, you’re not. The word is “eXit”. But that may be a Melbourne thing. Even radio announcers in Melbourne refer to “lugshury” not “luxury”. Go figure. And I won’t get into “dance” and “darnce” and “Newcastle” and “Newcarstle” or “maroan” or “Maroon”. All that keeps us (we?) pedants on our toes.
I have to confess that I have been as guilty as the next word scrambler. When I first arrived in Melbourne, I mangled many local idioms.
I mean, as a newcomer, would you pronounce the Victorian country town of Moe as “Mo-ee”. On 3AW, I didn’t. Although I soon learned the acronym that MOE meant Moccasins On Everybody. Then I ignorantly pronounced the outer suburb of Reservoir as you would describe a huge water catchment. It’s not. It’s “ reserve-or”.
My worst blunder though was also on radio. Every Friday, I would announce a Top Ten. Top movies, albums, books. I saw on the list that the top-rating album for the week was by an Australian group and I duly announced that Number One was an album was by “Inkses”. I’d never seen INXS written down before!
Also on The Big Smoke
- Hinch: On Section 44, the Holocaust, and Josh Frydenberg
- Hinch: Our government passed a social media gag bill without debate
- Time to revisit the Killing Fields
- In defence of grammar nazism: What’s correct is correct
I said, at the start of this language thesis, that language, as we know it, is under the threat of extinction. That was a tad (old-fashioned word) reckless. It will evolve. As it has for centuries. I often succumb to WTF – what the fuck – although for yonks I thought that LOL meant “lots of love” and not “laugh out loud”.
But then, in my ancient defence, I remember as a kid writing love letters to girlfriends and printing on the back of the lovingly sealed envelope “SWALK”. It meant (does anybody else remember?) “sealed with a loving kiss”.
I was bamboozled by the new language recently when involved in a debate on SKY News about transgender athletes, after Cricket Australia announced that transgender women should be allowed to play women’s cricket even if they haven’t had their male genitals removed.
I was politely informed that penile and testicular removal surgery was now known as “affirmation” surgery. Sounds far less confronting.
I also learned that “cisgender” has nothing to do with the sisterhood. It means a person who identifies with their birth sex.
But the term that really got me was “spectral fluidity”. WTF. It sounds like a bedsheet stain.
It means, and I’ll confess I had to Google it, “how fluid sexuality fits into the LGBTQIA+ spectrum…to acknowledge the sexual identities that are less easily defined than others”.
As Jon English would say, or sing, sometimes “words are not enough”.