I love the English language. I shouldn’t. It’s a mess. It is arguably the hardest language in the world to learn. Yet, I love it. I enjoy twisting it and bending it to my will. I love using devices that few people get just to see if anyone gets them.
Now, I understand that much of our language is a hodgepodge of words cobbled together from different languages and time periods. Old English, French, Italian, Spanish and countless others. Our language is evolving. It has to. Hell, there is a major difference between Queen’s English and American English. That’s what it always makes me laugh when American people say, “talk American,” or “speak English.” Um…
I like Ambrose Bierce’s definition of “language” in the Devil’s Dictionary…
LANGUAGE, n.The music with which we charm the serpents guarding another’s treasure.
Of course there are dialects and colloquialisms. I get that. There’s nothing wrong with that. The Northeast and deep South have theirs, I am stuck with “hella” and “hecka” out here in California. Don’t get me started about that tripe.
Perhaps this is an indictment of the education system. Maybe I was just different as a kid. When I was young I was made fun of because of my large vocabulary. In high school, I made it a point to learn how to spell and define the longest word in the English language. At the time it was antidisestablishmentarianism. And of course, WordPress says it’s misspelled.
However, I am sick and tired of people kludging words when perfectly good words already exist.
My point is that we have a book filled with wonderful words. It’s called a dictionary. I suggest folks should pick up a copy instead of Googling everything. The fact that Googling is an acceptable verb is disturbing. Many of these words have become overused. “Wow” has be the most overused word. It permeates social media. What’s left when something remarkable truly happens? What will we say then? It won’t be “awesome.” That’s probably the second-most overused word.
What has spawned this little rant about language today? “Cheersing.” I have so many words I’d like to use but I realize the parents of my younger readers wouldn’t appreciate a profanity-laden tirade. We have a perfectly good word for this activity. It’s called a “toast.” We “toast” major events with the raising of a glass, the clinking of a glass or glasses, and a few words. If no words are necessary, such as our round of drinks have arrived and we’re happy to see each other, we say “cheers,” or the more sophisticated of us would say “salut.” It’s a toast for crying out loud. There is no such freaking thing as “cheersing.”
I blame the Urban Dictionary for some of this. Craft some baloney definitions of words on a web site to justify your misuse, or common distortions, kludge colloquialisms and post it online and folks use it as a justification for language butchery.
One I saw on Facebook not that long ago – a friend was in a situation where a fight almost broke out and he wrote, and I’m paraphrasing, “there was almost ‘fist to cuffs.'” WTF? No brouhaha? No donnybrook? I posted a comment and said, “don’t you mean ‘fisticuffs?” And I was promptly directed to the Urban Dictionary. All I could do was shake my head in disbelief.
Full Definition of FISTICUFFS: a fight with the fists
1. Getting in a rumble with somebody and fighting like a johnny hardcore!
What’s the damn difference? There’s more to the urban dictionary definition I won’t post here.
The Urban Dictionary even has a definition for fisticuffs.
Fisticuffs are a favourite pastime for the Victorian Gentleman, as well as a way to sort out minor scuffles and souffles. Unlike modern boxers, the Victorian Gentlemen were not layabouts nor lollygaggers; they required neither padding nor special equipment. Bare knuckle fighting was the order of the day, and some experts believe it was the special of the day. This mano-a-mano competition could continue for anything up to 45 days, both combatants circling each other slowly, weighing up the strengths and weakenesses of their opponent and smoking fine cigars. During fisticuffs, the jacket is always taken off, braces are unhooked from the shoulder and sleeves are rolled up.Victorian Gentleman 1: Right-O Charles, did you see Johnathan over there challenge the Duke of York to throw down in fisticuffs?
Victorian Gentleman 2: Dear Lord, I daresay this could turn out to be a proper flogging! That pompus French bastard needs a good lashing
Victorian Gentleman 1: Right-O Charles! Right-O!
Why make up a word or expression? A perfectly good word already exists.
It’s kind of like the folks who don’t hear things quite right and make up their own colloquialism. Chest of drawers becomes “chester drawers.” My Korean mother used to say I was all “soap and wet” when I’d come in from a rainstorm. Then there are the folks who don’t like to take the Lord’s name in vain and say or write “Got Damn” instead of the true, accurate expression. In sports, die-hard fans refer to themselves as “die-heart” fans. True, you may die a little each time your team loses, or you may think you’re going into cardiac arrest during a close game, but “die-heart” is rubbish. Maybe that’s the way they say it, or hear it. It’s done for emphasis. Who the hell knows?!
What I do know is that social media has made a butcher shop of the English language and it drives me insane. It’s actually a pretty short walk but you get my point. I’ve posted my issues with this language butchery on Facebook and I have been labeled a spelling and grammar Nazi. I have been told “it’s just Facebook,” or “it’s Twitter, spelling and grammar don’t matter.”
We often wonder why we learn certain things when we attend school. Why learn geometry? Duh, so we can shoot pool while drinking beer in smoke filled bars. Beyond that, so many things have no practical use. I posit this. School teaches us to think and solve problems. The other thing? The one thing you’ll use every day for the rest of your life, unless you move to Bangladesh, is the English language. You’ll speak it, you’ll read it and you’ll write it.
If you continue to think that it doesn’t matter…
…have fun filling out that Burger King or McDonald’s job application. You can scratch in “doesn’t matter” where you are supposed to list your education.