Thursday, 25 January 2007

Z never wants to turn into a Grumpy Old Woman

Darling Wendz, today, expressed her views on the annoying use of over-elaborate language that is used, not only in blogs - which were where her arrows were directed - but in daily conversation and, particularly, in writing. I wrote a draft of a post, that wasn't finished or posted, a week or two ago, which actually [although I entirely agree with Wendz in virtually everything she says, except for some of her linguistic bĂȘtes noires (what on earth is wrong with 'pad' for walking softly over a carpeted floor in bare feet or slippers?)], came to almost exactly the opposite conclusion.

I am becoming more tolerant. I feel happier for it. I do not mind how people express themselves, especially in blogs, which they set up for their own self-expression and I need only read if I wish to.

I first ruminated on this (you know, after what Wendz said, I'm a little wary of using any long word when a short one would do, but self-confidence reigns on this blog) when I had watched an episode of the television programme 'Grumpy Old Women', an equal opportunities spin-off from 'Grumpy Old Men.' I could relate to everything they said but, and no doubt the outrage was emphasised for its entertainment value, I rejected almost all of it. I do not want to rejoice in grumpiness and intolerence.

The future doesn't belong to me. My values are old fashioned, but who am I to say they are better? Language is there to communicate (although, as Wendz suggests, jargon and cliché and polysyllables can get in the way of communication) - and I no longer care if someone confuses different spellings of the same word. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, I would be stuffy and pedantic to mind. If the meaning is clear, that is what matters. I will draw a line of differentiation here between formal and informal writing. I hate it when I receive an official letter with misspellings and bad grammar. Especially when it comes from the Education Department, as is not unknown. If I'm paying your wages, either through taxes or by buying your products, I expect you to write correctly.

Some years ago, I was on a train, coming home from London, when a woman of about 60 got on. She proceeded to peel and eat an orange. A few minutes later, a man lit up a cigarette - it was a non-smoking carriage. She protested. He pointed out that he hated the smell of orange, but he hadn't said anything to her. Now, of course, the point was that it was, indeed, a non-smoking carriage, so he was breaking the rules and she wasn't, but his point, that they were equal in terms of nuisance value, had a specious persuasiveness. There was a silence, while everyone watched with interest. She got to her feet and stormed out of the carriage. She was a Grumpy Old Woman*, he was an Awkward Young Man. They were both Inconsiderate. Neither was better than the other. None of us was better either, because she was 'right' and we should have spoken up but we did see his point as we hadn't liked her zest any more than his smoke.

I don't mind incoherent and awkward young people. I think David Cameron was a twit even to associate himself with the phrase 'hug a hoodie' but I see what he meant. Young people are awkward and frustrated, and who can blame them. They are nagged and pressurised at school, expected to rein in their natural energies, told their exams are worthless and far too easy to pass, allowed too little freedom until their teens, when suddenly they are given too much, and then watched with suspicion by everyone who assumes that they are up to no good. There are huge problems, largely with drugs. There are disaffected and aggressive thugs. But they are not going to improve by being disapproved of by old bats like me.

What I know, I think everyone should know. Dates. Geography. Literature. History. What used to be general knowledge, but has been squeezed out by the National Curriculum. But I break the very rules I was taught - by, for example, starting a sentence with 'but' or 'and'. Using the words 'a lot of' or 'got' - a pang goes through me, it's true, but my feeling is now that if it works, do it. Not in an official letter, but in a colloquial blog, it is not unacceptable. Furthermore, my general knowledge, recognised by my parents and grandparents, has gone. I do not necessarily care about the things my children's generation do and I don't think it matters. But if I shrug 'same difference, so what?', why shouldn't they? Why should niceties of behaviour or language matter to them? Or the date of Agincourt? Some ignorance is shocking, but I am no better. Before I complain about the speck of dust in their eye, I should fish the bloomin' great plank of wood out of mine, as the bible neatly puts it.

I don't want to try to ape them. That would be embarrassing. But I'll be a great deal happier if I can find a note of concord and live peaceably, rather than complain about the good old days.


*I do not mean to suggest that 60 is old, but that GOW'hood is a frame of mind that can strike at any time.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Today I got really peeved while shopping. I went to three different areas of the store for specific purchase and at each location there was a huge dolly about 3 ft. square and loaded 6 ft. high with goods blocking access to the foods. GRRRRR It was only 1pm PST. Didn't get access to the soda pop or the frozen vegetables but did push the trolley/dolly aside and elbow my way to the shallots. Complained to clerk-no apology whatsoever. He just said "Oh, we pretty much stock 24/7".
Maybe it is because I am getting older but it really seems like people are not as respectful or considerate as they used to be.

Wendz said...

Ha ha ha..you used proceeded to!

Well written Z - a good rebuttal.

I think my annoyance stems from the general decline of language and I know it is unstoppable.

Not that I think language is a static thing..it should move and grow and develop..but there are basic rules that should be adhered to before we lose the way completely.

Oh I'll just shut up and get off my soap box.

Z said...

Anon, you are so right. I'm not saying one shouldn't point out bad service or quality, or not to expect high standards. But if I complain, I should do it with courtesy and respect for the person I'm speaking to - who often isn't the one who caused the problem.

Wendz, you might find me using a few more of your pet hates, just to tease. Of course, at heart I agree with every word you say, but I also realise that quite a lot of it doesn't really matter.

I do think that correct grammar and fluent use of language should be taught to our children, because so many of them are tongue-tied and can't express themselves. Rules can be broken to considerable effect if you first know what they are.

But, when it comes down to it, communication is the point of language and at least English is a tongue in which development and change are encouraged it makes for a more vibrant language.

Dandelion said...

Hi Z - can I say a few things?

Firstly, exposure to the smell of an orange doesn't seem to have a carcinogenic effect as far as I know. It is reasonable to expect someone who is smoking to know that it's likely to be offensive or irritating to others in a confined space. The same doesn't go for orange-eaters.

Second of all, what you say about young people might well be true, but I want to say "um...what about young people in the 1920's and 30's and 40's (and so on)". Are you saying that young people have always behaved this anti-socially, or that today's young people have a worse deal than in previous times? I live in a city, so maybe I see the worst of it. It's detrimental to all of society, and bodes ill for the future if you ask me. It may not belong to you, but you're not dead (or off the hook) yet.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. That's what I say.

Z said...

Dandelion, I did say 'specious' persuasiveness. My point was simply that she was inconsiderate too. If I'd protested to the young man he would not have been able to use the same argument to me. It took place quite some years ago, at a time when anti-smoking feeling was by no means so vociferous.

I think the post may have a Part 2. Not now, however, I'm off to work. Laters, as my youngers and betters say.

Dandelion said...

Yes it's true of course, you did say that :-)

Looking forward to Part 2.

jen said...

Z,
it's a secret that not everyone learns....but sounds like you are exactly where you want and should be.

gracefully, in words, and mind.

The Boy said...

I believe it a universal truth that the current generation believed the previous generation had it better, and the next generation is worse. This is natural. We aspire and admire our parents, and we despair over our children (a gross unfair generalisation, but like any generalisation containing truth).

The reality is, of course, the culture and behavior continually evolves, and generally over the past centuries has improved. Despite the current angst at the "hoddies", statistically we are as a society so monumentally safe compared to our forebears, they would think we live in heaven. On all measures, murder, assault, even robbery, the trend in the civilised world, when averaged over decades, continues to slide.

What constitutes manors and mores, changes. Most hoddies, in their behavior, I'm sure see themselves as upright human beings. Few sane people believe themselves evil.

So says I, and Z, I'm firmly in your camp. Acceptance and grace makes for a happier life. Doesn't mean to stop striving and teaching and pushing for improvement, but makes for a happier life.

I'll stand down from the pulpit now. I blame my behavior on having a vicar for a dad...

Z said...

Amen, Boy.

Part two in a day or two.

How do we know said...

Z, now is a good time to tell you this.. one BIG thing I love about your blog is the language.

No one form of language is any better or worse than the other.. it either rings for you or it doesn't - and your style, well, just rings for me.

I am not a puritan in terms of language - but do believe that if a language is not evolving, it is dying. Time is a stream, if you are not rowing forwards, you are definitely going backwards - a little like that.

Perhaps, what the young people are doing rings for them... that's all there is to it.. and perhaps, with them, the grammar books and the dictionaries and other custodians of language are changing too..who can tell whether change is for better or for worse? Who can tell whether evolution was, indeed, a good thing?

There, again, I blabber.. :-)

Z said...

HDWK, I love your use of language too, and your love of language.

Evolution may not always be good, but it is necessary. We need to find goodness in it and can do that better by embracing than by denying it.

PI said...

Obviously if a blog or the form in which it is written irritates you - don't read it.
As a courtesy to my readers I edit and edit again. My typing skills are meagre and my eyesight is worsening. One does the best one can and people have to either accept that or go elsewhere.

Z said...

Welcome back, Pat!!

It's a funny thing that I never can see infelicitous expressions until after I've posted a piece so I always read it after I've put it up, so that I can correct the obvious mistakes. If I wanted to do my very best, I'd have to write a draft, print it out and read it on paper, because that's the way my brain works! I don't think I'd post often, in that case. I choose to believe that spontaneity has its own charm, instead.