Proper English or Arbitrary Pretentiousness?

Full disclaimer, I have a masters degree in English. That, in itself, won’t get me a chicken dinner or even a pat on the back. What it does get me is anxiety over the state of the English language in the USA. All one has to do is to scroll the internet to find mistakes galore in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and subject/verb agreement.

Yes, that is a thing. Being in the book-publishing industry (as author) I’m glad to say that those people know the rules forward and backward. They know where the apostrophe goes or doesn’t go and whether or not I should use an em dash or a semi-colon.

No, that isn’t a shorter digestive system. But I digress.

Lightening is what pioneer families did to their loads when they threw Grandma’s hutch off the wagon. Spellcheck can’t read context and lets the spelling pass for an electric streak in the sky. It is wrong, but many of my college-educated friends don’t know.

While helping my buddy, Tony, by proofreading a book he is writing to commemorate fifty years of a singles’ club existence, we’ve learned in our phone calls that some rules are so arbitrary, only English teachers, editors, and people over 70 from the middle states know what they are. Tony is a smart guy, and when I explain some rules to him, he gets it immediately. Other rules are so odd, like whether the apostrophe goes before or after the s, depending if the possessor of the item is singular or plural.  Arbitrary, right? I’m glad I know the rule but hate the fact that no one else does or even cares.

English teachers everywhere, put down your red pens! The language is evolving and soon it won’t matter if you use who or whom, lie or lay, imply or infer, bring, brang brung. Well, maybe those last three will never be okay.

Be glad you are a native English speaker and that you have absorbed all of the exceptions to every rule, and there are many.

And the varied ways to pronounce vowels.

And th, and g, and silent h, silent e,  u after q and all of that.

English comes from so many languages because let’s face it, those islands in the North Atlantic were pretty desirable. Everybody stopped by to conquer for a period of time and infused their mother tongue into the old English, Middle English or modern English of the land. The Germans stopped by, the Vikings, the French, the Anglos, the Saxons.

The fact that English is spoken worldwide is also a bit of a mystery until you think about how powerful the British Empire was back in the day. So many countries have English as their main language –64. Just Google it if you don’t believe me.

What is my point?  There are many rules that no one seems to know anymore. English is changing, as are all spoken languages.  As a child, I said often with a silent t. Young people pronounce the t. Their children will, too. The silent t is going away. This is one small example of how language is a living thing that develops and changes as people use it.

I’m still going to proofread the book for the club. Sadly, only a handful of people will notice. The rest of the club wouldn’t care that the apostrophe was before the s when it should have been after it. Or that the three things in a series are not uniform, or that the subject verb agreement is wrong, or that the subjunctive tense is fading away.

If I were you, I’d be a tad bit worried.

See what I did there?

No? My point, exactly.

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