Oftentimes, you’ll read tweets in which people moot a particular grammatical faux pas they have had to commit in order to fit their message into 140 characters. Perhaps an apostrophe is removed, or ‘and’ is supplanted with an ampersand, or hyphens are disemboweled from their associated prefixes. It’s almost like we have a nervous tic, as if we have to ensure that everybody around us is perfectly aware that actually, we do understand the subjunctive and its proper usage, thank you very much.
Well I say bollocks to the lot of it.
Having studied both English and a number of its foreign accompaniments for the majority of the life that I can comfortably remember, and having lustfully looked upon the linguistic leadership of those more lexically periphrastic than me, you would think that I would be firmly and squarely in this puritanical movement. I am not. Whenever I hear somebody correcting somebody else on their incorrect use of a split infinitive, or a sentence that ends in a preposition, or indeed the omission of an apostrophe where there should be one (or more likely the addition of an apostrophe where there shouldn’t), I wince and cower and balk, hoping to Christ that the proselytiser isn’t going to draw me into their cult.
It shames me that we even debate language in this way. For some unfathomable reason, linguistic aptitude, whatever that means, has become yet another badge that we can pin on our uniform to distinguish us from them. If you have bad language, they cry, then you must be bad of mind, bad of talent, bad of bloody everything.
Well, it’s simply not true. Some believe that language is a constant, that its construction and its laws are potbound, immovable, ever-lasting, as if somehow languages are impervious to environmental and cultural change. If we can appreciate that everything else in the world is entirely mutable, then why do we have this misanthropic misunderstanding that language must be retained in its current state?
At its base, language is the arbiter of communication. It allows Person A to infer a message to Person B, and for Person B to respond to that inference. And so, this leads me to my biggest stick in the mud: if both parties fully understand the interchange, what difference does it make that the words are in the wrong order, or spelled incorrectly, or lack grammatical coherence? What viable argument can there be to halt that communication, and point out the inaccuracy of how that message was relayed, if in fact understanding was retained?
English is a convoluted and pedantic language. It has peculiarities that to the uninitiated can be entirely inexplicable. The inscrutable way in which parts have been bolted on top of other parts, like a wavering tower of Jenga pieces, makes understanding its complexities as difficult as wading through treacle. And yet, as people attempt to traverse the minefield that is the English language, we find it appropriate to introduce snipers, tanks and torpedoes to the battlefield, just in case anybody might actually be on for making it to the other side.
Of course, language is about so much more than just communication. In whatever form it takes, it can be worked, much like anything else, into a beautiful, artful masterpiece. It allows us to inform others of our personality, of our idiosyncrasies, of our independent and unique perspectives. Debilitating and debasing those that use it in a different way to you, is like saying Beethoven was wrong because he didn’t play like Rachmaninov.
Language changes. It evolves. It moves with the times. And if you’re one of those that hates it when others drop aitches from the beginning of words, or use the imperfect past instead of the perfect, or don’t differentiate between the use of ‘less’ or ‘fewer’, ‘there’ or ‘their’, then seriously, ask yourself this: Why haven’t you changed too?