Wednesday, September 22, 2010

English Dies

From The Washington Post

Goodbye, cruel words: English. It's dead to me.

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, September 19, 2010

The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

The language's demise took few by surprise. Signs of its failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, sometimes eliminating it entirely.

In the past year alone, as the language lay imperiled, the ironically clueless misspelling "pronounciation" has been seen in the Boston Globe, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Deseret Morning News, Washington Jewish Week and the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, where it appeared in a correction that apologized for a previous mispronunciation.

On Aug. 6, the very first word of an article in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal was "Alot," which the newspaper employed to estimate the number of Winston-Salemites who would be vacationing that month.

The Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal has written of "spading and neutering." The Miami Herald reported on someone who "eeks out a living" -- alas, not by running an amusement-park haunted house. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star described professional football as a "doggy dog world." The Vallejo (Calif.) Times-Herald and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune were the two most recent papers, out of dozens, to report on the treatment of "prostrate cancer."

Observers say, however, that no development contributed more dramatically to the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the vomitous verbal construction "reach out to" as a synonym for "call on the phone," or "attempt to contact." A jargony phrase bloated with bogus compassion -- once the province only of 12-step programs and sensitivity training seminars -- "reach out to" is now commonplace in newspapers. In the last half-year, the New York Times alone has used it more than 20 times in a number of contextually indefensible ways, including to report that the Blagojevich jury had asked the judge a question.

It was not immediately clear to what degree the English language will be mourned, or if it will be mourned at all. In the United States, English has become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government, and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles.

Many people interviewed for this obituary appeared unmoved by the news, including Anthony Incognito of Crystal City, a typical man in the street.

"Between you and I," he said, "I could care less."


  1. Ah, yes. "typical", to be sure.
    But there are still some of us who rail at the misplaced "it's" and "your", not to mention the misspelled "recieves" and "beleives". I'm sure there is still a slight breath of life in the old language. I just don't know where.

  2. I've noticed a lot of similar mistakes in the Vancouver, B.C. papers as well as online. I wish Mr. Weingarten would have made it clear what the mistakes were for those of us still trying to learn.
    Youngest/younger is no big deal in the overall scheme of things.

    Some i know and some gave me a good chuckle like "doggy dog world" but others are not as clear and to tell you the truth i don't get the "i could care less/ couldn't care less" either way so i just never say it.

    Now i'm wondering is that pronounced ee-ther or is it like eye-ther....i have only my grade 8 so try to learn as i go.I look in the dictionary quite often actually but for pronounciations it's a lost cause because i've never learned how to interperet the weird symbols in there. I probably knew once but now i'm old and it's hard; my husband resents me telling him to stop saying "ain't" and we had another big blow up over it just today. Well, he listens to country music; what can i say?

    I corrected my son for writing recieve when he was in his late 30's saying "i before e except after c" and he had never heard that before.

    Like Leem i also see a lot of wrong your and you're but the most common mistake i see is when people write then instead of than.

    I wonder if they've just heard it wrong or perhaps it's easier to type.

  3. Think about i before e - it is not the hard and fast rule we sometimes think it is.

    Consider - beige, cleidoic, codeine, conscience, deify, deity, deign,
    dreidel, eider, eight, either, feign, feint, feisty,
    foreign, forfeit, freight, gleization, gneiss, greige,
    greisen, heifer, heigh-ho, height, heinous, heir, heist,
    leitmotiv, neigh, neighbor, neither, peignoir, prescient,
    rein, science, seiche, seidel, seine, seismic, seize, sheik,
    society, sovereign, surfeit, teiid, veil, vein, weight,
    weir, weird