Language Rant


Yesterday, I was involved in a discussion about spelling. This struck me as ironic as it was “National Grammar Day” – which is an irony unto itself in America. My Irish grandmother taught me my letters and taught me to read. In her very Irish way—with her very Irish spellings, I’m sure.

I grew up with a passion for words. My favorite writers are all Irish or English—some of them would have been classified (read claimed by) the English even though they are actually Irish: Swift, Wilde, Joyce… another essay. I read Marlowe, Shakespeare, Austen, Haywood, Shelley, Tolkien, and Pratchett with regularity. Pratchett insists that his work retain the “proper” English spellings, God bless his little heart… Much of the news I read hails from the British Isles and Australia. I read the Irish Times, The BBC News, The Australian Herald… I read what Mr. Pratchett calls “proper” English every day. Periodically, say when I am tired, fevered, and working on a computer issue, I will slip into a foreign English. Like I did yesterday, for all of these exact reasons.

I use the Oxford English Dictionary as my standard guide – because it is the global standard. I try to spell American, I stop short of u for you and r for are (I see this in SAT essays with some regularity). I firmly believe that stupid should not be spelled stoopid. But it is with some regularity. I know when to use me or I in a sentence—and can quote the rule why. I work hard to not correct spelling and grammar online.  And I is work for me.

And like measurement, spelling is an issue for Americans. When I teach children measurement, I teach the Metric System (you know, the system used by the rest of the world Why? Because it’s rational!) and the English System (the system used exclusively by Americans – what’s up with that?). Someone, somewhere along the line decided that, as Americans, we should spell things differently.

Why?

Neighbor, Neighbour, Harbour, Harbor. Advise, advice. Realize, realise—and if it is ze and not se, what about chastise or televise? What’s up with that? For a nation that takes no pride in spelling or grammar, it seems to me, it’s hubris to change the spelling of words from nations that do.

Now I confess, I don’t speak, or write the Queen’s English, as a first generation Irish-American, I’m mostly ok with that. I speak a convoluted language, at best. Irish-American-Northern-Southern is what I speak. It is an amalgamation of dialects. For me, the round-about can be wicked-pissa, y’all. So, if there is a grammatical faux pas (that’ French, I can write in that language as well) in my writing, it is likely the clash of cultures in my brain. And what is wrong to the American, is often right to the rest of the world. This is often the case in more areas than language…

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One thought on “Language Rant

  1. Very good!! Youse got a lot of cul-cha. (Said with a South Boston, MA accent – I know there is a South Boston in VA as well)
    My wife is always yapping at me about correcting spelling and typo’s as I type. I can’t help it. My mother and father made me know the spelling of words. I know how to put together a proper sentence, but my mother took the rules, as to why, with her. If any of the teachers, nuns or other knew I’d be a good speller back at SFX, I’m sure they would have been laughed at by all the others.
    I’m a Believer just came on the radio. No kidding.

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