Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dumbing Down is Dumbing Down

I was a Language Arts teacher. That means I tried to instill in my students the art of language. What? Yes, the Art of Language. Language and the proper use thereof is an art; and not to be taken lightly. Our English language has structure, and rules, and exceptions to those rules, and syntax, and parts of speech, and vocabulary. When all of these come together correctly, we have the ability to express, either succinctly or verbosely, marvelous ideas and stories.

Our language, which is indeed a living, breathing thing, changes over time. Change is not necessarily bad because we can create new thoughts and ideas with new words. For example, 200 hundred years ago the word microwave was not in our everyday usage. Today, we just pop something in the microwave. There are a multitude of words, or combinations of words, that have come to be because of technology and growth and development that have enriched our lives. Who wouldn't want to x-ray their arm to see if it's broken? Who hasn't felt the thrill of watching the space shuttle launch?

Still, some change is not good. No, we no longer speak the English of Shakespeare but wouldn't it be nice if we could just bring back the accent mark? It's the difference between aged and agéd. It's more poetic. And what of vocabulary? You don't feel nauseous, you feel nauseated. You didn't stop the road widening project, you thwarted it. Try using impetus instead of reason. And perhaps you aren't merely good, perhaps you are superb. Words have meaning and nuance and they should be used to bring life into what you are saying or writing. Structure is important too. You must precede a pronoun with an antecedent. And you did NOT go to the movies with Jimmy and I. You went with Jimmy and me.

All languages change and mutate which is why we speak American English and not British English or Australian English or South African English. But it doesn't have to change in the negative. What happens is slang and jargon take over and you'll see parents speaking incorrectly in the home and not correcting their children. Even teachers will speak "relaxed" language rather than setting an example. I don't know how many times my mother corrected us in our speech.

Worst of all is the adoption of text language in well, text. You know, typing "RUOK" rather than "are you okay." In a text, or tweet, this might be appropriate, but in a written (or typed) email or letter or essay, it is not OK. It does not make me LOL. Sadly, these short cuts have diminished our ability to spell, use grammar correctly, or to even convey the correct sentiment because of our dumbing down of vocabulary into abbreviations. Perhaps this is why students struggle so desperately with the SAT analogies section.

This is the great divide in our society. There are few successful businessmen or professionals who fail to use an advanced vocabulary, correct grammar, or put together coherent thoughts. You simply don't make it among that ilk without doing so. And you won't really be given the opportunity to prove yourself if you can't express yourself.

So, so don't dumb down, smarten up. Spell your words, use your vocabulary, learn a new word every day and use it in a sentence at least once. Stop using abbreviations and slang and keep the art in our language.

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