Monday, 7 June 2010

The Academy of English


Sometimes I don't know why I continue with this whole breathing lark.

The Queen's English Society has formed an English Academy, along the lines of the Académie Française. There's nothing too wrong with that: I like hopeless eccentrics. But I would have hoped for just a tiny little something from the academy's first press release: not that it should be written as a perfect villanelle, nor even that it should be beautiful, but at least that it wouldn't be "moving with the times" or bemoaning "the tragic failure of the British education system" or rejecting "passing fads". How, in the name of all that's tautologous, could a fad not be passing?

Read this turd of a paragraph:

Other languages, French and Spanish for example, have supreme authorities that try, while moving with the times, to define what is good and acceptable usage and what is not. They do not stop the language from changing over the years, but they do provide a measure of linguistic discipline and try to retain valid and useful new terms, while rejecting passing fads.

For starters, let's see whether anything could be cut without affecting the meaning.

Other languages, French and Spanish for example, have supreme authorities that try, while moving with the times, to define what is good and acceptable usage and what is not. They do not stop the language from changing over the years, but they do provide a measure of linguistic discipline and try to retain valid and useful new terms, while rejecting passing fads.

Not of course that there's anything wrong with florid prose. Readers of this blog will know that I will never use one word where fifteen beautiful ones will suffice. But my circumlocutions, my verbosity, my periphrasis and sequipedalianism are all in the cause of entertainment, whereas that paragraph pisses in the face of poetry.

Moreover, they managed in two sentences to print two of the words I hate most: valid and acceptable. What exactly does valid mean in this context? Is the word a book token? Is it true? How can a word be true in and of itself? And acceptable. I have never accepted a word and therefore cannot see how I could not accept one. Food in a restaurant can be unacceptable because it can be sent back; but a word cannot be, unless you're very quick with the ear plugs.

Acceptable is one of those horrid, slithering words like cowardly that allow you to criticise something without saying what's wrong with it. His views are unacceptable. His actions were unacceptable. A usage may be stupid, ugly, or unnecessary; and so may an academy.

I'm not normally so cruel to the verbally incapable. But when you presume to regulate my language it's... unacceptable. And I feel that my ire is valid.


The muse contemplating the English Academy

13 comments:

  1. Pithy and pertinent! LOL :)

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  2. Burst out laughing at the first line. Couldn't agree more with the rest. Beautiful.

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  3. Someone after my own heart. I love editing stuff down.

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  4. Often when people talk about valid and acceptable English, they're talking about English they like.

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  5. in his defence, at least the author uses "while" and not "whilst". I can't stand "amongst" and "whilst" in press releases - they feel so affected and antiquated somehow.

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  6. The bastard nature of the English language is, I suggest, the very thing that makes it so ubiquitous and interesting. The varieties of English across the world make for a vibrant, flexible, and entertaining communication system. Introducing some form of "purity" standards would miss the point and ultimately restrict the linguistic gene pool. Even the "while/whilst" and "among/amongst" differences are juicy starting points for many hours of debate. Vive les differences!

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  7. The abuses that Inky points out are like an unwelcome soil in the linguistic jacuzzi of the English tongue. He is the pool boy grammarian, making our frolics more pleasant and relaxing.

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  8. I can agree with the sentiments of the author of the original article concerning the (apparent?) degeneration of the language skills of today's younger generation.
    English is not my first language. In fact's it's not even my second language. So it's truly sad when my spelling is better than that of many British and/or American youngsters.

    But this is where the author is outside his scope. Proper spelling isn't going to be fixed by having some pedants sit around bemoaning all those trendy and newfangled words they dislike so much. No amount of "English Academy" is going to teach kids the proper use of there/they're/their or its/it's or making mistakes like "I would of got ..."

    And to blame all of this on the teachers is too easy. A history exam should test a student's knowledge of the past. For testing a student's knowledge of language there's an English exam. You might still fail them for misspelling "Pharaoh", but that's where your subject ends.
    So either kids with bad language abilities are undeservedly passing their English tests, or they know damn well how it's done but refuse to put in the effort when it doesn't matter (or they simply don't mind looking like idiots).

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  9. A delicious twist in the tale: "A usage may be stupid, ugly, or unnecessary; and so may an academy."

    Kudos!

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  10. I think, their creative approaches to commas-and hyphens,and even spaces are great comedy.

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  11. The Antipodean8 June 2010 15:46

    That website is horrible. And they use the word 'youngsters', apparently seriously. It is comforting to know that they are hopeless eccentrics - if we were thinking long-term we could start a book on how long they'll last.

    Where do we Antipodeans come in, anyway? And the Canadians? Technically I suppose we still speak the Queen's English, but do we get any consideration? No.

    Err, not that we want any from the QES, just to be clear.

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  12. rinky stingpiece9 June 2010 03:30

    "How, in the name of all that's tautologous, could a fad not be passing?"
    ...and it's a fucking cliche to boot (a la Orwell).

    They've got no idea what "valid" means. P'raps they meant "vapid", and it was a typo?

    I imagine, dear "Dogberry", that you must have slung off an e-mail to the Silicont who runs that quarrelsome quasi queen's quotidian quothing questionable quality quandary site (try saying that with a gobful o' liquorice).

    He flung dung at me, thinking I was you, even though I've never encountered this blog or you before. He's cooking frank if you ask me.

    So I'm curious... what did you say to 'im?
    I'm normally quite abusive (in a constructive way), but as it's a first post, I'll refrain (oh fuck, I forgot!).

    The feller who runs that site is the epitome of a prig though... he didn't even get the grammar right on the front page (as "Durf" mentioned)... total self-indulgent prose, but of the limited predictable kind (like "circumlocution" etc..., sorry, but you're not trying hard enough); basically they don't know enough about the language, and can't articulate why something is wrong (in public, and in a pleasant way); whereas I can, but enjoy belching, farting, and creative swearing whilst doing it.

    I reckon he's about 24, going on 60; a school I once went to had a few odd boys like that - liked dressing up in Edwardian riding tweed and shit and getting spanked with a wet celery by the groundsman's cabin boy (or whatever).


    "Anonymous said...
    The abuses that Inky points out are like an unwelcome soil in the linguistic jacuzzi of the English tongue"

    I double took when I read that: or a couple of seconds I got some of the letters of jacuzzi muddled up!

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  13. Mrs M,
    I use whilst all the time. We may have to fight a duel.
    I should make clear that I have neither beef nor grouse with the people who run the English Academy. I am sure they are all lovely. I was criticising the works and not the workers.

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