This sort of thing takes many forms. Just the other day I noticed a local news anchor repeatedly refer to the commencement ceremonies at a local “kinnergarden.” I confess that I think the idea of having five or six year old children dress up in caps and gowns to go through a full commencement ceremony (including the playing of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”) to celebrate their “graduation” is a bit silly, but it’s less annoying than the fact that that the word is “kindergarten,” not “kinnergarden.” Okay, it is a Germanic word, look it up if you don’t believe me, which probably accounts for the “Germanic” spelling. My real problem, however, is with the fact that the word is simply not being pronounced properly. This isn’t, of course, the only example of this sort of thing I have noticed, it’s just the most recent one which has come to my attention. There have been many others, but I had, generally, ignored them. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that was wise.
Another language-based annoyance is the rather common “I-me” substitution, another language problem I seem to encounter with increasing frequency, again especially on television. This, of course, is the misuse of “I” where “me” is correct and vice versa. I noticed this the other day on the news when a 911 phone call recording was being played on the news and a woman reported that men had invaded her house and attacked “my husband and I.” Okay, I understand that this woman was under a good deal of stress, but she, apparently, wasn’t aware of the fact that what she meant was “me” and that “I” was incorrect. And, this isn’t the first time I have noticed this sort of thing, even recently. This substitution is a fairly common occurrence, based on a lack of knowledge that one should always use “me” in combination with a reference to another person when one would (should) use me in the singular, as in “he attacked ME.” The use of “I” is appropriate only in those cases where “I” would be appropriate NOT in combination with a reference to someone else. Hence, “my husband and I” would be correct in the case of “My husband and I have been attacked by two men who invaded our house,” but NOT “Two men have attacked ‘my husband and I’.”
I will admit that I may be a good deal “pickier” than many people about this sort of misuse of our language, but I do think that it is indicative of a lack of care (and precision) in our thinking, and while we ARE in the US, I think Henry Higgins’ concern over “Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?” is appropriate. I am concerned that we (US citizens) may be moving into the state (which Higgins deplored) that he saw the French as being in, when he suggests that they “don’t care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.” I think what concerns me is that at times it would seem that we don’t even care enough to pronounce it properly, which I find appalling.
Now, it’s probably not most people’s fault, at least completely. We have all become so enamored of “tweets,” twits, etc., which have severe limitations as to length, style, etc., that we have grown rather accustomed to the use of poor language skills. I can probably even excuse a certain amount of this under these circumstances. After all, the whole “tweet” phenomenon isn’t intended as serious writing (which may explain its vast amount of quite trivial content). But there are some circumstances when it would seem to be rather important that what we say is (as exactly as possible) what we intended to mean. That may explain my rather “picky” insistence on careful wording when I was working with students on their BFA theses. I’m sure that many of these students found me rather frustrating in my habit of insisting that they rewrite sections for increased clarity and precision, occasionally even going so far as to suggest revisions, myself, which I probably shouldn’t have done. On the other hand, I felt it was my job to act as an editor of sorts and make sure that the thesis paper represented the student’s ideas clearly, completely and precisely, which should be true of ANY serious written work.
I think that’s my point. If one is going to desire others to take their words seriously, be they in scholarly written work, political speech or news reportage, it seems to me that it’s of some import that care is used to be precise, clear and to write in a style which encourages the reader’s (or listener’s) confidence that the person doing the writing/speaking actually knows something about what they are talking/writing about. This leads me to wonder why news editors, producers, etc., don’t see a lack of correct language usage/pronunciation as a weakness in their talents’ skill base, which reflects poorly on the credibility of their news organization. Almost nothing is published in print which isn’t carefully reviewed by an editor (sometimes more than one). Does the rush to be FIRST with a news story overshadow the need to be accurate? I don’t think so and hope not.
Our political leaders may think it’s some sort of “folksy,” “See, I’m really just like one of you” sort of thing to use the incorrect, but common, vernacular rather than worry about what is, in fact, the correct usage. I, on the other hand, am somewhat offended by the notion that I am that poorly educated and that this lack of care is going to, somehow, increase their appeal to me. In fact, at least for me, this suggests a lack of concern for clarity and precision on their part. I would like to think our country’s leaders actually have thought about what they say and have based their ideas on some sort of thinking. I have found that this IS the case with a FEW people and I respect THEIR ideas, even when I disagree with them. On the other hand, there are some whose ideas I find it very hard, perhaps impossible, to respect because they are phrased so incompletely (or so poorly) that I have to wonder if they have any thinking behind them at all.
I suppose that we are paying the price for the “we can’t inhibit our children’s creativity by requiring them to pay attention to such things as grammar, spelling and punctuation” idea which was bandied about a number of years ago. It would seem to me that teaching children that words do have specific meanings and spending the time and effort to seek the BEST word, or phrasing, to express EXACTLY what is intended, rather than just something which vaguely “comes sort of close” is of significant importance to be worth the time and effort.
I’m probably wasting my time bothering to write about this, but it does concern me. I wonder if I am alone in caring about this topic? I hope I’m not. I do think it makes a difference.