Is the Golden Era of Literacy, Like, Dead?

23 Jul

by Roger White

“There’s something happening here.

What it is ain’t exactly clear…”

I’m fairly certain Stephen Stills didn’t have the devolution of the English language in mind when he penned those lyrics, but they fit my purposes nicely, so I’m kidnapping them. And ol’ Stephen’s use of the word “ain’t” adds a touch of irony to the whole milieu, so now I’m tickled.

What’s happening here, my fellow life travelers, is that as the line on the chart of our technological progress and e-prowess shoots ever upward, the trend on our use and proper command of our mother tongue plummets like a vintage 2008 Dow Jones stock report.

In other words, as far as speaking and writing English are concerned, we’re becoming as dumb as rocks (no offense to my igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic pals).

Call me a stickler if you must; I’ve been called worse. But it truly curdles my cream to see truckloads of unnecessary apostrophes, forests of overused commas, spelling mistakes that would make Rocky Balboa cringe, and subjects and verbs so disagreeable that they shouldn’t even be in the same room—let alone the same sentence. And I’m just referring to the newspapers, TV, and the web here; don’t get me started on average, everyday occurrences.

I’m sure you’ve seen an ad similar to this: “Your guaranteed to get the best deal in town at Honest Eddies Tire’s. Every vehicle needs it’s tire’s roatated on a regular bases. So, come on down to Eddies’ Tire’s. Their sure to treat you, right.”

Pathetic, right? Maybe not.

Perhaps this is all simply the natural selection process of human language. Communication is instantaneous today; we don’t have time to reflect on ethereal matters such as thoughtful prose, correct syntax, spelling, and all that. If this is the way of things, then I guess I need to stop stubbornly clinging to outmoded rules of the past, yes? I should go with the flow and accept this era of “linguistic whateverism,” as a colleague so eloquently termed it. Yet if this is the case, then these new forms and their rules (or lack thereof) should be spelled out—no pun intended. For example, various grammar moods you may recall from eighth-grade composition include subjunctive, indicative, imperative, and the like. I say we should now add a webjunctive mood to today’s rules of English grammar.

So the above ad in webjunctive mood would read something like: “OMG! FYI, GR8 Deelz @ ETires, IMHO. B4N!” Or something like that.

I suppose I do understand, though not necessarily condone, this relaxation of language. I mean, the Oxford English Dictionary recently approved the addition of such web lingo as OMG, LOL, IMHO, BFF, and other shorthand as official words in our ever-changing lexicon. In what was surely another comment on the human condition today, the dictionary also accepted “muffin top” as a “protuberance of flesh above the waistband of a tight pair of trousers.”

However, if we are indeed witnessing not the demise of literacy but the advent of more efficient, dare I say creative, modes of communication, then I now consider myself in mourning for the era of beautiful prose. One of the saddest casualties, in my opinion, is the death of letter writing. I honestly believe the average foot soldier in the Civil War wrote a more magnificent letter than many contemporary scribes (myself included). Consider this letter excerpt from a member of the 11th New York Battery, dated February 9, 1864:

“Dear Hattie,

“Pardon the affectionate familiarity, but you know it is all in fun. Your charming little epistle has just reached me, and I do myself the honor to answer it immediately, thus complying with your request to write soon.

“Before proceeding further, truth and candor compel me to acknowledge that a little deception was used in the advertisement in the Waverly. In other words, my true description differs materially from the one therein set forth and may not please you as well as the one ‘fancy painted,’ but I thought it was all for fun; therefore, I gave a fictitious description as well as cognomen. Be it known unto you then, this individual is twenty-nine years of age, five feet and eleven inches high, dark blue eyes, brown hair, and light (ruddy) complexion. There you have it. How do you like the description? Methinks I hear you answer, ‘I don’t like it so well as the advertised description.’ Well! I’ll admit it is not quite so fascinating to a young lady as the fictitious one, but it is a fixed fact, ‘like the laws of the Medes and Persians,’ which altereth not. But enough of that topic for the present.”

Like, wow. And this is language of the average 19th-century Joe. Again, my curmudgeonly forehead vein is surely showing, but it seems only fitting that as this slower, more deliberate means of expression dies away, dying with it, apparently, is the art of cursive writing. As we breathe, 41 states have adopted what is known as the Common Core curriculum, a tenet of which is the phasing out of cursive writing in the classroom in favor of teaching more digital skills. The reasoning is that cursive is unnecessary and time-consuming, and that classroom time would be better spent on keyboard skills.

Cursive writing gone the way of the dodo. Obsolete. Extinct. How do you like that? Oh, well, I guess there will still be bastions of exemplary writing here and there, irregardless. LOL.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

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2 Responses to “Is the Golden Era of Literacy, Like, Dead?”

  1. Trinity River July 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Sad to hear that cursive writing as core corriculum is on the way out, but not surprising. Most of it written by anyone under 30 is illegible anyway. A cousin who teaches in our school district told me that is acceptable for students to hand in essays written in text language. OMG WTF? That is scary because children are not required know how to write or spell. What is next? Reading I guess.

  2. amblerangel August 1, 2011 at 4:23 am #

    True that sir- neither of my kids can write in cursive because it isn`t taught in their fancy private school these days.

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