Monday 27 April 2009

Too busy to think?

English is a wonderful language, full of words gleaned from other cultures and continents. It can be eloquent and emotive, wry and witty, rich with dialect; even expletives, when used sparingly, are shockingly expressive. From our first days at school we are helped to extend our vocabulary through Nursery rhymes, picture books and traditional songs. As we progress we are gradually introduced to more sophisticated texts, our teachers simultaneously persuading us to express ourselves through diverse activities which might include PE, history, music or science. We are also encouraged to write and speak in a variety of styles – persuasive, assertive, factual and fictional, imaginative, narrative, informative, formal and informal. We study the works of novelists, playwrights, poets and songwriters. By the time we leave school we have experienced a wide diversity of literature and language in the same way that our parents and grandparents did.

Why then do we become so lazy in our use of language? Why do we resort to the tired old clich├ęs and the tiresome new ones? 'Text-speak' is not something I care for but I think I understand why people use it as a swift way of communicating. When time is pressing it's quicker and easier to write 'how r u?' and 'c u l8ter'. Surely, though, we are not so over-worked that we cannot think of a more inventive and expressive way of telling our friends how busy we are than '24/7' or, worse, '24/7/365' – they have become meaningless because they have been used too often. There is, I think, a difference between 'old saws' or proverbs which are appropriate for particular circumstances and the new, slick, quick phrases which trip off so many tongues with never a thought preceding them. Of course we must have vernacular; slang can be very apt and it would be tedious and probably humourless to speak or write formally all the time but I would hate our glorious language to be reduced to a word list of stock phrases.

We must 'step up to the plate and give 110% so that, by the end of the day, lessons will have been learned' . . . 'and the reason why is because, obviously, we are literally petrified that we will not otherwise be singing from the same hymn sheet.'

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