Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is English Dead?

In a tongue-in-cheek essay in The Washington Post last weekend, Gene Weingarten lamented, "Goodbye cruel words: English is dead to me."

In Weingarten's article he pointed out examples from the Washington Post and other media of mistakes in print. Some reasons he cites for the demise of the proper use of English are decreased attention to grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Unedited blogs, instant messaging, and newspapers cutting back on copy editors have also contributed to the death of the English language, according to Weingarten. Some examples he cites are humorous; others are sad.

Everyone makes mistakes when writing or speaking. I've often made mistakes posting on my blog. When I discover them I feel embarrassed and make changes right away. On some occasions, a few writing pals have e-mailed me to let me know when I've messed up--and I appreciate it when they do.

For those who care about the proper use of English, what do you think:

Is English dead? Is it on life support? How can we save it? Should we care?


  1. Woe is I (also the title of a funny book about the English Language)!

    I do seem to find more errors in the paper these days. BUT, whilst hanging about on FB, I'm happy to report that wall postings are very often grammatically correct. Perhaps English is not dead. It's just, um, succinct.

  2. I think English is in a constant state of evolution. New words are added, old words fall into disuse. Language changes right along with the changing times!


  3. English can be so frustrating. But how can it be dead when we use it and it's one of the major world languages? I'd love to see it used with more taste and care however.

  4. I agree with Pat; our language is constantly changing. New words are born and dusty ones die. A great book on this subject is the novel "Frindle" by Andrew Clements (for upper elementary kids). It has a great premise as its focus. If you love words, and love to know how they orignate, it's a quick read and is a satisfying one as well...

    (Primarily) white males made the proclamations hundreds and hundreds of years ago. This is proper, "standard" English. This is not. Who's to say that those standards can't be bent...Should they be flexible?

    It is a heady experience when the phrase that is the perfect fit is found. There are books and poems that make the reader squeal inside, they are that gorgeous. The writers who wrote Julia Sugarbaker's "rants" on the show Designing Women. Aaron Sorkin's West Wing scripts. When words are used precisely, there is real power.

    Many see English as a formal way of communicating. Handwritten letters are breathing their last breath. IMing, texting, emails---these are quicker and easier, but lack substance and character. Music is another way to communicate but since it draws us like a magnet, the duller, drier ways to reach out (writing a letter or--dare we say it---actually speaking to someone face-to-face)get cast aside.

    I make mistakes too. The worst is when I make a mistake commenting on someone's blog. (Those I can't change, right?) There are phrases I avoid like the plague (lie/lay) because even though I've studied when to use which one, I know I will get entangled once I open my mouth. However, I also cringe when I hear the word "conversate" or the phrase, "I could care less.

    This is ramgling, ain't it? I don't got nothing more to say...

    I guess the meandering is the result of some ambivalent feelings. I know many people who have a great deal to say, yet they don't feel like they have a valid voice, since they're not grammatically correct. So do I have the right to look down my nose at their written words, because they've mixed up tenses? Should I puff up, feeling oh-so-superior, because they use double negatives? (Some educational administrators do...)

  5. Hi Donna - Interesting theory. I don't believe English is dead, just growing tentacles, each arm brandishing its own idea of what is acceptable. Overall, I find most people do try to maintain grammatical correctness. As with all things human, some folks are better at it than others. . .and we all make mistakes.

  6. English is constantly changing, but never dead. We might not recognise or approve of those changes but they happen whether we like it or not.

    I often make mistakes on my blog and rush to the edit button!

  7. Hey Donna! Thought provoking! I agree with the others.....speaking or writing "proper" English is in a constant change.
    I'm with Sioux on the lie/lay thing, too!! Scary!
    AND, lastly, I am always amazed, in a negative way, at the written mistakes on one/some of our local TV stations. I don't remember all of them, but this one was just the other evening: Video being shown of something "news-worthy", and there were words at the bottom of the screen....the word WITH was spelled WTIH. Unbelievable!

  8. Becky---Your comment just reminded me...on highway 70, east of Hermann, Missouri there is some sort of weight station sign, and it notes that "busses" should also get weighed.

  9. English isn't dying or dead - it's living and evolving and growing. It's wonderful! :)

  10. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. The concensus is that English is alive and kicking, but also growing and changing.


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