[Picture: Background — a six piece pie style colour split, alternating black and grey. Foreground — a picture of an armadillo. Top text: “ [THINKS MOST ENGLISH MAJORS ARE PRETENTIOUS DICKS] ” Bottom text: “ [IS ENGLISH MAJOR] ”]
Going through my Greek today and I encountered a most glorious word:
Etymology: < Greek βαθύκολπ-ος ( < βαθύς deep + κόλπος breast, bosom) + -ian suffix.
1825 Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. 17 222 Our bathukolpian attendant.
bathukolpic adj. /-ˈkɒlpɪk/ [see -ic suffix] = main sense
1872 M. Collins Princess Clarice I. i. 8 A colossal red-haired maiden of twenty, bathukolpic.
[Picture: Background — a six piece pie style colour split, alternating black and grey. Foreground — a picture of an armadillo. Top text: “ [I THINK I UNDERSTAND DERRIDA] ” Bottom text: “ [BUT CAN I BE SAUSSURE?] ”]
Students write the darndest things: fluency level 8, advanced, KP-Tk0811 excerpt from integrated writing response.
Students write the darndest things: fluency level 8, advanced, KP-Ru0811 excerpt from writing response to “Do you agree or disagree: Job satisfaction is more important than making a lot of money.”
Students write the darndest things: fluency level 7, advanced, EF-Jp0110 response to integrated listening/reading passage.
Students write the darndest things: fluency level 6, higher intermediate, EF-Ru0510 essay response to “Which is better for children: extended families or nuclear families?”
Students write the darndest things: fluency level 8, advanced, EF-Fr0509 essay response to Lord of the Flies
My new introduction material for every course.
Students write the darndest things: fluency level 10, native speaker, UC-Eg0611 final essay on Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella.
Students write the darndest things: fluency level 10, native speaker, UC-Eg0611 e-mail correspondence for reader assistance.
Grammar Nazi, prescriptivist, dork—all are hurtful names for the kind of person I am. Can I help it? Sure, I could, but I believe that there is a fundamental message I must deliver to each and every one of my students, most of my friends, and perhaps a few new acquaintances. It is not okay to use improper English in most situations.
Sure, “language is determined by the people who use it.” This is the argument I’ve come up against again and again. I normally start off with my example where this would not work, but I’ll explain the reasoning first. Indeed, language is determined by use. There is, however, a difference between extending the limits of permissibility and making errors. In order for a language to change due to use, there must be a generalized agreement in all circles, classes, and institutions. Without such formalized agreement, the usage falls into the categories of slang, idiolect, and error.
Now, if usage is consistent within a group, e.g. a circle of friends, a generation, an ethnic group, or social class, this can be considered slang. Slang on larger levels with consistent usage has a good chance of becoming formalized. Consistent usage includes definition, application, and orthography. As such, though “internet speak” in general has expansive use, there is an inherent lack of consistency, which would exclude it from becoming a formalized spelling alternative. While much of “internet speak” is formed on the basis of orthographically matching pronunciation of a word, as pronunciations vary and much of the lexicon does not match the pronunciation of the speakers (“Mai” would not match a Californian’s “my”), it is unlikely that there would be any sense of consistency beyond small groups of similar pronunciations.
“But I’m using it ironically!” Oh, hipsters. This is the category of idiolect. If you use alternative terms, spelling, and grammatical constructs consistently in your own speech and writing, but no one else does, this is idiolect. This has no chance of becoming formalized. While I have nothing against forming new words or getting creative with one’s grammar for artistic, comedic, or explanatory effects, context governs the use of such a thing. One’s use of idiolect loses appropriateness the farther away from one’s circle of close friends one might get. As such, while it may be appropriate to address males as “bro” within one’s group, one would not do such a thing to varying degrees outside of one’s circle. This also applies to slang, discussed earlier, though idiolect is sometimes stronger and less obvious than slang. Idiolect can include grammatical constructs. For instance, using the concessive adverbial conjunction “though” as a tack-on, e.g. “I want to use it, though!” This is generally reserved for informal speech, but often creeps in on inappropriate occasions. Acceptance of a construct like this depends on the personal views of the listener, and generally holds no issues, but given to a prescriptivist in a formal context, negative assumptions would most likely be made about the speaker.
This is where error occurs. Error is a wandering off-course, a misplacement of speech in an improper context. Thus, when told, “language is constantly changing, and the users of the language define the language. What matters is communication and that we understand each other’s meaning,” I normally respond with the example: you are at a job interview. You want to be given the job. You say, “You give me job, yes?” Would you get the job? Unlikely. Why? This is a communicatively effective statement. The listener has no trouble understanding the meaning. What went wrong is context.
“But what about informal contexts? Shouldn’t we be allowed to use improper punctuation, spelling, and grammar when chatting online or texting our friends?” Of course, provided you understand and accept the image you are presenting to your friends. Each person has their own limits of permissibility when it comes to communication. When you speak or write, you automatically present an image of yourself in addition to the message you are giving. In many ways, how you say something is received before what you are saying. For many people, speaking or writing punctuated, properly spelled, grammatically correct sentences could be considered stilted, stuck-up, and altogether unfriendly. For others, the opposite thing could be considered lazy, ignorant, and apathetic.
On balance, it is the context that governs what is an error, and courtesy dictates whether or not a grammar Nazi, as I admit myself to be, should step in and correct. Correction is both helpful and dismissive, and can make many people feel that they are not being heard or considered as much as they deserve. There are appropriate and inappropriate contexts for good and bad English, and there are equally appropriate and inappropriate contexts for correcting what is perceived to be bad English. As such, correction should be done with sensitivity to person and situation.
While I realize that judging accuracy of language is unfair and skewed toward those with higher education, being taken seriously involves a certain amount of proper English. There are only so many errors one can make before a text or speech is considered invalid based on the perceived education level of its source. As such, in a largely anonymous medium like Tumblr, the image one presents is what is visible in one’s writing, and, depending on what sort of message is desired, the accuracy and use of English is an essential and unavoidable part of that message.
That said, if someone finds a typo in here, please let me know, and I will correct it as soon as possible. No one is perfect.