Tuesday, 23 August 2011

In pursuit of English

From time to time my dog sits at my feet, head on one side, top lip caught on one of his fangs. This lopsided goofy look has one simple translation, it’s the look I call ‘cheese face’. He’s dry mouth, so excited he dare not lick his lips, positively quivering in anticipation that the piece of cheese in my hand is going to be shared with him.

He’s a dog. Strictly non-verbal. He whines, growls, does something that sounds like a cross between whale song and howl but in a distinctly basso-profundo key, and sometimes he barks incessantly. My mother complains and I point out that he’s a dog, that’s what dogs do, and she would be very startled if he burst into an aria from Rigoletto.

The point being that I can interpret what he ‘says’ and he’s from another species; but sometimes when faced with something written by my fellow man, I am at a total loss.

In the last five years or so, people have started writing in initials. Strings of initials, floating meaninglessly in cyberspace, whether in facebook status, comments on status, in blogs or other places. Sometimes I receive text messages that might as well be written in Ancient Babylonian for all the good they do to me.

The point of text messages is that they are fast and supposed to convey instant information. If I have to spend half an hour interpreting what is being said or required of me then surely the point is utterly lost.

English is a rich language, expressive, some of the greatest works of literature the world has ever seen have been written in English. Yet we continue to reduce it every day. This reduction is not an improvement.

I have neither the patience nor any particular interest in learning the precise meaning of endless strings of initials. Illiteracy irritates me, I find it vexing amongst the young, but since they have almost universally been deprived of a decent education by a generation of overly liberal, lax policies of governments who like to tinker while Rome burns, their inability to express themselves clearly and concisely can be understood; but amongst those who should know better, sorry, it makes me gnash my teeth in rage.

When even university professors think that being unable to write clear, concise, legible, sensible English is not a problem, we really have hit rock bottom.

LOL… really?? You are sitting alone at your laptop baying like a hyena on speed over nothing very much? Please forgive me if I edge ever so slightly and unobtrusively in the general direction of away.

I made most of my career as a PA (that’s personal assistant, universally accepted acronym), Secretary and Administrator, mostly as a temp, but I did have two long term permanent roles.

I spent seven years as PA to the Buying Director of Puma UK.

One of the most important lessons I learnt about the art of communication was the lesson of clarity.

When you are communicating with factories in the Far East, with people whose first language is not English, if you do not state exactly what you want in clear, concise terms, well frankly you will not get what you want. If your communication isn’t up to scratch you can scarcely blame the factory for getting it wrong.

A lot has been said and written in the last couple of weeks about ‘gangsta’ culture and how our young people are turning into mini-gangstas, speaking an incoherent and ultimately faked patois that they hope will gain them acceptance in the ‘society’ which exists all around them.

There has been a positively Gadarene charge by politicians of all parties to blame the riots and breakdown of law and order on deprivation. I think in that they actually have it quite right, only the causes are not the cuts, but the systematic deprivation of a decent education, of aspiration, of judgement and leadership and a thousand other qualities which have been slowly weeded out of education over the last forty odd years.

The useful idiots of education re-engineering, with their endless social experimentation have done nothing to improve the lives of the dispossessed. They pride themselves on being non-judgemental. But without judgement, how can you possibly expect a child to know right from wrong? How can child ever aspire to anything if a child cannot judge between joining a gang and choosing a different path?

Communication is the key to the door. If you cannot communicate, how can you possibly hope to succeed in anything? So yes, it does matter. Writing gibberish filled with strings of initials that can be misconstrued or simply not understood and discarded gets you nowhere.

Communication in speech also matters. It may be fashionable to look down on the traditions of British pronunciation, quaintly known as RP (received pronunciation); or as my father used to term it, purest BBC!

The usual view of the secretary is that she (and most of them are female) is the office eye-candy, looks hot, lacks brains, makes a nice cup of tea. But the most important thing is what she sounds like. I have gained employment at interview with lesser qualifications than some of my rivals, simply because I can speak purest BBC. Very Alexandra Pellis! I have made a career out of looking rather plain but enunciating the Queen’s English in a style last heard on British radio sometime in the fifties.

Very simply put, I may not have a Barbie Doll face and figure, but my speaking voice lends cachet to those bosses who care about how their image is perceived at first contact and beyond. It really does matter what you sound like, and how you write.

Reducing English to strings of meaningless initials lowers the language itself. For those of us who know better, we should be leading by example.


Anonymous said...

Very powerful piece of writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this, especially as a playwright.

Mockingbird said...

Make sense, and talk to the people; and the people will respond. Why corral the richness and beauty of the written word into a few meaningless strings of vexingly incoherent initials? It makes no sense to me. Thank you for your comment and for reading.