I am a bit of pedant. At times. I appreciate that, for the sake of my street cred, this is tantamount to admitting I own a lap dog or that I am a member of the British Letter Box Study Group*, but it’s true. It’s not grammar that makes me itchy – like most people of my generation, my grammar isn’t that great to be honest. I went to school in the 1970s when grammar was, like, for the straights, yeah? Grammar was an old-fashioned set of manacles imposed by the patriarchy and The Man. Break free! Etc. So we all sat around doing macramé all day and threading flowers in our hair and didn’t worry about the Dative and Subjunctive.
I am not too bothered about spelling or punctuation either. Some of this is self-protection. I am an English teacher, and if I got upset every time I saw a spelling mistake I would be throwing myself out of the window by lunchtime.
What I am balls-aching about, though, is when people mess around with language and use words in sloppy ways. When they twist the English language for their own ends.
English is a beautiful, rich tool. It can be used in brilliantly specific and poetic ways. There’s a dog in the garden! But is it a hound? A mutt? A pup? A mongrel? A doggy? A pooch?
But it can also be mangled and mauled. I guess we all have our pet hates, but the revoltingly apologetic expression ‘honour killing’ is one that makes me want to hurl things at the TV. There is nothing ‘honourable’ about murdering women because they aren’t following the rules of your society. Ever. I also get a bit nauseated at the term ‘date rape’, as if it’s just a jolly option at the end of an evening with someone you have just taken to Pizza Hut for a Medium Hawaiian. “So, shall we go back for a coffee, or shall we just move straight onto the rape?” Vile.
Sometimes this can be trivial and even amusing. My favourite in the classroom is the use of the passive tense to avoid responsibility.
‘Why are you late for my vitally important lesson on the possessive apostrophe?’
‘Sorry miss, SOMEBODY GOT HIT,’ comes the answer.
Isn’t that great? All responsibility for the hitting removed. The identity of the crying victim hidden. Useful old Passive Tense.
Also, here’s a tip: if you want to justify producing something completely rubbish and sub-standard, then the use of the adjective “children’s” can come in very handy. For example: have you got some cheap, nasty bits of meat you need to get rid of? Coat them in breadcrumbs, deep fry them in lard and Lo! You have a “children’s menu”. Have you written a terrible musical, with stereotyped, shallow unbelievable characters, appalling lyrics and no catchy tunes whatsoever? Well done! You have written a “children’s” musical, which parents will have to make costumes for, then sit through and even, if they can stomach it, applaud. (If they have any hands left that is. If they haven’t gnawed them off in sheer desperation during the reprise of the number called ‘Team Work!’, which finishes with the couplet:
If we stick together as a team, We can find our dream!)
The English language has been one of the worst casualties of the last week’s disorder-related shenanigans. ‘Broken Britain’, for example. Although the alliteration is kind of pleasing, I guess, we should leave that kind of overblown baloney to the kind of expats who love this country so much that they have to move to Gibraltar to express the proper depth of their affection. Those of us who live here should be ashamed of ourselves at using such empty rhetoric. The same goes for ‘moral collapse’ and ‘problem families’. This stuff makes people fearful, and panders to their prejudices. People are afraid enough as it is, and this kind of posturing makes it worse, without getting any closer to the real, complex solutions.
I am not sure that I am comfortable with the word ‘riots’ either. I don’t think that’s the right word. I was around for the riots of the early 1980s and that was, whatever way you look at it, a very different world. Some of the causes of the riots might be political but this wasn’t protest.
So, what can we call the events of last week? I think the expression ‘shopping with violence’ is pretty accurate. ‘Extreme shoplifting’ is another. Having given the events of the week considerable thought, I would suggest the following term: ‘Moronic Twittery’**.
I hope that encapsulates the lack of glamour. Try turning that into a video game. Or even a punk anthem.
You’ll never find a rhyme for it.
*actually one of these is true. Say it loud. I love post boxes and I’m proud.
** you know, like, because of Twitter being involved in organising the morons? Yeah?
Amelia Gentleman (fantastic name for a journalist that) asks ‘Is Britain Broken?’