Saturday, 22 February 2014

The long and the short of it

Thee apple, the banana, the cumquat, the damson, thee elderberry… see the pattern? I’m running out of fruit now but what I’m talking about is the. No, I’m not missing a word at the end of that sentence, I am talking about the, the definite article. Not the the, as in many popular ‘guess what’s wrong with this sentence’ sentences. Just ‘the’ and how to pronounce it. Along with spelling and grammar, the dumbed-down media world now seem content with just the ‘thuh’ form and it is becoming increasingly rare to hear the ‘thee’ form which properly comes before a noun beginning with a vowel.

Now I’ve pointed it out, you can be annoyed too, as you listen to newsreaders opining about ‘thuh’ economy and introducing an item about ‘thuh’ independence vote north of the border. We have given up the battle, it seems; as far as ‘should of’ goes, because I frequently hear otherwise well-spoken people very definitely pronouncing ‘of’ instead of ‘have’ when they really ought to know better. Given that kids seem to be given so much language leeway in school these days, and unthinkingly use tortured txtspk for writing (possibly because it is almost painful for an educated adult to read) the only source of fluent language they are likely to hear is the broadcast media.

It’s just not good enough, is it? Whatever else the BBC may have become it still has a remit to inform, entertain and educate, so it’s about time its game was upped. Newspapers generally have a style guide. Publishers also are quite insistent that their proof-readers stick to the house style. Actually a good example is just that; is it proof-reader, proofreader or proof reader? All three are acceptable and all three mean the same thing and are pronounced the same way, but it matters very much that in a single publication you use just one form. If the BBC have a house style that accepts only one pronunciation of ‘the’ we ought to be told.

Now, some of you may believe I’m making too much out of this, after all, we all know what they mean, don’t we? And they are well spoken too, so what does it matter? Believe me, it matters but part of the problem is that there are no absolute, fixed grammatical rules in English. Once upon a time almost all of us would have been taught a set of identical (but still largely arbitrary) rules, but after so much ‘progressiveness’ and so many alien influences on a youngster’s life – bombarded by disparate parcels of sound and vision all day long – the ideal of consistency is long gone. It’s only going to get worse, I’m afraid.

Who what now?

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, they say. So, from now on maybe I should abandon all the rules and write my blog without worrying about such niceties. After all u dnt c mny vowls evn usd in txtspk & no punctuation dunt mean they cnt understand what the mean after all a comma is just a waste of a valuable character in twitter for instance and you can write much more quickly if you don’t bother using the shift key for a capital to start a new sentence as well and it helps if you except that the crect use of pacific words duznt matta as everybody noes what you mean n e way and there ios alredy to many bludy rools in the wurld so who cares about a poxy matter like weather you say the or the, huh?

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