Thursday, 8 August 2019
The English language ever changes. “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.” And so the remnants of the language of my growing years remain, even as some would erase the past completely. In the absence of a universal authoritative grammar we were taught what our local elders and betters agreed on; and good old Auntie Beeb reinforced, in received pronunciation, that they were correct.
An extended ‘thee’ before a vowel, a short ‘the’ ahead of a consonant. ‘Different from’, not the grating and all too often heard, Americanised ‘different than’. And whatever the Oxford Dictionary insists ‘ise’ is still far easier on the eyes than ‘ize’ in almost every instance. But move on that finger does and as our non-consenting multicultural experiment continues, the language with which to adequately describe it becomes ‘enriched’ by the curiously perverse methods of removing punctuation, ignoring nuance and allowing a bland insouciance towards form.
On social media the noun ‘bias’ has now almost exclusively replaced the adjective ‘biased’ and the ‘bias BBC’ does nothing to stem the tide. Whether through laziness, simple ignorance or a desire to discourage nobody from expressing themselves, however illiterately, it has become harder to both read and hear what was once the most expressive and sophisticated language on the planet. Not everybody has abandoned it, of course, but those with the most influence appear to have decided that the onus is on the receiver, not those who deliver the words, to make sense of them.
But while the imprecise and sloppy use of words is annoying, what grates more than anything are the pronunciations which have crept in through a certain malaise, a certain timidity and a fear of offending. In particular, we seem to have lost an entire vowel sound. Southerners have long been unable to render the hard northern ‘U’ in written form, writing ‘oop north’ when anybody from the north knows exactly how to sound ‘up’ and ‘cup’ and ‘tup’. We find ‘oop’ quaint, a little patronising and oh, so southern and smile when we hear people ask us if we’d like a ‘cap’ of tea, or request that we keep to the parth and not walk on the grarse.
But, in words like bush and book and cook we used to have accord. I well remember as an undergraduate trying in vain to disguise my northern twang, worrying about how to say bush and ending up with an alarming ‘bersh’ which pleased nobody and attracted much and well-deserved ridicule. In attempting to conform I had instead shamed my origins and betrayed a lack of confidence that the world would accommodate me not as myself but as I thought others wanted me to be.
So it is with a mixture of amusement and dismay that I now regularly hear on the radio, on the telly and in real life, people talking incessantly about ‘cerking’. They sit in ‘rerms’ instead of rooms and discuss the reading of ‘berks’. Abandoning more nuanced superlatives, everybody is now simply ‘gerd’. I’m gerd, you gerd? Some of them even go online and enter chatrerms where they recommend cerk berks to each other. They need a blerdy gerd kick up the arse.
A cerk... reading a berk.
Control the language and you control discourse. Banning words because they may offend is one sign of this insidious practice, but another, perhaps more subtle manifestation is the fear of being strongly expressive in any way. The banal, universal vowel ‘er’ seems to be taking over and the effect is ugly and craven and needs to be resisted. Be proud of your guttural renditions and stand firm in the face of conformity. It’s only words, I know; it’s not the end of the world, but perhaps it’s the beginning of the end of something worth saving.