Next week I’ll be 100 years old. I’ve lived a wonderful, rich life, and I’m ready to go, though I have one regret: The English language — the language of my childhood — is dead.
Oh, how I miss it.
At first the decline seemed gradual, and then sometime early in the 21st century the pace accelerated. In July 2016, Ronald offered this assessment of my column about the death of the period: “By no means a classic. I’d say that your latest article in the StarTrib was more of a period piece. Regards.”
I’m still laughing 34 years later — laughing, that is, about Ronald’s witty comment, not about the demise of the English language. The demise of our language saddens me.
Around the same time Merrilee wrote: “I’ve been a writer, copy editor, marketing professional (English major) for more than 50 years. In writing and speaking I was taught to use an before words such as hour that sound like they start with a vowel even if the first letter is a consonant. Also use an before letters and numbers that sound like they begin with a vowel, such as F or 8. Remember, it’s the sound, not the spelling, that is important.
“However, in so much of what I read currently,” Merrilee continued, “I notice a being used instead of an, as in ‘She went to the refrigerator to get a apple.’ This is driving me crazy! Did I miss something?”
Yes, Merrilee, we all did. We should have seen it coming.
Then Chuck wrote: “In the past, if someone did a task unerringly, I would deem that it was perfect. But that word is now used to say that I ordered my hamburger properly or that I was able to recite my name properly … [And] if I give every bit of effort possible to a project, that would be a 100 percent effort. But that would be second rate to those today who somehow can give 110 percent or more.”
Oh, Chuck, I’m with you 120 percent.
For my last request, I ask you to join the Dead Language Society. With the loss of multisyllabic words, compound verb tenses, the subjunctive mood, varied sentence structures (like this periodic sentence), subject-verb agreement (as in, “There are two options,” not “There’s two options”), the period (I’m using them in this column — as well as other lost punctuation marks such as the apostrophe — for old times’ sake), our language is diminished. As a result, the pursuit of wisdom and beauty seems (not seem) a thing of the past.
As the character played by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” declares, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
Please join one society or the other (or both). Maybe it’s not too (not to) late.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.