Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

June 17, 2013

reflections... on Proper Usage

“Every time someone uses an apostrophe to make a plural, a puppy dies.”

— That phrase was made into a graphic on Facebook by someone who was as tired as I am of the lack of proper spelling, grammar, punctuation and the use of language in general. For putting an apostrophe before an “s” does not pluralize it, but, rather, it makes the word either possessive or a contraction. There is a difference, after all.

Although, come to think of it, do people today know what a contraction is? I doubt it. It’s probably not even taught in English classes today. After all, I’ve known many a teacher who doesn’t know a plural from a possessive!

I have forgotten the quote I saw in the newspaper from a newly elected official in Mineral Wells, but if the newspaper got the quote right, then the person who was quoted had no business running for public office because that person murdered the English language.

And I see it on television, and I read it in the newspapers and in magazines all the time. There is no regard for language, so everyone sounds exactly as illiterate as everyone else, whether they have five college degrees or never finished first grade. It certainly sounds as if they have no pride!

It’s really a description of where our world, not just our language, is headed. It seems as though, as it was in the middle part of the last century, if it feels good (or sounds good), do it! Wrong, in my humble opinion!

We have a book which was on the “runaway British bestseller” list. It is absolutely hilarious, and it shows us where our language is headed.

The title of the book is “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” by Lynne Truss, with a forward by acclaimed author Frank McCourt. It was published in 2003.

In this book, the first example of incorrect punctuation is in the title, as the title refers to a panda.  It is said of the panda that it eats shoots (I suppose bamboo shoots) and then it leaves the area. When punctuated “eats, shoots and leaves,” however, it suddenly means the panda ate a meal, shot up the place and left. Totally different context.

When I was still teaching, and it has been 10 years since my retirement, I noticed a trend.  Teachers were told by administrators that a student could spell a word however he thought it sounded.  Of course, with that definition of spelling, “c-a-t” could be spelled “d-o-g”, and it would mean the same thing. Right? Wrong!

Texting and social media has done nothing to help with this situation, except, I suppose, to promote the educational thinking that whatever goes, goes; if it feels good, do it; and if a cat is a dog, well, that’s OK, too.

In England a director of schools said, “When businesses routinely put signs up with inaccurate English, spelling or apostrophe mistakes, for example, it sends a powerful message to children that formal English doesn't matter and that they don't need to pay attention to it.”

So, what should we do about it? Well, I suppose we should educate those educators who don’t know English, and we should endeavor, ourselves, to use the appropriate words and punctuation, in order to instruct all children in the proper use of

their language.