Well Spoken Is Half Sung

I am very much in favor of supporting the use of correct English in writing. I’m sure I commit many egregious errors in my writing, but I attribute this to the complexity of the language and not my attention to correct usage. I have written before about a wonderful tool called The Vocabula Review that is available online for a small fee. Now there is a daily feed from TVR which expands on the idea of the Word-of-the-Day with a short lesson in usage and grammar. Every day I take three minutes to read something I didn’t realize about the language or skim over examples of incorrect usage that should be obvious or scratch my head over rules and suggestions that I might question.

It’s called The Daily Vocabula: Tidbits From the Vocabula Review … get it!

But a few words about correct usage with a heavy-handed suggestion that a strict adoption of correct usage is also a form of controlling. Are we slaves to correct usage? Besides, how does language grow?

The latest post that made me think was this morning’s Daily Vocabula where I read the following:

Disagreeable English

double down (on): Disagreeable for redouble (or similar words). The gambling term double down (1. to double one’s wager. 2. to double or increase a risk or investment.), instead of verbs like double or redouble, is increasingly popular. Today, the term is most often used in the sense of redoubling one’s commitment or holding fast to a position or posture.

* In other words, he’d double down on the same trickle-down policies that led to the crisis in the first place. USE recommit to. * The Indonesian government is expected to double down on its efforts on the climate-change issue by sending more delegates to the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. USE redouble. * Tribune’s move to double-down on TV stations comes as it prepares to spinoff its newspaper unit next year. USE acquire more. * This effort seeks to double down on misery without even looking at the terrible human toll still exacted by drug abuse. USE augment.

For individuals who want to take the next step in their career, January is a great time to double down on their efforts and jump-start their job search. — Nicole Fallon, Business News Daily

Reckless writers and imprudent speakers, impressionable people all, often prefer slangy terms with uncertain, slippery meanings to standard ones with established, well-known meanings.

Well Spoken

While there may be strong reasons to opt for a more eloquent and acceptable usage, there are also good reasons to experiment with the language, adopt more metaphoric style, or play with slang and other less acceptable forms of language. Perhaps the problem is the differentiation between business writing and creative writing. Today we are seldom upset when language usage is twisted, expanded, or otherwise re-aligned in a work of fiction, but should we accept such experimenting in a business document?

I have never been a fan of abbreviations and other short forms other than recognized contractions. As you might imagine, I hate emoticons and those cutesy internet short-forms like LOL or ROTF. I strive to construct complete sentences and avoid obvious clichés … but I’m old. I did read an article recently which highlighted studies  showing that young people can shift easily between the secret codes used in texting to writing and speaking (relatively) correct English (other articles suggest the ability to write a complete sentence is unusual even at the university level).

Here I absolutely agree with the usage mavens:  an educated person should be able to write and speak without reverting to too many clichés, too many F-words, or too many blatant grammatical errors.

But like the other arts, once you know the rules, it’s time to break the rules. Look at art: imagine the effect on art by a painter such as Picasso. Pablo Picasso is an excellent example of an artist who learned all the rules of painting and then set the rules aside to expand his vision of artistic creation. The same is true of writers. Look at James Joyce.


But going back to TVR:

Reckless writers and imprudent speakers, impressionable people all, often prefer slangy terms with uncertain, slippery meanings to standard ones with established, well-known meanings.

Do you agree with this statement? I know slang terms are often short-lived but if you read Classical literature, it’s full of the slang terms of its day (that’s what footnotes were invented for, right?): words like ‘Swounds, ‘Sblood, Gosh All Hemlock.

Besides, I like terms with uncertain, slippery meanings. But in novels and stories; even in essays; but not so much in  my cell phone contract.

What are your thoughts on this?

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