Thursday, September 23, 2010

Debra- Is English Dead? (A who-done-it in 3 parts)

Seriously, dude. Is English dead? Has language moved past the precision of the last 1600 years or so? And if we are at a crossroads in which well-used language is the murky path, who is to blame?

1) Text messaging
A necessary evil born from the frowns of those who were tired of teen phones ringing incessantly.

2) Twitter & Facebook
A necessary evil to reconnect with community in a ridiculously busy world.

3) Dude
The word that has single handedly replaced whole sentences as a form of communication.

See what I mean:

Dude. (You can’t be serious.)
dude. (I’m weary. You win. I can’t change it.)
Dude. (Pay attention you slacker.)
DUDE (This is going to be a problem.)
du-oohd. (Oh, man, is that going to be hard!)
Dude! (Quick. Come here.)
Doooo-ooo-d. (I’m am so jealous, but I have to give you props.)

I could go on. And I haven’t even started on the variations that come with facial expressions or body gestures like shrugs.

Hopefully, I’ve amused you, but my real questions are these: Can we ever recover from the inattention to grammar and punctuation? Can we ever recover from the common man’s inability to use vocabulary appropriately? (One of my favorites is the reported incident in which the Miami Herald’s story of someone “eeking out a living” wasn’t a story about the individual running a haunted house business.) Do we care? Is change the nature of a successful language? Or as we fragment our language do we lose something valuable?

My answer is: Dude, yes.

How about you? How do you feel about the state of language?


The Book Pimp Blogs said...

Dude! It's my favorite word. I use it totally all day lon!

Janga said...

Did you see Gene Weingarten's obituary of the language in last Sunday's Washington Post?

I'm more optimistic. I'm also old enough to remember when the ubiquitous use of "Far out!" and "Groovy" were supposed to be signs of a dying language. I think textese will remain language for a particular audience, "Dude" will have its day, and English will survive as a living, changing language. However, based on my reading of countless numbers of freshman comp essays, I think the apostrophe is in critical condition and unlikely to survive..

KooKooKaChoo said...

Dude! Thnx 4 LOL post. 4ever gr8ful. L8R!

Debra Dixon said...

Book Pimp- Dude so versatile. It's become a joke with my nephew. We have whole conversations base on variations of dude. (g)

Debra Dixon said...

Janga-- I thought the obituary was a scream. That's where I saw/heard the Miami Herald example. And had the idea to see what others thought about the state of language.

You think the apostrophe is more endangered than the comma? Or has the comma already lost relevance?

Debra Dixon said...


Dude!! (surprised and grateful thank-you for those who are new to Dude-speak)

You are totally welcome. (g)

Michele Hauf said...

I do enjoy the occasional use of dude. :-)

I cringe every time I breeze through the FB status blocks and see all the awful spelling and complete lack of punctuation. I think I correct my son's FB page every other day (I tell him, not put it on the page for the world to see). It's very sad.

Debra Dixon said...


Yes, the Facebook state of language is worse than Twitter. I'm guessing because Facebook gives a person more room to hang themselves!

I, too, have been guilty of the quick update. I know it can happen to the "best" of us. But I swear too many people are posting when they are drunk. They have to be.

Cindy Gerard said...

I seem to remember that the 'older' generation at the time of Elvis and rock and roll were certain both would bring the downfall of our culture as we knew it then.
Well ... not exactly a downfall but it sure did shake things up.
Same goes with everything new ... but i do worry for the English language :o)

Betina Krahn said...

I'm not a big Facebooker-- sorry guys, the truth hurts-- I just can't seem to take it that seriously. I mean, how many Petville presents do I need? Many of my "friends" are writers and other educated, literate types. I do have a few (ahem) younger connections who seem to be less eloquent. I guess the quick post or greeting or message doesn't bother me as much as full-on e-mail that is full of spelling and grammatical errors. When text short cuts (like U and 4) are used in regular e-mails I want to smack somebody awake.

But the word "Dude" is nothing short of astounding. Don't know how we got along without it. And it's one of the funnier sounding words on the planet, too. I really like it-- am champing at the bit to be able to use it in a book.

English isn't dead or dying-- it's just transforming, as all languages do. Personally I think that's not necessarily a bad thing. Languages have to change in order to remain relevant enough to distill and translate our lives into thoughts and media. Who among us would want to have to use the stilted modes of writing and speaking of the Victorian era? Imagine having to do without all of the colorful turns of phrase and wonderful language additions of the 20th century! Think with me for a minute: what kind of civilization would we have to day if English had remained inflexibly Elizabethan (or James-ian) and we were all speaking the King James version. We'd all be in Amish territory!

We're inventing new terms, new words, new CONCEPTS all the time and have to make room for them in the lexicon.I'm all for that-- even if it does make me feel a little like a dinosaur sometimes.

Janga said...

Debra, yes, I fear the apostrophe, a latecomer to English punctuation after all,is doomed. I think the comma remains indefatigable in some powerful circles. I know that, despite Vampire Weekend's vocalized contempt, I will still be true to the Oxford comma when they pry my cold, dead hands from my keyboard.

Debra Dixon said...


I wonder if writers are less worried about the survival of language because we see language as "paint" for our canvas. We need a lot of choices and some of them we "mix up" ourselves.

Debra Dixon said...



Uh...that's what I meant to say in my comment to Cindy. (g)

Debra Dixon said...


I think the comma has to survive for clarity. Our Editorial Department follows the Chicago Manual of Style but also allows some latitude.

I confess to Harbrace/Harcourt College Handbook as my guide. It's permanently bookmarked to the comma.

We recently had an email flurry between author and copyeditor regarding apostrophes denoting possession for plural nouns ending in "s." Yep. There were battlelines drawn. It wasn't pretty.

We are constantly adding to our House Style Sheet.

Helen Brenna said...

Although I love the word dude, the text abbreviations do make me feel old somehow. Still, languages have to change along with changes in society. Isn't that why we have "old English?"

Very fun post, Deb.

Debra Dixon said...


Yes, we do have many iterations of Ye Old English.

And it is true that we can't readily read the oldest iterations.

We won't happily read 150 year old moldy manuscripts.

Language reflects a moment in time and time marches on relentlessly.

English is dead. Long live English!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, love this topic. English is a polyglot language and one of the richest and most resilient in the world. It's a difficult language to learn to speak (Chinese, as I remember, being the most difficult to learn to write) because our vocabulary is huge--so many synonyms, so many meaning for a single word--all because English takes all comers from other languages. It's what makes English literature--and I might be a little biased--so rich.

Spelling really hasn't been codified very long (in the grand scheme) and Shakespeare did okay spelling any way he pleased.

As long as punctuation has an important function for clarity I think it will survive. Texting has its code, and if you're going to text, you learn the code. You had to learn a code to telegraph. I think there will be some slopover, and old English teachers like me will rail against the "izing" of every noun in the book, and much of pop language will give way to new stuff, but some will stick.

Foe me, Dude is the Big Lebowski. His Dudeness.

Kathleen Eagle said...

It seems to me that the kids are getting weekly spelling lists even earlier than I did or my kids did. Grade 1, day 1, spelling list 1, test on Friday for my 6-yr old granddaughter. I was lucky I could write my whole name at that point.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Oh, and have I related my experience testifying before the state legislature AGAINST the English only bill? This was back when I was president of the ND Council of Teachers of English. The national council (along with many other professional groups) opposes making English the "official language" for the reasons stated above (polyglot language among other things). It is frankly a silly idea. The legislature listened politely and voted in favor of making English the official language of ND. To what end? Too soon to tell for the states that have done this, but the purpose of language is to communicate. When it comes down to it,that function will win the day.

Debra Dixon said...


How quickly the kids are getting into formalized learning is so surprising to me.

My sister who is raising her grandsons, put the first boy into a private school in kindergarten last year.

This kid could count, knew his numbers, letters, could write his name but not neatly. He knew his colors. All the basic things we thought he'd need to be kindergarten ready.

Turns out he was so far behind the class it was a very tough year. They were all writing and had been for a year due to pre-kindergarten. They were just ahead of him on everything. Eventually he caught up but gee whiz was she surprised.

MsHellion said...

I am rather convinced the telephone, email, and twitter are the downfall of human communication. We use to write long, beautiful (though frequently misspelled and mispunctuated) letters to each other. Now we're all restricted to 140 characters.

I am not convinced about the 1600 years thing though. I had a class on the origin of the English language, and Chaucer was not very consistent with his spelling or his punctuation...and Shakespeare spelled his name like 40 different ways. I didn't even know there were that many ways to spell his name and still know who you were talking about.

My professor--who seemed like one of these rebels who didn't like rules anyway--made careful study with us about how the punctuation, rules, and spelling stuff came around in the Age of Reason (1700s or so) and they tried to find the pattern of the language and that's why we'd get rules like "I before E except after C" crap. They tried to put REASON with LANGUAGE--and it didn't work that well.

So basically the rules--for the most part--have worked for 300 years but now we're back to the old, unfettered ways, just doing whatever we want and hoping people get our meaning.

If you're going to blame anything, blame the fact they're not teaching diagramming in schools anymore. If you want people to care about good grammar, it has to still be taught to the people going around, saying Dude all the time.

(If I am incorrect about the grammar rules origin, send complaints to Dr. Primm at Columbia College...)

MsHellion said...
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KylieBrant said...

I have to admit I love text messaging :) My kids and I use it all the time. I don't do a lot of shortening, tho. I'm pretty fast :) My pet peeves: Xpress Lube; Kwik Star, etc. There is such a bastardization of the language that it's no wonder my students can't spell!

KylieBrant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debra Dixon said...


::So basically the rules--for the most part--have worked for 300 years but now we're back to the old, unfettered ways, just doing whatever we want and hoping people get our meaning::

Yes, I like the word "unfettered." Let's think of this as an explosion of choices in language rather than the death.

Debra Dixon said...

Kylie-- I'm got an Evo and touch screen. I'm not a happy camper about texting. I do much better with some kind of keyboard, even one as small as is on my husband's Blackberry.

I get very frustrated at texting. And I don't practice.

Kathleen O said...

I must admit that I am old fashion and believe that the youth of today cannot spell because they text too much and use spellcheck. But I love to put words out there that they look at you and go DUH!! another word that is worse for word that is a subsititute for 'pardon me'. I love to use the word facetious. Kids today do not have a clue what it means... i love it.