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Thursday, 11 May 2006

The Pedants’ Revolt, BBC4

What was it all about?
Victoria Coren examines the theory that English is being corrupted by a submissive acceptance of poor grammar, txtspk and misspelling.
What to say if you liked it
Noble crusaders of the English language strike deep into the sacrilegious verbal territories of infidels who openly worship at the heathen church of poor grammar and spelling.
What to say if you didn’t like it
A spiteful denial of the rights of our language to evolve in alignment with social trends propagated by the same luddite mentality as those fish that scorned brave amphibians who dared crawl from the seas on to land.

What was good about it?
• John Kelly’s observation that morphing English into errant phrases means the loss of an “elegance of expression”.
• Victoria Coren’s mordant presentation of an exquisitely roguish script, which sought to mock the haughty defenders of archaic English but also raise concerns about the atrocities of txtspk and Americanisms.
• Highlighting the way in which vowels are being ethnically cleansed from the language by the prevalence of txtspk.
• Victor Borge’s routine from the 60s where he added verbal punctuation marks to his monologue through a series of bizarre sounds.
• John Humphrys slowly transforming into the journalistic equivalent of the Incredible Hulk while discussing marketing’s lame lexicon such as “pushing the envelope”.

What was bad about it?
• Many of the contributors were old embittered men, with faces so wrinkled they looked like wheezing accordions when the spoke, who wrote to the Daily Telegraph to express their grievances at the butchery of the language. If this “corruption” of language is upsetting Telegraph readers it has at least one boundless merit.
• Apparently, there have been plenty of authors exploiting the supposed dumbing down of English to compose self-help books that offer verbose circumlocution where there is a far more simple solution – read more novels.
• The exaggerated reactions of such people as John Richards of the Apostrophe Protection Society, who was “fairly horrified” by the sign St Georges.
• Promoting the recent Hard Spell as a virtuous method of encouraging child literacy when it is the contemporary equivalent of forcing infants down t’pit until their lungs are chronically blackened with coal dust.
• The problem is little more than a trivial tiff as none of the instances of grammatical barbarity comes from anybody of consequence, even Blair’s toomorrow error was before he had Alastair Campbell to set him straight. This is because the publishing and PR industries operate with their own grammatical secret police in the shape of sub-editors who, because of a naturally obsessive compulsion, take the offending sentences and brutally rearrange their features while also snapping any vulgar prepositions in two so they adhere to proper English standards.

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