When Did It All Fall Apart?

When I was young, and I'm dating myself here, I distinctly remember having the back of my head smacked for asking "can I" as opposed to "may I."  I also remember receiving essays back that looked more like crime scene photos, than graded papers.  I remember a time when, slang aside, words meant what the dictionary said they meant.  I would be remiss to state my frustration with the misuse of words today, without also giving voice to my frustration with the apparent absence of grammar. 

I have some relatives, who will shortly be more distant than they were a few months ago.  As I travel through this uncertain time, I feel it is appropriate for me to air some of the things I have endured with these "people" over the years.  Today, I'd like to start small and write about the abuse of the English language I have witnessed from these "relatives."  Except for one, all of the people of whom I speak have graduated high school, have some college education, and have worked with the public and/or for a state or federal agency at some point in their career.  Except for one--the one relative who lives her life making excuses for everything and making mistakes which everyone else must correct and generally being a pain in the ***.  This one relative, did not graduate from high school.  Why?  Because she was missing gym credits.  Does this seem stupid to you?  It seems stupid to me as well.  But, her mother, another of these "relatives" gave her permission to drop out of high school for missing gym credits because in her mind, the girl was too heavily challenged by the idea of high school, and living a life with no high school diploma seemed the easy way out.  Now I'm making them seem stupid, but they are not.  These are intelligent people.  Moving back to grammar, this girl may have dropped out of high school, but once she realized that even McDonald's wouldn't hire her, she got her GED and has since become an LPN.  She is neither stupid, nor illiterate, as her passing score on her medical boards would confirm.

Despite being a group of intelligent people, I am inundated with bad grammar, misuse of words, mispronounciation of words and the creation of words that never existed before.  As a point of order, one does not end a sentence with a preposition.  My adherance to this rule has made me the ridicule of the "family."  They ask, "who does this belong to?"  I ask, "to whom does this belong."  They ask, "where you goin'?"  I ask, "to where are you going?"  They ask, "what's this for?"  I wouldn't phrase a question like that, which makes me the butt of their jokes.  What is so funny?  I'm using Standard American English, they're babbling colloquially without regard to grammar.  I don't tease them about their lack of knowledge.  ***chuckling to myself***  I didn't tease them before now.

When someone states an issue with which they are struggling, there are many ways in which one can reply.  If one desires to commiserate with their poor suffering friend, they would simply say, "yes, that's me (or my situation)  as well."  So, why then, when someone (and there's always someone complaining about their health in this bunch) complains about their head or their feet or some other broken body part, why does my mother-in-law reply, "so don't mine" ...and "mine" is pronounced here with two syllables, not one (pronounced: Mie-Yun).  This woman once worked for the FBI, and for a similar state agency.  If she's correct in her statement, wouldn't she say, "mine do not," or "mine don't" (pronouncing MINE as ONE syllable)?  If she's trying to express commonality, wouldn't she say, "so DO mine," or "mine hurt/are broken/or dead as well?"  She didn't speak this way before, so why does she do it now?

I'd also like to complain about the pronunciation of words.  I get it wrong from time to time.  I've mispronounced words.  It happens.  But, I must insist that EVERYONE on the planet knows that the word "gist" is pronounced with a soft "g," soft "i," and then "st" as in "weST" and "peST."  My sister-in-law (who is guilty of everything I'm going to write here) pronounces is "gi-F-t."  She uses soft "g"  soft "i" and then "Ft" as in "riFT."  I hate to be petty (but sometimes I am petty), as my own father mispronounces "height" no matter how many times he has been shown this error.  He pronounces it as though there was an additional "h" at the end, as in "breadth," "depth" and "length."  For some reason, my brother-in-law pronounces "genre" as though, ... I have no idea how he came up with his pronunciation.  Instead of the French soft "g" (which is more of a "zgee" and, after all, the word is of French origins) he uses a hard "j" as in "Judge." For some reason, his mind has inserted a "d" in the middle, and you have "jahn-druh."  I am completely nonplussed.  I tried to correct him, and point out the origins of the word, and he simply laughed at me and said he wasn't French.  For the most part, my in-laws have added "er" or "ar" to the ends of any word ending in a vowel.  For the words ending in "r," they completely abandon the "r" and go with either "ah" or "eh."  Most words with one syllable are pronounced with two, and words that have more than three syllables are not used.  So, when my medical information is needed, I often wonder whether they are hearing what I am saying, or something else entirely.

On to creation.  My sister-in-law suffers from a common mental handicap.  She perceives herself as of lower intelligence, and so she attempts to make other people feel stupid as a method of making herself seem more intelligent.  This is very common, regardless of demographic, job title, origins and/or socioeconomic status.  A great many people utilize this tool as a means of making themselves feel better.  Of course, the rest of us dumb bastards actually bother to go out, get more education, learn more and attempt to raise ourselves, rather than crush everyone else.  I digress.  My sister-in-law, not wanting to feel less intelligent, sometimes uses words she doesn't fully understand.  This has given birth to my favorite of all her "isms:"  DEBATION.  When I first heard it, I wondered if I had heard correctly.  "What did you just say?"  She replied, "I couldn't decide on the blue one or the white one, so I sat there having a DEBATION with myself."  Of course, the obnoxious-insufferable-know-it-all in me corrected her usage immediately, "you mean you had a DEBATE with yourself?"  She replied, "yeah."  But it was clear, that she did not pick up on my correction.  Ah, the sweet joy of frustration.  For 20 years now, I've listened to her DEBATIONS with herself over the many choices she has had to make from career, to child birth, to raising children and onward. 

There are so many more examples, however, I should not be focusing my attention on incorrect grammar.  I am in the midst of finishing a degree, for which I must write many papers.  I need to surround myself with really intelligent people who write well, and think before they speak.  I mean no offense to those who could not care less about grammar.  As I embark on my journey toward even higher education, it is easy to get lazy and speak in the manner of those by whom you are surrounded.  Medical journals will not be interested in publishing anyone who is uncertain of the "jahn-druh" of their topic, stuck in a "debation" over the "gift" of their material.  And, I will never rise to great "heighths" if I don't write "good."  So "don't" you think?

deleted deleted
1 Response Mar 7, 2010

I hate it too, but you may be making too much of it. I would be happy if at least spelling was important to some people. My daughter is terrible at spelling, and she graduated with honours. She seems to think it is unimportant, but always calls me when she is re-writing her resume. I guess it's kind of like only paying attention to your driving when there's a cop watching you.