Monday, March 25, 2013

Henry Higgins was right.

Last week I saw a recently published book that sent me on a mini tirade at work. The book claimed that certain founding fathers were the inventors of the constitution. I'm not going to deny their importance. However, in my opinion, calling them inventors was ludicrous because the constitution was an amalgamation of ideals. It would be better to call them compilers than inventors. Since there are more than a few history buffs in the building, no one could see fault with my logic.

A few days later, a co-worker showed me a copy of Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke, saying that it was another example of poor word choice since there was more than one revolution. She expected me to agree with her. To her surprise, I didn't. The difference this time was age. Since Reflections was written at the time of the revolution, Burke had the right to call it The Revolution in the same way that people referred to WWI as The Great War.

The exchange made me a little sad in that it was yet another reminder how clueless many people are about word history and context. Perhaps this is something that only writers, linguists and other word nerd types pay attention to but I still feel that it's something that we as a society should be more conscious of. This is after all, our heritage. Is linguistic context disappearing from our daily language like spelling and grammar? I hope not. It certainly doesn't look good. Especially since I can't send a message by droid to OED Wan Kenobi.

What makes me sad isn't just the lost knowledge, though that is a part of it, but how it limits what I can put on the page. If I wrote about finding a faggot in the woods, how many people know I was talking about a bundle of kindling? Likewise, if I wrote about an ancient Greek warrior who, after a battle, said that he would "rather smell Paul Bunyon's boots than face another assault like that", how many would realize why those words should never have left his lips?

In the Cyberfunk book I'm not only using British idioms in the appropriate character's dialogue, I'm also using European spelling and phrasing. It's been frustrating because I know that most people won't appreciate the word candy because they won't even see it there. So, if I'm so frustrated, why go to all the effort? Because someone will notice and clap their hands with glee. While the finer points of the English language are going the way of the dodo, they're not extinct yet. If the public loves the story, I'm ok with the word candy becoming Easter eggs for the word nerds. Because there are others out there who care about accuracy as I do, I can soldier on. Besides, someone has to prove the Henry Higgins' of the world wrong. Americans haven't completely forgotten how to speak.

1 comment:

  1. Somehow, I find absolutely no fault with your perceptions, as well as your manor. According to my mother, I, myself, am an amalgam of language. I am looking forward to your book... even if I don't understand the high-tech vocabulary. I have probably murdered the punctuation and grammar of this post. Feel free to thrash, but I do agree with you.