Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Study hard, and learn you’re English

I love language. It simply comes down to that.

At the risk of coming across as a dork, back in high school I used to spend a lot of time in the school library, mainly because there was this 4,000-page dictionary that stood perched atop an island bookshelf, which stuck out to me among all other books like a shrine of wisdom. I often made this journey over to this educational Mecca so I could be introduced to all of these new amazing words I’d never learned before.

To me, that dictionary was like a compendium of all the knowledge humanity had gathered over the years, and I read it religiously. I would soak in all of this new vocabulary, which only led to a hunger for more, and I wished for the day that I would own a book like this of my own, which I do today, and proudly have on display somewhere in my closet.

I say this mainly because I worry about the way language is abused and dumbed down these days.

I admit it’s hard sometimes to fully understand what our rules for language are, when there are so many exceptions to them. And when things get confusing people tend to act out and create their own way of doing things. The sad result here is that kids these days speak by way of instant messages, Facebook updates and Tweets, which only leads to attention spans that can’t exceed 140 characters.

A part of me dies every time I see someone write things like “ROFL” or “OMG,” or use numbers when letters perfectly suffice. And with how often I experience people using this kind of text speak language, I actually died four years ago. My internal organs have become blackened by the tarnishing of our beautiful language, and although my doctor tells me this has happened because of my rampant smoking, I know it’s because of other reasons.

I was recently reading letters from Titanic survivors, and was taken aback at how well spoken and eloquent these people’s letters were. Back then people had a knack for sharing their thoughts with a precision and poise that people today are unable to do. And not only that, they were drowning. I hate to see how low we’ve slipped since then, and I think we as a species have lost something because of it.

So I want to take this time to offer today’s generational youth some tips on our English language, because I worry we’re losing something that is very important. Expression is necessary for expressing what you want to express. And words help get you on the express lane of expression.

Let’s start with the importance of letters. With “U” and “I” so close to each other on a keyboard, words like “inducted” or “indicted” can easily be mistaken. Watch out for sentences like this – “After numerous hours of festive skullduggery, the partying culminated as Michael J. Ackson was indicted into the grocer’s association.” The lesson here? Don’t use the word “skullduggery.” It’s outdated. And grocers party way too hard.

So don’t forget how important letters are, because sentences like this can also happen – “Billy Willy led his team in scoring with 25 points, but his most impressive feat, however, was that he downed five 3-pinters during the game.”

Since the majority of my experience is in newspaper editing, I thought I’d also provide a few tips in proofreading:

Avoid too much repetition. And don’t be repetitive. It gets redundant. And repetitious. There’s no point to that. It’s repetitive. Once a point is clearly made, you don’t have to make it again. So don’t. Unless you’re working with someone with ADD. Instead of this: “MHS freshman student Zip Pippy, a freshman, was recently named Freshman of the Week of the MHS freshman class.” Try this: “Zip Pippy, MHS Freshman of the Week, is in court today, as he plans to sue his parents for naming him Zip Pippy.”

Its and it’s, their and they’re, your and you’re. Watch out for these. “Its,” “their” and “your” are used in possessive references, while “it’s,” “they’re” and “you’re” are compound nominative clusters, which is best with granola and whole milk.

And another thing, don’t overuse commas. They slow down a person’s reading. Instead of this: “But, there was, in fact, something within, or without, or around, her, that, somewhere, could, quite possibly, substantially, or maybe, just slightly, satiate her wild, raw, natural, appetite.” Try this: “She was hungry.”

These are just a few tips to help get you back on the proper path. If any of this was confusing and you feel like rebelling, well, that’s normal. The English language doesn’t really abide by any real set of rules. It is the stone soup of languages. And that’s what we’re all about here in America. How language is used reflects how a society lives. And when you steal from others and make your own rules and call it the way things are, you’re living the American spirit.

So if you have any doubt, simply steal it from someone else and make it your own. That is, in fact, the American way.