Illegible Scribbles or Legible Nonsense?

I’ve not been very busy of late in the gym or out on the road.  Last week I did manage to get a bit of exercise in (yay!) but it wasn’t anything to shout home about.  Hence, today’s blog post doesn’t concern running, but rather, language.

I’m something of a traditionalist in matters concerning language, I do not like change in language where the world doesn’t require it.  There are a number of linguistic innovations that irk me.  One current tendency I have picked up on is that should have is too often written as should of presumably because of a misunderstanding with the contraction should’ve.  The adoption of like as a discourse marker, that is, when we can’t find a contentful word to fill the airwaves with instead, is another change in progress that rattles my cage!

1:  He was like, going so fast

2:  He was going so fast

There is no difference in meaning between 1 & 2 other than an indication in 1 that the speaker knows not the meaning of like.  The words use in reported speech is even more detestable:

3:  He was like “I’m going shopping instead”

4:  He said “I’m going shopping instead”

In 3, there is no qualitative reason to use like over a more descriptive verb such as snarled or shouted.  It doesn’t give the hearer any more information nor indicate the feelings of the speaker any more eloquently.

Whilst I am concious of my writing style in this post, meaning that it may sound a little too formal, I do find the way some people speak and thus write, rather odd and unappealing.  The examples above are two of a plethora of odd linguistic developments.

I have been tasked to decipher a letter, as part of a historical language unit at university.  It’s a nice thing to do in a way, the first letter I deciphered was written regarding a poor old lady who had fallen and was reassuring the person to whom it was written that the aforementioned lady wasn’t too badly hurt.  There are a few features in the letter that gain my attention.  Firstly, the manner in which the writer addresses her addressee My Dearest Miranda sounds much more affectionate than the commonplace Hi or even Dear x, and whilst the persons engaged in the letter writing may have been close friends it shows an amount of respect to address someone by their proper name, even if examples more formal than this do exist.

A number of delicious little phrases also appear in the text, the most interesting of which I will write about here.  The phrase stir out grasped my attention.  It’s become archaic in 21st century Britain but was evidently commonplace back in the 18th and 19th century.  According to the OED the meaning of stir out, contained within the meaning of stir (v.) is ‘to go out’.  Whilst we are still able to talk about ‘going out’ in present day language, stir out contains an element of ‘ceasing restfulness’ before doing anything whereas today’s meaning could equally be used if somebody is quite busy where they are before going out.

The downside to such a task is that the handwriting is, to put it politely, illegible.  It took me a good deal of time and effort to decipher my first letter and my second, from a different author with much worse handwriting, is proving near impossible.  I suppose the benefit of technology is that it eradicates handwriting issues and makes communicating much faster and more economical.  Yet the advent of new technology has given rise to text language, loss of meaning and loss of personal interaction – you can’t have it all I suppose!

NB:  For introducing me to the use of ‘delicious’ in reference to language I must thank Michael Atherton, his book Glorious Summers and Discontents is one of my favourites for its use of precise and meaningful language.

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