Summer Fruit »« The Nature of Offense

Verb Regulation

They’re beiging my language.

I’ve tried to learn other languages. I have studied them, but the most that’s consistently stuck with me is “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I speak only a little ______,” all said with pretty decent accents. But every time I’ve tried, especially the year when I was taking French and Spanish at the same time, I’ve learned more about English and come to love it a little more.

I don’t like it because it’s any sort of a rational language. Quite the opposite. I love every little quirk and irregularity. I collect idiom. I like that we’ve stolen words from almost every other language, and that I have to know something about each of them to know how my own words work.

But now, someone, some nefarious, well-meaning clown, is going around trying to make my language tidy. They’re taking my beloved irregular verbs and making them regular.

They started with the less common ones, and I’m sure they thought I wouldn’t notice. Silly them. When I was a kid, I dove competitively (well, it wasn’t terribly compatible with acrophobia, but I tried). Future generations of youngsters will not have had that opportunity. The most they’ll be able to say when they’re my age is that they dived (although probably better than I did). And while I dreamt of being able to go off the high board without my legs shaking, they will only have dreamed.

And let us not forget the poor campers. I knelt beside coals and burnt my marshmallows, listening as others wove thrilling ghost stories. Today’s children will have burned theirs for a lesser cause as they kneeled, their stories merely weaved. When spooky sounds came from the woods, my heart leapt. Theirs will have simply leaped.

I know there are good reasons to simplify our language. It’s replaced French as the language of commerce and diplomacy, and holding tight to these words create barriers for others who must learn it. But I can’t do it. I can’t embrace this rational, streamlined, beige version of my love. I have no choice but to fight it.

It isn’t for me, you see. It’s for the children.

Comments

  1. says

    This is an issue that concerns me almost as much as the disappearance of the subjunctive–and I’m not kidding, that really is something that concerns me. Language is a social contract. We agree to abide by certain rules, although part of the beauty of language is how much latitude it allows, and how changes are accepted. The Oxford English Dictionary now considers it acceptable to say, “this is him,” although whether it’s acceptable when it’s really she is another issue. But not all change is good. Giving up irregularity in verbs diminishes the flavor of any language. I spent way too many years studying Latin, and I can tell you that in both Latin and English verbs like “to be” just wouldn’t sound right if they were made regular.

  2. says

    Christopher, “to be” is the one verb you don’t have to worry about. I haven’t seen a single organic language in which that’s a regular verb. Not to say there may not be several, just that I haven’t seen them. No, it’s the ones around the edges that they change, the ones where they think no one’s paying attention.And I’m with you on the subjunctive. It’s useful.

  3. says

    Janiebelle, I hope you’ll continue to sneak things in, if only so you say you snuck them. Several years ago I read a science fiction short story in which a totalitarian government forces the regularization of all verbs, including forms of “be”, as well as other linguistic regularity. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the story or its author, just that people who stuck to the old language were called “Slanduch”. The sad thing is I want to slip some irregularity into my comments but can’t think of any…but I still praise and defend it.

  4. says

    Christopher, a confession. The regularized verbs have been bothering me for a while, but every time I sat down to write about them, I could only come up with one or two. So I cheated. I wrote this with a list of irregular verbs open in another tab.Let me know if you figure out what story that is. Have you read Eleanor Arnason’s “The Grammarian’s Five Daughters”? If not, you can get to it from here: http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/2007/07/pixel-stained-technopeasant-wyrdsmiths.html

  5. says

    I brought this up at dinner with a bunch of English majors, teachers, etc. and the conversation instantly devolved into people blurting out their favorite irregular verbs in all the different tenses and conjugations. Up ’till the waitress brunged the coffee, then things started to quieten down a bit.

  6. says

    My wife is a science teacher but a grammarian. Her step mother is an English major/MA. Her father simply makes English grammar his hobby and can cite and apply every rule. The other people at the table played along.It was my daughter’s birthday dinner at Santorini. Which is apparently a Greek Island somewhere.

  7. says

    Santorini is indeed a Greek island. It’s also where I usually go for my birthday dinner, oddly enough.Point Amanda at the Arnason story I mentioned above, if you haven’t already. She’ll likely enjoy it.

  8. says

    I think that link might not work.I have good news and bad news about Santorini. Bad news: It’s closing.Good news: It’s reopening somewhere else. Eden prairie somewhere?

  9. says

    Well, it works, but I got lazy and didn’t make it a link specifically.Thanks for the info on Santorini. The move may make it less birthday friendly, but it’s nice to know it won’t be gone.

  10. says

    As long as the ouzo and the bellydancer stay. (Do they even still have dancing on the weekends? I’m never there at the right time.) Actually, I’m still just so thrilled the cigar nights are gone that I forget they have the psychic.