Death of the English Language

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The Washington Post  > Arts & Living

Goodbye, cruel words. The Death of the English Language

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, September 19, 2010

The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the 
lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of 
international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 
after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of 
itself [known in Milton Keynes as ®MDRV¯Slobspeak®MDNM¯ --Flash].

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A 
reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the 
"youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their 
"younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first 
couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate 
proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, 
already severely weakened, English died of shame.

The language's demise took few by surprise. Signs of its failing health had 
been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the 
flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day 
state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut 
costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and 
syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, 
newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, 
sometimes eliminating it entirely.

In the past year alone, as the language lay imperiled, the ironically clueless 
misspelling "pronounciation" has been seen in the Boston Globe, the St. Paul 
Pioneer Press, the Deseret Morning News, Washington Jewish Week and the Contra 
Costa (Calif.) Times, where it appeared in a correction that apologized for a 
previous mispronunciation.

On Aug. 6, the very first word of an article in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) 
Journal was "Alot," which the newspaper employed to estimate the number of 
Winston-Salemites who would be vacationing that month.

The Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal has written of "spading and neutering." The 
Miami Herald reported on someone who "eeks out a living" -- alas, not by 
running an amusement-park haunted house. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star 
described professional football as a "doggy dog world." The Vallejo (Calif.) 
Times-Herald and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune were the two most recent papers, 
out of dozens, to report on the treatment of "prostrate cancer."

Observers say, however, that no development contributed more dramatically to 
the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the 
vomitous verbal construction "reach out to" as a synonym for "call on the 
phone," or "attempt to contact." A jargony phrase bloated with bogus compassion 
-- once the province only of 12-step programs and sensitivity training seminars 
-- "reach out to" is now commonplace in newspapers. In the last half-year, the 
New York Times alone has used it more than 20 times in a number of contextually 
indefensible ways, including to report that the Blagojevich jury had asked the 
judge a question.

It was not immediately clear to what degree the English language will be 
mourned, or if it will be mourned at all. In the United States, English has 
become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most 
popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often 
trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government, 
and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to 
write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles. [®MDRV¯like 
®MDNM¯Cheez Doodles? I'm sure I'm not the only one on this list who cringes at 
that --Flash] 

Many people interviewed for this obituary appeared unmoved by the news, 
including Anthony Incognito of Crystal City, a typical man in the street.

"Between you and I," he said, "I could care less."

E-mail Gene at weingarten@xxxxxxxxxxxxx

[Oi! Yo' bluffin' off, mate! --Antony Blatherington, aka the man on the Clapham 

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