Although the title may mislead you, this is not an article lamenting the ever-growing gap between the haves and have-nots of our society … though that deserves a diatribe, as well.
No, take note, future and prolific writers, today we are examining two of my defining moments in proper grammar – or should I say lack of – in this so-called “modern” world.
When I was a kid – don’t you hate that intro? But seriously, as an elementary student of yesteryear, certain experiences forever changed my use of a couple of words / phrases. Namely: “warsh” and “it’s not.”
The first one is obvious … when speaking, Minnesotans and other Midwesterners often throw an “r” into perfectly-spelled words. Oh, they don’t write it that way, but that “Fargo-ish” colloquial speech insists they “warshed” their clothes or plan to go “warsh” their car.
It must have been around junior high when my best friend’s mom, Ms. T, finally could stand it no longer. I had picked up my dad’s Minnesota grammar peccadillo which raised the Pennsylvania native’s literature hackles every time I asked if I could help her warsh the dishes. (A question I never asked at home!)
Yipes! As an A’s and B’s English Literature student and interested in debate and drama, for once, I had nothing to say. She was right! There is no “r” in wash. Couldn’t argue with fact. From that moment forward, I pronounced it correctly – much to my dad’s confusion.
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Snot! Snot! Everywhere we go, we’re pelted with snot!
Our next grammar lesson dear budding and established writers, and other cool folks reading this, is also specific to writing and speaking. However, it could be more of a pet peeve, brought on by the reprimand of an exacting English instructor.
Mr. B was the toughest teacher in my high school (no, you don’t get to know just how long ago that was!) – everybody feared him. He never doled out A’s and he had a scowl to match the meanest grumpy cat. I did manage a B+ once though. I respected his teachings, albeit sometimes learned through a derisive, usually deserved, dressing-down in class.
Fortunately, this day, he saved his tongue-lashing for someone else.
One of our classmates confidently began reading his assignment aloud, as instructed. He read well and I’m sure hoped for a glowing growl from Mr. B.
And then it happened … he said something to the effect, “It’s not due to …” Mr. B cut him off. “It’s snot!?” he yelled. “Why are you talking about snot?”
The kid tried to stammer on about his topic, but Mr. B was on a roll. “Where is the snot in your speech? Tell me how snot is made!” (I was tempted to respond to his last retort, but wisely kept my mouth shut, for a change.)
Mr. B’s pet peeve became mine; and he makes a good point. I later spoke with our drama instructor about it, as good diction and proper grammar were once praised there, too. Way back then we generally used “it isn’t” or “it is not” as good grammar, rather than “it’s not” – when you speak the latter quickly it truly becomes snot! As dialogue in stage performances and movies “it’s not” was rarely used, for that reason. Now, it’s everywhere!
The use of contractions in the early- to mid-twentieth century written works was protested by many scholars, defining those who spoke – or worse, wrote – with contractions, as uneducated.
Even more heinous, was the '60s turmoil surrounding "ain't." My Grandma C chastised me repeatedly, for using it. “There is no such word as ‘ain’t’ she’d argue.” Hmmmm well, that soon changed as far as dictionaries were concerned.
Doing a little digging, it’s found that the word had been part of informal speaking for all classes of people for centuries, before the middle class decided it was vulgar. When did we get so “uppity”?
Contractions appear in nearly all languages, at least in oral form. For some unknown reason, by the early 20th century, English contractions of all kinds were generally frowned upon, especially in writing for the public. In terms of language, that didn’t (see?) last long.
Some new societal changes are honest revelations and welcome, inevitable progression of society. This is not. Used in this manner, “is not” is still nearly offensive, but not quite – I can live with it.
In “is not” the “s” sound is more like a “z” which separates the words more effectively. But “it’s not” cool to use the contraction “it’s” (or that’s, et al) preceding the word “not” – you cannot deny – the contracted sibilant “s” simply rolls right off your tongue into “not” and there ya go. We have snot.
You can’t even validate the snot phrase for modern computer-editing (or texting) standards that require abbreviations and contractions to save space – both contracted phrases use eight characters/spaces. Although I too, am guilty of voraciously using contractions, I am forever cured of snot.
Our progressively lazy society of today insists on infusing snot in all manner of speech and written works. Another sad reminder that our language is transitioning … excuse me … deteriorating in dribbles. Do I miss the “good ol’ days”? Yes, when it comes to proper and eloquent English.
I have often admitted, “Thank goodness I don’t write the way I talk!” So, so, true.