Amglish In, Like, Ten Easy Less Part 10

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Lesson Three: Fudge the Grammar.

In order to become proficient in Amglish, you need to develop a nonchalant att.i.tude toward grammar rules and standards. If English teachers themselves cannot always follow the rules of grammar, why should you even try?

That may mean forgetting much of what you have learneda"or at least been exposed toa"in school or at home. Although a certain basic knowledge is necessary, as it is in any language, you donat need to know the finer points.

Good grammar does not guarantee good communication. It can even be an impediment if it sets you apart from your peers.

Ambrose Bierceas Devilas Dictionary defines grammar as a aseries of pitfalls thoughtfully prepared for the feet of the self-made man, along the path by which he advances to distinction.a Yet computer programs keep trying to improve grammar and syntax by inserting wavy lines under words and automatically changing the spelling of words when we try to innovate. The best way to handle such intrusions is to ignore them as much as possible.

To bond with others and be well understood, it is helpful to show that you yourself are far from perfect in the use of language. One way to do so is to downplay or avoid mysterious parts of English such as adverbs and subjunctives.

For leaders.h.i.+p in this respect, let sports announcers and journalists be your guides. They tend to be on the cutting edge.

Lesson Four: Be Creative with Language.

By buying or borrowing this book, you clearly show interest in enjoying language rather than being bored or agitated by it.

The word Amglish itself is an invention that invites other inventions in keeping with new ways of communicating. Am-glish users are always looking for new words and new ways of saying things. This is one way to make more friends than you can on Facebook.

Newish words donat have to be instant successes. They donat even have to make sense to become popular, especially with young people, for whom new words are like basic foods for the ego. The only requirement is that words be original. We canat all be like Sarah in that respect, but there is no harm in trying.

If you cannot invent winning words, the next best thing is to pa.s.s on interesting ones you hear or see as promptly as possible. In this way, the cause of faster and livelier language can be further encouraged.

In fact, you can win prizes and gain prestige by entering one or more of the numerous word contests that are now the rage. One outlet is a dictionary that invites entries in an online daily word game. Just think of the fame, if not fortune, you may gain by dreaming up a word that becomes permanently enshrined in public discourse.

Lesson Five: Abbreviate Where Possible.

In keeping with the basic aims of Amglish to save time and trouble, it is smart to shorten words and sentences as much as possible, except of course when youare on the phone and extra minutes donat cost much, or someone else is paying the bill. Keep an open mind for ways to be as brief and to the point as possible.

To begin with, make a detailed inventory of all the abbreviations you know and frequently review them so you will always be ready to insert them in all your writing and conversations. Your eventual acceptance in the extended Amglish family may depend not only on the extent of your verbal inventory but on your ability to use words freely, whether appropriately or not.

Take a lesson from the world of tweeting and texting. Learn how to say and write things with few words.

& donat limit yrself only to wll-known abbrs. You shd feel free to think up new ones 2 go long with old standbys. Rmembr: with new abbrs, itas not so much how suitbl they R but how orig they R, even if you are not sure they will B undrstd. And donat forget numbers 2, 4, and 8 for inserting into your writing. They can become big hits with parents and teachers.

You should also have an ample supply of acronyms ready for instant messages and e-mails.

Lesson Six: Let Words Spell Themselves.

Everyone knows that Microsoft Word and other software programs can help solve spelling problems with apps like spell-check.

If you misspell a word as you type, you may see it quickly and automatically corrected or see a wavy red line under the word, warning you that the letters are not correct. You can then guess whatas wrong, but if you guess wrong, the red will linger a while and then die.

But automatic spellers are far from perfect, as earlier parts of this book have shown. The failure of the worldas greatest minds to solve this common problem is further reason to let words spell themselves. Automatic devices can sometimes make it worse than your own errors can.

The truth is that n.o.body is a perfect speller. And few people have the time to look up words in dictionaries, even online ones. Itas easier to blame spell-check; it is designed to take a lot of abuse.

Misspelling has become so common that it, like selective grammar, is becoming a good-buddy badge, especially in the world of e-mailing and texting. The key is not to get uptight about spelling, because being meticulous in such language departments can lead to your being considered a nerd or worse by others.

One consolation: even Shakespeare had trouble spelling his own name.

Lesson Seven: Disconnect the Dots.

Punctuation is another trip to the dark ages. Over the last four centuries, English has acc.u.mulated a hornetas nest of squiggly things that few people can figure out or put into their places with confidence, much less perfection.

The lesson here is like the first one: relax. Let your writing flow without restraint. Sentence breaks and breathing stops should come naturally. Problems occur when you have to choose which type of punctuation to use.

Letas start by separating the few necessary ones, such as commas and periods, from the ones that are rarely understood, such as colons and semicolons. From the looks of the word semicolon, it seems to be worth half a colon, but itas really only worth about a tenth of a colon. That means you should use the marks in that proportion.

Author and language expert Paul Robinson says that more than half the semicolons he sees ashould be periods, and probably another quarter should be commas.a He also says all punctuation should be aas invisible as possiblea so as not to be a distraction.1 One way to make them invisible is to use as few as possible.

On the other hand, famed nitpicker Lynne Truss admits that punctuation is going out of style.2 Apparently all we need to do is to wait.

Lesson Eight: Use Fillers, Like, a Lot.

If you agree that it is time to slow down the language train so your thoughts can catch up to a conversation, this lesson is for you. It is about words you can nonchalantly mumble while you grab a split second or two to think about what you wanta"or donat wanta"to say next.

It should be clear by now that language changes are arriving much too fast for anyone to absorb or understand them all and still be able to respond smartly before the response gap becomes embarra.s.singly long.

When such a point arrives in a conversation, you have a wide choice of words or phrasesa"including some already well-known onesa"that can give you those extra fractions of a second to plan your next words. There is no hiding the fact that the most-used fillers are like and you know.

The beauty of these handy words is that they are simply not noticed because almost everybody else uses them without realizing it or hearing themselves say them. The words can be inserted before, like, almost any other word or phrase without, you know, giving even a hint to people nearby that you are grasping for a more thoughtful response to what was said earlier.

Notice how the two types of pauses were slipped into the above sentence so deftly that they are not noticeable even in printed form.

After all, what are the alternatives? Who wants to hear a string of ahs and uhs or worse while waiting for the next word from a conversational partner?

Lesson Nine: Kill Obscenities with Excess.

As noted earlier, when Vice President d.i.c.k Cheney told Senator Patrick Leahy to ago fa" yourself,a the media reported it, but hardly anybody was shocked. Nor was anyone shocked when Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama health care bill was aa big fa"ing deal.a Expletives and obscenities are still being used often, but some are clearly losing their punch because of overuse. The real killer here seems to be excessive repet.i.tion, not the pleas and threats of parents, teachers, or movie and broadcast codes.

Under the circ.u.mstances, the best way to strike a blow against the most offensive obscenities is to use them to excess until negative public reaction works its will.

Perhaps the best evidence for such an approach is the story (told earlier in this book) of what has happened to the verb suck, a word that often had an obscene meaning. Parents and teachers didnat kill its offensive meaning with threats. It died of natural causes from excessive use. More recently, it has even acquired respectability with a newly accepted meaning.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere has been inundated with obscenities. What sucks there is the anonymity. That seems to open the floodgates to obscenities galore.

Lesson Ten: Learn to Code-Switch.

Now for the real fun part: finding the tricky middle ground of language that allows you to s.h.i.+ft lingos to fit the current scene, especially if you are young.

Professional linguists use the term code-switching (CS) to describe the ability to change from one type of language to another, such as changing from cool, street talk to the language necessary to get a college degree or a good job.

The initials of code-switching are the same as those for cool smart, the state of being able to know when to stop hanging with friends and when to learn enough of the prevailing language of media and business to achieve a happy and useful life.

We all code-switch to some extent to gain rapport with the person we are addressing at the moment. If itas a language teacher, we are likely to cut the street talk and show off a few big words. If itas a close friend or relative, we tend to revert to less formal terms.

As this book tries to make clear, language can be very enjoyable, especially with the informal lingo that is taking over the world and reshaping itself, as well as other languages, as it goes. But that doesnat mean you should not be proficient in the working language of society Funny guy Bill Cosby is the model here. The TV comedian is not joking when he says he learned how to code-switch as a boy. He would use street slang with his playmates during the day, but when he got home and faced his homework, he s.h.i.+fted to the language that eventually helped him succeed beyond his fondest dreams.

In todayas world of information technology (IT), people who canat handle both formal and informal language will sooner or later lose their way.

What makes all this especially exciting is that for the first time in history, one language seems to be well on the way to filling that need for much of the world.

Deciding to be cool smart is easy. The hard part is the follow-through.


Made in the U.S.A.

1. Toni Boyle and K. D. Sullivan, Gremlins of Grammar (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), p. 2.

2. The New Republic, April 6, 2011.

3. World-renowned linguist and author David Crystal has raised his estimate from 1.5 to 2.0 billion, the same figure used by David Graddol, another British authority on language. E-mail to author from Crystal, March 7, 2011.

4. Robert McCrum, Globish (New York: Norton, 2010), p. 276.

5. January 11, 2000.

6. November 6, 2000.

7. January 23, 2004.

8. April 11, 2001.

9. Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 242.

10. Was.h.i.+ngton Post, January 22, 2006.

11. November 22, 2006.

12. Was.h.i.+ngton Post, November 19, 2006.

13. Maureen Dowd, New York Times, July 25, 2007.

14. Vanity Fair, January 23, 2010.

15. Was.h.i.+ngton Post, December 23, 2007.

16. Was.h.i.+ngton Post, July 11, 2010.

17. Robert J. Connors and Andrea A. Lunsford, aFrequency of Formal Errors in Current College Writing, or Ma and Pa Kettle Do Research,a College Composition and Communication 39 (December 1988): pp. 395a"409; The New St. Martinas Guide to Teaching Writing (New York: Bedford/St. Martinas, 1993).

18. Charlie Rose, PBS, March 11, 2009.

19. E. D. Hirsch Jr., The Knowledge Deficit (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), p. 53.

20. New Yorker, June 18, 1949.

21. Was.h.i.+ngton Post, September 8, 2007.

22. Source: Denise T., the teacher.


24. Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves (New York: Gotham Books, 2008), p. 112.

25. Louis Menand, New Yorker, June 28, 2004.

26. David Spates, Crossville Chronicle, June 4, 2007.

27. Highlights from PISA (Program for International Student a.s.sessment), U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, December 2010.

28. H. L. Mencken, The American Language, paperback ed. (New York: Knopf, 1977), p. 133.

29. Mencken, The American Language, p. 123.


Teachers and Other Pioneers 1. The full sentence from the NCTE statement is, aIn view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms: the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing.a 2. Telephone conversation, February 19, 2007.

3. Edwin C. Newman, Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? (Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1974).

4. John Algeo, PBS, Do You Speak American? Language Myth No. 21, 2005.

5. Mail Online, January 21, 2010.

6. David Mulroy, The War against Grammar (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 2003).

7. New York Times, November 11, 1993.

8. United Press International, October 22, 2010.

9. Guardian, February 4, 2005.

10. Yahoo! Answers, August 31, 2010.


12. Sandra Stotsky, Losing Our Language (San Francisco: Free Press, 1999).

13. Diane Ravitch, Language Police (New York: Knopf, 2003).

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