Be the change

A saying widely ascribed to Gandhi (-ji, for the Indians among us) is “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  I don’t know the exact quote, and I don’t know whether he originally said this in English or perhaps in Gujarati or Hindi, but I like the idea.  More than, say, his idea about sleeping naked with young girls.  But I digress.

A big part of the change I’d like to see in the English-speaking world is better grammar.  I do enjoy finding the correct word or phrase, and I always appreciate an elegant and precise construction.  And yet, increasingly, I find myself leaning toward fluidity and colloquialism at the expense of, say, pronoun-antecedent agreement.

When I wrote in an email earlier today:  “Who is the artist?  Maybe I can look them up on Pandora?” … was I throwing in the towel and yielding to the inexorable advance of grammatical mediocrity?  Or was I making a pragmatic decision to accept a common usage that dates back at least to Shakespeare, and in doing so, breaking down a barrier I’d constructed to artificially distance myself from my friends and the world around me?  When hardly anyone knows a rule, am I truly clarifying anything by following it?

Thinking too hard about this makes me nauseated.  Just momentarily, though.

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2 Responses to “Be the change”

  1. tracycarver Says:

    I think a more important concern here are commonplace errors that aren’t subtle. For example any youtube response stream; you find lots of atrocious writing that is only 60-80% correct or even worse, versus your example, which is to me a 95-99% correctness rate. However, I think the problem I am seeing is a tough one and will require more reading and writing, and less TV (and Internet?) to fix.

    Before I go further, I think if you want to lead by example and say what you know is right, go ahead, but I think these examples just won’t easily register for many people.

    Take ‘them’; I am supposing your examples in italics are wrong. Them is an “incorrect” usage of a generic third person pronoun. We are supposed to believe that ‘he’ is the correct word. But I have heard responses to ‘he’ such as ‘Why do you think the artist is a man? Could it not have been a woman?’. So when I hear a ‘he’ used as the generic pronoun, I instinctively flinch. Perhaps the correct ‘he’ is a barrier to communication that does not add clarity.

    We need to open up diplomatic negotiations with the MLA and Chicago people and if we have to, send in the troops:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_language_is_a_dialect_with_an_army_and_navy

    Couple days ago at the dog park I said to a couple of younger gentlemen while we were chatting about music and movies “These things are cyclical.” You guessed it, I said it with the long i (rhyme with bicycle). Both the dudes said simultaneously ‘cyclical’ with a short i, like ‘sik-lik-el’. I’m unbothered by the correction (I said ‘well, whatever’), and that sounds just fine to me also, but my pronunciation is probably how I’d say it the majority of time. Most of my relatives in the mountains here, if you could get them to say it at all, would say it with the long i. Anyway, I looked up some dictionary web sites with audio clips. I found a UK one that said it the short i way, and an american web site that had it both ways. I could not get the merriam webster website plugin to work, so I don’t know what it says.

    I asked you a while back what dystopic meant, and you posted the answer. I’ll bet you didn’t even have to look it up, my compliments. That day, I’d heard it several times by different political commentators. Kudos to them as well. I generally figure out words by context and in those cases I’d been unable to do so.

    Let me get back to your original point — ‘better grammar’. Do you think your goal might really be a better educated, discourseful (yup made it up), and thoughtful society for which ‘better grammar’ is a happy side effect?

    Brits reading the phone book: 21 points
    Americans reading the Gettysburg Address: 13 (we missed the point after)

  2. knightstango Says:

    Food for thought. Love the language/dialect quote – thanks!

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