English: Decay Sets In

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Blitz Magazine, March 1999

I’m looking at the cover of the February 15th edition of Maclean’s Magazine. Under the heading ‘Future Shock’, there are two lines which read: ‘The U.N. says Canada is Number 1. But that can’t last unless we make radical changes–from lower taxes to better education.’

          The latter sentence is, of course, grammatically incorrect. Which, considering the fact that it appears on the cover of Canada’s esteemed national publication, is disgraceful.

          At home, in the February 8th edition of the Vancouver Sun, a business reporter has, in her article, included the sentence: ‘Then there’s bulk subscriptions.’ I know that, if I were so inclined, I could spend a couple of hours editing today’s Province.

          A current ICBC television commercial uses the word ‘impact’ as a verb, disappointingly continuing a trend which began last year. This joins the currently-popular ‘Just because……..doesn’t mean,’ on the grammatically-incorrect bandwagon set in motion, in the main, by lazy journalists and copy writers who would rather skew their language than try to find a better way of saying something in the allotted space or time. (My favourite short-cut was presented by former BCTV consumer reporter Kimberly Halkett, who invented the word ‘fraudulated’ as a catch-all for use on her beat.)

          Another source of blame is art directors who, increasingly, are the ones making the decisions on how words and phrases are presented.

          Recently, an art director friend proudly displayed her lay-out for the identity of a housing development. Underneath a beautifully-designed logo, she had used the title ‘Towncentre’.

          “Town centre is two words,” I said.

          ‘It looks better as one,” she replied.

          “It’s bad English.”

          “So what? It’s a logo. I’m creating an image and I have artistic license to do what I want with the words.”

          I beg to differ. If I were a client commissioning advertising and/or design, the last thing I would want is an image or campaign which appears to encourage mediocrity.

          I am, of course, over-reacting. At the University of British Columbia, senior English instructor Jane Flick, who has had her students stand in silence to observe the death of the apostrophe, remains philosophical.

          “Incorrect usage is how new words come in. It’s the nature of language. You can’t hold back the sea.”

          I side with Irish dramatist Lord Dunsany who, long ago, declared war on corruptors of language. As he wrote in The Atlantic Monthly in 1936: ‘To every complaint that one may utter about bad language, one usually gets the answer, “A language must grow.” This is true when we have some new invention needing a new name, but it is of vital importance that we should be able to distinguish between growth and decay.”

 

Blitz Magazine, March 1999