English as she is spoke (and writ)

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Question:  “How are you?”

Answer:  “I’m good.  I’m really good”

This Q and A is often heard, but as a pedantic grammarian, it sets my teeth on edge.  I invariably want to respond, “Oh, you’re not bad or naughty then? … but are you well?”  because to me, the word ‘good’ has an entirely separate meaning to the word well’, or even to ‘fine’, which is an acceptable idiom that is our common response.

In fact, even ‘fine’ carries its own mildly amusing acronym, standing for ‘Flippin’ Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional’.

Answering that you are ‘good’ is a bland response that does not invite any further investigation.  When I am asked how I am, I generally assume that I am being asked a blanket question, in other words, how is my state of health and what is my state of mind?  “I’m well, thank you” does not feel to me to be such a closed reply as “I’m good”.

The answer to the “How are you?” question is a minefield in bereavement and grief terms.

In the early days, you will just about be able to trot out an “I’m doing ok, thanks”, when you are asked but generally, people tend to avoid asking you how you are because they are fearful of your response.

 When I speak or write about bereavement, I say, “Don’t ask someone how they are, unless you are prepared to listen to the answer”.  This may sound patronising but, just as the bereaved get accustomed to hiding their responses so as not to upset those who are questioning them, so those supporting the bereaved should be prepared for honest answers.  These truthful replies are better than anodyne rejoinders.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the bereaved quickly learn to don a daily mask of self protection.  When you ask how a bereaved person is doing they will gauge how ready you are for a truthful, possibly negative answer, and decide whether it is better to be honest, or not. Letting the mask slip once in a while to admit that you are struggling, is a hard thing to do but ultimately it can be helpful.  When you are the recipient of a heartfelt, honest response, even if it is upsetting, try to see it as a compliment to the regard in which you are held.  The responder trusts you with his or her true expression of feeling.

It is little wonder that grieving is tiring, as you necessarily become accustomed to seeing every conversation as a potential minefield, and you constantly assess not only your response, but that of others.  This can lead you to feel quite resentful and defensive, resulting in stilted, uncomfortable conversations.

I know now that in the early days after James died in 2005, some people found me aloof and unapproachable.  I am thinking particularly of the workplace, where well-meaning colleagues were anxious about upsetting me and therefore backed off rather than opening dialogue with me.  It has taken me a long time to appreciate and understand the many nuances of expression that exist in mourning.  I apologise retrospectively for being difficult to be around.  It was often the case that I was only just holding myself together, let alone being able to manage intelligent discourse with anyone. I was walking unknown terrain as a bereaved parent, just as those around me were unsure how best to support me.

The bereaved are great at finding ways to detach, to distract themselves from focusing on the difficulties of loss. All the time I am obsessing about grammar and the order and symmetry it represents in my life  (yes I know that sounds a bit extreme!) then I am not having to delve into the emotional depths of my loss.  It is more comfortable for me to hone in on the demise of the apostrophe … or what I perceive as the mis-use of our glorious language.

It irritates me to read, particularly on social media, comments such as “so glad your feeling better” with no hint of either an apostrophe or an ‘e’.  Also, I frequently see the misappropriation of the apostrophe into plural words; I have seen it in ‘room’s’, ‘place’s’, ‘choice’s’, MOT’s.  I heard about an anonymous apostrophe vigilante who was going round under cover of darkness in his home town replacing or removing apostrophes to correct the laxity of grammar on local signs. He used a device called the ‘apostrophiser’ (is that even a word?)   – home-made apparatus relying largely on a broom handle and sponges with which he applied vinyl apostrophes or blanked them out.  I can’t help but wonder if he was trying to deflect some awfulness in his life through this particular behaviour, although in interviews he revealed only that he was a stickler for correct grammar and pronunciation.

Our language has evolved rapidly in recent years, in particular with the steady march of new verbs associated with the internet, such as googling, texting, tweeting, and even sexting.  I accept that I am a traditionalist when it comes to the written word, but am I really alone in deploring the reduction of our grammatical standards to accepting the mis-spellings which are now common place? One of my pet hates is ‘definitely’ spelled ‘definately’ which some spellcheckers denigrate even further by turning it into defiantly, which is a different word altogether!

Please do not finish a sentence with “So that is it, end of”.

Or, if you are suggesting I go to work something out, I would prefer it if you didn’t ask me to “Go figure”.

I deplore the often heard malapropisms, “I was sat at the table”, or “I was stood at the side of the road”.   You were sitting, or standing.

Equally, people do not lay down in bed, they lie down.

People lie and hens lay.

So-called text speak using abbreviations and acronyms is gradually becoming an acceptable way of communication; I know I am showing my age here, but at least I don’t think LOL stands for Lots of Love!

Sometimes words and expressions are replaced by clever emoticons, which manage to express a great deal without the need for words.

The Wikipedia definition of emoticon is: etymologically a portmanteau of emotion and icon, is a metacommunicative pictorial representation of a facial expression that, serves to draw a receiver’s attention to the tenor or temper of a sender’s nominal non-verbal communication, changing and improving its interpretation.   Gosh, all that for a smiley face!

Do you see what I mean?  All the time my mind is occupied with this trivia, I am not in a sad place … anyway, must ‘crack on’ … and hope that I am easier to have a conversation with these days, despite my aversion to lax grammar!

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