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By Jack Ganssle

The Further Decline of English

Published 11/03/2005

According to an article by Philip Bossert ( Socrates was aghast at the idea of reading and writing. He worried that these crutches would erode our memory; eliminating the ability to remember important stories and facts. In his day educated people could recite hours-long poems from memory.

Can you? Most of us can barely remember all 15 of our phone numbers let alone a short soliloquy from Shakespeare. Once we're much past kindergarten Dad is sick of reading "James and the Giant Peach" to us for the hundredth time; after that we get about one shot at each story we read. So we memorize nothing.

But some (including me at times) complain that writing itself is degenerating as it mirrors the every-changing argot of the common person, as if there is some gold standard that statically defines a language for all time. Though the French Academy tries to keep their language in some sort of stasis, most of us accept the evolution of language over time.
But change is hard, and each generation seems to believe their version of English is the correct one. Email has devolved the language at a rapid pace; IMO this is fine; IIRC all generations change the way we express ourselves. LOL.

My father, chief constable of the grammar police, took umbrage to one of my recent emails that used a couple of `net acronyms. His responded that the outrage I'd perpetrated on the English language would surely lead to a general deterioration in the level of written discourse.

That reminded me of a quote from my favorite movie of all time. Topsy Turvy is about the making of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado," and is set in 1895. Gilbert's cantankerous and very muttonchoped father scoffs at his son's use of the newly-invented telephone, sniffing that "it will only lead to the further erosion of the English language."
Clearly the grumpy old man of 1895 was wrong. As is my dad.

But not me. Those damn kids sending IM messages devoid of punctuation and capitalization are leading to the, uh, further breakdown of the English language.

Or something.

What do you think? Can you recite any bit of literature from memory? r u .;) w/ IM's 4matting? We already have a bilingual president; will the nation be trilingual (English, Spanish and fast e-typing) soon?