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The English Language

Some thoughts on its right use.

The English Language

Pages on this mini-site:


“I will not go down to posterity talking bad grammar.”
—Benjamin Disraeli, while correcting proofs of his last Parliamentary speech

This site evolved out of a couple of pages I had placed on another site, one discussing a particular type of literature. Those pages were placed there for want, at the time, of a better home; they, in turn, had evolved from numerous posts to the usenet news group alt.english.usage. I found that I was repeating certain messages with sufficient frequency that it would be convenient to have those thoughts in one set place to which I could point the interested, and where also I could expound them at greater length than is appropriate for a usenet post.

To my pleasant surprise, a few kind souls suggested from time to time that placing those pages in a home of their own would be A Good Thing, and I have, as you see, finally followed that advice.

This is not a site about the mechanics of writing and speaking sound English. There exist numerous thick books (not, regrettably, equally reliable) that present those mechanics, though a select few of those many will suffice for even the most fastidious. (I have elsewhere here set forth a list of the best and most important references.) This site is commentary on why sound English is important, and on just what “sound English” is.

I may, as time goes by and particular faddy abominations attract my attention, focus a page or three on such things; but for now, here is what there is:

In 1965, in addenda to his Usage and Abusage, Eric Partridge wrote:

Since the war . . . and partly because of it, there has arisen a Do-It-Yourself cult, affecting not only the practicalities of life but also its embellishments and enhancements and consolations: music and the arts, literature and drama, all show an undermining by the leveling process. Those for whom “anything goes” have yet to learn that ultimately, for them, nothing goes; lacking a worthwhile ambition, a compulsive aspiration, a genuine integrity, they are easily satisfied with mediocrity and by the mediocre. For them, Bedlam is as musical as Bach or Beethoven: a daub indicates genius; a dead-level of uninspired and almost formless monotony, and the IQ of an idiot, are superior to a controlled imagination and a high intelligence; and the kitchen sink possesses a validity and a beauty they deny to the other parts of a dwelling.

For them, the speech of an illiterate is preferable to that of an educated, cultured person. Subtlety and suppleness, distinctions and variety, eloquence and ease, clarity of phrasing and perspicuity of sentence, all these are suspect, for they imply superiority of mind and spirit. That ambiguity and tedium and a drab parochialism inevitably result from such an attitude seems to have eluded the little-minded, for they have become stultified by envy. No wonder mediocrity flourishes in literature and, indeed, at all levels of writing, for its only vehicle, language, has been slowed down by the slow-minded and the sluggish-hearted, by the dull and the indifferent. Anyone who believes in civilization must find it difficult to approve, and impossible to abet, one of the surest means of destroying it. To degrade language is finally to degrade civilization.

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This page was last modified on Thursday, 4 June 2020, at 7:35 am Pacific Time.