Being an amateur writer is no excuse for writing amateurishly…

Wading through all the elderly dross in the Guardian website’s food and drink section (overdue for an update guys – Christmas is so last year), I came across this article.

Then, in the comments, spotted a bunch of people, quite rightly taking the Guardian to task for spelling sumptuous as sumptious. Quite rightly, because as I’ve pointed out here more times than I care to remember, standards at the Guardian, at least in its online version, are going to hell.

Then up pops one Felicity Cloake, author of the article and, possibly Continue reading

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Is handwriting better than using a computer?

No, it’s the quality of what’s written that matters, not the tools…

The Guardian has published what must be the longest free advert for a book in its history. Which would be more forgivable if the basic premise of the book – pen and ink good, computers bad – wasn’t complete bollocks. Luddites, it seems, are alive and well at the Guardian (yep, the guy’s a contributor).

That’s not to say that if you love writing longhand letters, a diary, or whatever, you should stop and run out and buy a computer. Of course you shouldn’t – just don’t try and tell me you’re superior to me, because I use a computer. You’re not, nor I to you.

One of the main points of the article is that handwriting conveys Continue reading

Bad language…

Every day the BBC radio traffic reporters annoy the hell out of me because, when discussing road closures, they insist on saying that roads are shut! They’re not – doors are shut, roads are closed, and I got to wondering why such fundamental English usage is seemingly a mystery to the Beeb. I think the answer lies in comics.

This isn’t as bizarre as it sounds, so sit up straight and pay attention. When I was very young (pre-school), we had comics, then as now, like the Dandy and Beano, which relied mostly on pictures to convey their message, with minimal text mainly in speech balloons (there were a number of other publications, now defunct, which had a similar structure). As our reading skills improved we’d move on to comics which were less cartoonish, with realistic illustrations, still with speech balloons, but also with a text box, at the bottom of each picture, which carried the narrative, so as our reading and comprehension skills improved, we had more of a challenge, and the publications were in a smaller format than the little kids’ comics – the Sun and the Comet were foremost among this style of publication. Of course, these are now history, too, which is a criminal shame, as by the age of four I could read fluently, thanks to this logical progression in my reading matter (scarily, today, comics like the Dandy and Beano are the preserve not of 3-year-olds, as they were in my day, but of 6-8 year-olds).

Of course, the time came when the Sun and Comet no longer presented a challenge. There were books, of course, but also magazine-style “comics” which were almost entirely text-based, with just a scene-setting picture for each story – these were the Hotspur, Adventure, and Wizard which, alas, are also no longer with us. Can you see a pattern here – less progressive reading material for kids = reduced levels of literacy? I was glad to see that the Harry Potter books encouraged a new generation to read, but that was before I read one and realised what egregious, derivative crap it was. Still, they got kids reading, and that’s always a good thing – just a shame they had no taste.

Once we’d outgrown these latter three, say by the age of 10, then we were ready to take on books full-time, our reading skills honed to perfection over 5 years or so by starting simply and working up in increasingly more difficult steps (I had an adult library card at 11, having seriously outgrown the children’s section). Out reading improved totally painlessly, and not only did we read “proper” English, we spoke it too. OK, among our peers we took liberties with the language, as kids and teens have always done, but we were perfectly capable, at need, of speaking properly. And many of us carried our love of reading into adulthood, though sadly many more didn’t – you ask an average sexagenarian how many books he or she read in the past year, and you’re likely to get a blank look – I know one guy of my age who has read one work of fiction in his entire life; terribly ironic, as he worked for the library service, with access to more books than you could shake a stick at!

So, that was how my generation learned to read, and that learning took place mostly outside school, as teaching kids to read then was apparently as hit and miss as it seems to be now, but now, of course, the extra-curricular reading materials that were available to my generation are gone forever (even if they’d survived they’d be absurdly expensive now. When I started school proper – I’d been at the pre-school Care Club – where the children of working parents could go, to receive a modicum of education prior to moving on to the infants’ school. Of course, we Care Club kids had already passed through the Janet and John phase, and mastered the basics of reading and writing, so we were actually looking forward to the new challenge of proper school. And what did we get – back to square one with Janet and bloody John all over again – which is why I said that most progress in reading took place outside school. I was helped, too, by the fact that the girl next door was a year ahead of me, and we’d read to each other – bouncing mistakes and corrections off each other, too, which, I suspect, benefited me rather more than her.

And guess what – we instinctively knew the difference between shut and closed – it’s not sodding rocket science, BBC!

We also learned, by reading reasonably well-written material, and by being taught well (particularly in secondary school – I had a brilliant English teacher), to write well, too – which is what got me into blogging in the first place. There are, apparently, about 95 million blogs, and I suspect – based on those I’ve read – that most are terribly ill-written, and I was convinced I could do better. False modesty aside, I think I’ve accomplished that. OK, I don’t have the massive output of the all-one-long-sentence-with-no-punctuation brigade, who think quantity is all that matters, but I think what I do is as well written as I can make it and, I hope, mostly interesting/entertaining. Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree!

Brit School…

What is it with alumni of the Brit School (Kate Nash, Lily Allen et al)? Their music’s OK (for a given value of OK), but almost without exception, the buggers can’t speak English.

Listening to Kate Nash at The Brits last night (and, god, wasn’t it an evening absolutely littered with dog-rough women – make an effort, girls, please; and will someone please buy Amy Winehouse a comb – or does she keep her stash in that hair?), she might well have been speaking Tagalog, so infested was her speech with glottal stops. In fact, it wasn’t that it was barely English, it was barely language – I really had to work hard to understand what she was saying. Shame it wasn’t worth the effort…

I’m all in favour of regional dialects – I was born in Manchester (long before the current nasal, whiny accent developed), although, having grown up in Liverpool, I now have a generic northern accent with no particular regional influences – but the hopelessly corrupted version of estuary English, as spoken by Nash and company isn’t a dialect, it’s simply a slovenly mode of speech.

If present trends continue (why is it, do you think, that migrants from mainland Europe and India take the trouble to learn English properly, yet native-born people are happy to wreak havoc on it?), the language we now know will have ceased to exist except among a well-educated elite, and in America.

American English, as spoken by educated Americans, particularly in those areas least influenced by immigration, like New England, is purer than the language spoken by the majority of people in the UK. Send Kate Nash to New Hampshire, and her speech would be as unintelligible as Swahili! And the really scary thing is that, even here in the north, the kids are starting to ape estuary English as spoken by Nash and Allen, probably because it even affects their music – in both cases they sing the same way they speak – appallingly badly. I don’t mean bad musically, but linguistically – listen for yourself. The only people I know whose dialects come through strongly in their songs are the Proclaimers (and I suspect that’s deliberate), and, yep, you’ve guessed…