English: Language Demands Integrity

If man did not have language, I fear mankind would not have made it as far as the Dark Ages.

More aptly, without language, yours truly would have no means of penning this meager effort, which is intended to point out a contemporary absurdity related to the English language.

Nor could I pound the keys of this computer keyboard to impart my view about language to the readers of The Hour newspaper.

A Necessary Evil?

Many otherwise intelligent men and women see language as a more-or-less necessary evil, but, personally, I'm the kind of guy who has fun reading the dictionary -- despite the fact that some of the listings and definitions in modern editions give me pause.

Language, for me, is fun -- or, more accurately, the English language (I've made forays into French and German, but came up woefully short of as much as a rudimentary knowledge of either.)

While I enjoy grammar, spelling, vocabulary, etymology and the rest, achieving proficiency -- as in my golf game -- remains elusive.

Respect for Language

Although there are myriad words I am unable to define or spell, and a number of grammatical constructions I'll never master, I have at least attained an abiding respect for language. It is certain that civilized societies need to maintain the integrity of their languages.

In recent years, efforts -- successful to some degree -- have been made to politicize the English language. The effort began about the same time as the so-called Women's Liberation Movement was founded.

Dictionaries, Others Cave In

It is unfortunate that dictionaries, wire services and other respected organizations have caved in to political pressures by accepting as standard words that are substandard. The failure to hold to high standards comes at the expense of the language, and thus, of future generations.

Virtually any word that contains the word "man" has come under attack by some, in the misguided belief that such words as chairman or spokesman are sexist. Unequivocally, they are not!

Natural Word Formations

Language developed historically, not politically. Words were formed in the context of the day, and such words as mankind and men-at-arms as well as chairman were natural formations.

Such anomalies as chairlady, Ms (in place of Mrs. or Miss) or councilwoman not only politicize our language but attempt to make it sexist as well.

Fortunately, there's been something of a backlash among Americans, including many women, to efforts to force linguistic changes by political, artificial means.

We're Stuck With 'Chair'

If we do not remain alert to the need to preserve our language -- which grows and changes slowly over time -- we could end up with such inappropriate words as peoplekind, personpower or womanhandle. We're already stuck with "chair," not the kind one sits on, but rather the kind that sits (at a board meeting.)

Believe it or not, my dictionary (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate) lists the word (?) chairwoman with the following definition: A woman who acts as chairman. Need I say more?

Any further move toward destruction of the English language could lead to anarchy. Remember the biblical story of the tower of Babel?

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Oct. 25, 1997. The problems discussed, of course, remain problems today. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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Comments 9 comments

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

How the language changes is a complex subject, isn't it? And whether it should or must change, how often or how seldom, is a hot topic in some circles.

Thanks for pointing me to the Columbus Dispatch article. After I slog through some of the slang dictionary sites it references, I should be better able to hold a meaningful conversation with my daughter.

What I'm really crazy about is your introducing me to mrthoth in the YouTube video. What a nut! Anyone who writes should spend quality time with this man. Let's face it, studying grammar is dull. But this guy makes it funny! I feel all brushed up on my verb's and apostrophe's. ;)

Thanks for bringing us another great hub.


donnaleemason profile image

donnaleemason 8 years ago from North Dakota, USA

Nicely put William. It is indeed a pity that a lot of the language used today is not only in good form, but it would make my parents cringe to hear it. Usually, I find, anyone without a good comand of the English language tends to repeat themselves and use foul language or slang. When I point this out to them, I only get more of the same, but I have found that it is the best form of insult. I understand your point about the sexist comments that have resulted from "man" being changed to make it more political and indeed it is making it more difficult to know how to formally address people.

Thanks for the great hub, it certainly makes one think and I will certainly try to keep the English language as it is alive in my children. Donna


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

William, before i had anything better to do i was actually trying to memorise the whole dictionary..I got to about c before i realised that there were better things to do with my time.. I always have a dictionary to hand though..

The issues you raised have got much worse since you wrote this column... Because of text messages and instant messages where most people type like this....I hpe u r ok n i will ttyl... which means..i hope you are ok and i will talk to you later! ..i have become a victum of this too!

It's also a shame that the politically correct police are always around to say that we must not call a black board black etc etc...We now have new words for traffic wardens (Civil Enforcement Officers) its hard to keep up with all these changes which some are for the best and others pointless like chairwoman which you mentioned!!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

You guys are all aces -- as so is HubPages.

Sally's Trove, you're a treasure trove yourself. It's true that language is both complex and dull in many ways, but good teachers often save the day for some of us. It certainly helps to maintain a healthy respect for the spoken and written word.

Donna, there's no greater compliment, to me, than "it certainly makes one think." That is my goal, in all my columns. Thanks. In many ways, our parents live in a different world. While "change" often is a good thing, some change we can do without.

Compu-smart, I didn't get as far as you did in reading my dictionary. I skipped around quite a bit. My problem has alway been remembering what I read yesterday. Youngsters today seem to enjoy straying from the mundane language of their parents. I only hope their shortcuts do not get them lost in communicating with the rest of the world.


rmr profile image

rmr 8 years ago from Livonia, MI

I tried to read the dictionary, but I found it a bit dry. A thesaurus was much more enlightening for me! I wholeheartedly agree that our language is being abused in the name of "political correctness". I would be willing to bet that you could do an entire hub on politically correct words and phrases. Early childhood development facilitator? Sanitation engineer? What could possibly be next?


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

William,Lets hope not!!

The reason why i wanted to learn the dictionary because 1, i wanted to experiment the tips and trick i learned to memorise things which made it very easy..and secondly, i kept hearing words all the time in real life, on the news, films and i had to keep referring to the dictionary!...It was definitely a good read and yes, the thesaurus was an excellent accompaniment as rmr mentioned above.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I never tried reading a thesaurus, rmr, but I'll bet that's fun, too. I think you could not only write a hub on politically correct language, but it wouldn't be too difficult to write a whole book on the subject. Doublespeak is next, if it's not here already!

My memory is virtually nonexistent, compu-smart, so I can read the same thing over a dozen times and it's always new to me!


punkins 7 years ago

You are right in some ways. Language is what makes us men. Likely it is our defining factor, and all else that we consider human developed out of language.

You are also boldly mistaken on a number of issues. Language does not develop historically, it develops organically. It can be molded or shaped by many parts of its environment. The political notions of a culture can and often have affected the nature of a language, both by adjusting the lexicon and by rearranging the grammar.

What you propose on the other hand is a political adherence to your sense of language, in order to prevent the natural effects of society on language. Basically, you hold up a dictionary to preserve your sense of what is right in language, instead of allowing language to do its natural thing. Your pleas to engineer a counter-engineered language are blatantly disingenuous. Dictionaries were originally designed to give a society reference to words and phrases in use, not to proscribe what aspects of language were to be considered correct.

Language changes like water meandering down a river. You are clinging to a rock in the middle of the stream.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, punkins, for your thoughtful perspective. I do not, however, propose to prevent the "natural effects of society on language." I just want to slow it down. We must rely on language to communicate with one another. It's the willy nilly changes that I oppose. While it's true that dictionaries are not designed to impose correctness, they do allow us to understand the meaning of spoken words. Unless we're all using the same definition, confusing reigns. New words and meanings must develop over time before they are accepted as standard or language will become nothing more than babble.

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