It’s Not Easy Being Me.
I love the English language.
I love the English language as much as, or maybe more than, the next man or woman. Show me a word that should contain an apostrophe, and if that apostrophe is missing, I go to pieces. “Womans work is never done” would drive me into a darkened room with a neatly folded handkerchief on my forehead; with perhaps a splash of 4711 Eau de Cologne to help.
Show me a “Greengrocer’s Apostrophe”, however, and I am in need of instant medical care and attention. A scribbled card bearing the legend “Apple’s and Pear’s only £1.00 a Kilo” has been known to make me clutch at my heart and stagger, white faced, to the next passing Policeman for succour and moral support.
I have only recently had the courage to send a text message to a friend with the word “phone” written thus. I know and you know that “’phone” is the correct spelling. “‘Phone” is the abbreviated form of “telephone”.
But I draw the line at writing “flu”. The abbreviation of “influenza” is, was, and always has been “‘flu’”. One has, or may not have ‘flu’, and there the matter rests... unless it develops into double influenza. I had a maiden aunt who contracted influenza, and it almost killed her. But she survived.
However, I am sure she would have met her Maker even more quickly if the Doctor had written on his little chit that she had had flu. (Sans apostrophe; sans compassion... What could be worse?).
I can be a Wild Child
Don’t call me a pedant or a stick in the mud. I have a very wild side to my nature that would make Lynn Truss (the Goddess of Punctuation) raise a worried eyebrow or two.
I have been known to start a sentence with a conjunction as easily and brutally as a footpad can slit the throats of any amount of evening strollers.
I can throw caution to the winds (on occasion) and insert a colloquialism into a sentence or judiciously lightly garnish my spoken speech with a phrase or word from a local argot.
Many a friend has been bemused, if not nonplussed, when I have written “Innit” at the end of a text message or, somewhat daringly, if I have done so in conversation. But they all are aware, even if I haven’t had to tell them so, that this is an attempt on my behalf to insert a little judicious humour into the telling of an anecdote or the recounting of an event.
We all like to live dangerously at times... BUT
I have a friend who once maintained that it didn’t matter whether one used “its” or “it’s” in written work. Obviously I thought he was indulging in a rather bizarre joke at my expense - and at the expense of our beloved English Language, but he maintained that whether one were looking for the Possessive or the Abbreviation, either one would do.
Would do? WOULD DO?
When I realised he meant every misspelled word of his statement, it had a really disastrous effect on me and I was poorly for several days. I was just beginning to recuperate, and was considering travelling to a warmer, and drier climate to convalesce, when he compounded the matter by sending me a “Get well” card in which he asked, solicitously, about my well being. Unfortunately I read to the end of the letter to find that he had closed by writing, “Your’s sincerely”.
Apart from being well brought up, I am also extremely helpful.
I have an acquaintance whose grammar wobbles a little... especially when he is annoyed.
You might find it difficult to believe it, that I, being basically, a very compassionate and warm hearted individual, can sometimes become embroiled in slight differences of opinion and, let me say it: at times, I have had arguments with this person.
On several occasions, we have had slight differences of opinion on certain matters, but through it all I have shown my calm and empathetic nature, and have attempted, naturally, to help him with his grammatical and pronunciation inadequacies.
More years ago than I could care to mention, we were having a slight disagreement concerning a matter that slips my mind at the present, and he said something akin to:
He (to me, vehemently): “With all your education and upbringing, you think you talk so good...”
Of course, seeing his grammatical error, I interjected in as helpful a manner as I could (as is my wont) and pointed out that he had used an incorrect word.
Me (to him, helpfully): “You can’t use “good” there. “Good” is an Adjective. You are referring to the word “talk”. “Talk” is a Verb. You should have used the Adverb “well”... not the Adjective “good”. You should have said... “With all your education and upbringing, you think you talk so well.”
Can you see by this illustration what a kind, helpful sort of person I am?
However, the other chap’s face took on a rather unattractive shade of puce. He shouted, and walked away, calling me one or two inappropriate names (Which, out of deference to your sensitivity, I will refrain from repeating.)
Back to Good Manners
I was encouraged as a child to have good manners.
My parents persuaded me, from the cradle, to neither let them down and also neither to let myself down, by an exhibition of a lack of good manners.
Both negatively and positively, they would encourage me to hold most dear that:
“Manners maketh man.”
“Don’t speak unless spoken to.”
“Don’t stand like a cab horse.” (Whatever that might mean) “No gentleman stands like a cab horse.”
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
“Never forget to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’”.
And all the other admonishments and rules concerning the right cutlery and flatware to use; how to address a Bishop or a Duchess; what wines should be drunk with meat, fish or fowl... How one should never say “toilet” but always the correct “lavatory”; the social horrors of hearing another say “serviette” instead of “napkin”.
“Punctuality; the Pride of Princes.” One of my favourites, although I would have cheerfully substituted or added “Punctuation” as I thought, even from an early age, that “Punctuation and Punctuality would make the Perfect Prince” and what child is not fascinated by alliteration?
And through everything there ran the warp and weft
And through everything there ran the warp and weft of “One never asks anybody about what something costs, or what that person is worth, financially. In fact, never ever discuss money. It is so vulgar to do so.
Neither does one listen in on any other’s conversations. It is not only an extremely bad mannered thing to do, but one might hear something about oneself that one wouldn’t wish to hear.
Good Manners and Good Grammar collide... HORRENDOUSLY.
Then, on one fateful day, my whole world imploded.
I was at home one afternoon, reading in my room. It was a lovely day, and I thought I was alone in the flat. I was incorrect. Another person was also in the flat, in another room, and happened to be talking on the phone (Oh dear. Phone without the apostrophe. It still makes me shudder.) It was in the Olden Times when one could pick up the phone and get a line and not be given the “line engaged” tone.
Thinking that I might like to talk to my mother, I picked up the receiver, and was about to dial her number when I heard a voice through the apparatus. It was the voice of the other person who was in the flat.
I should have put the phone down immediately as I had been brought up to do. But as I was about to replace the receiver in its cradle, I heard the other person mention my name.
I should have put the phone down immediately, but too late.
N.B. See above:
“Neither does one listen in on any other’s conversations. It is not only an extremely bad mannered thing to do, but one might hear something about oneself that one wouldn’t wish to hear.”
I heard but the briefest snatch of conversation between the two participants. But I heard something that has haunted me until this very day.
One of the people, referring to me, said:
“Ian! He’s the most rudest person I have ever met in my life.”
Heavens! What was I to do?
I was torn... inexorably torn, as I have seldom been in my life, before or since.
I had two options:
- I could have broken into their conversation and informed the person who had made the statement that it is incorrect to use the word “most” when qualifying “rudest” as “rudest” is already the Superlative. I could have told them both that he could have said, “Ian! He’s the rudest person I have ever met in my life.” or he could have said, “Ian! He’s the most rude person I have ever met in my life.”
But to do so would have meant admitting that, although inadvertently, I had listened to part of their conversation. And although I had done so, I couldn’t face the shame of being exposed at having indulged in such a bad mannered act.
- I could have put down the telephone receiver (I’m sorry. I can’t stand not using the apostrophe.) and not have had the chance to improve their joint understanding of the beauty of the English language. But to do so, I would have needed to look them in the faces and let them know how I had fallen.
I took the ignoble course. I put down the receiver carefully in its cradle.
To this day, I lie awake at night; sometimes for hours, and wonder if I made the right choice.
Some people in this world are faced with monumental obstacles that confront them so pitilessly.
Mine, I feel, is up there with the most tragic. Hannibal with his elephants. Gandhi with his Civil Disobedience.
“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”
What distresses me most, gentle reader, is not that I sinned in listening in on others’ conversations, but that I panicked and lost the opportunity to help them linguistically. It could have been yet another selfless act of mine, for which they would most probably have thanked me.