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Don’t "disrespect" the English language!!

August 30th, 2005 · 22 Comments

Recently, I was on a flight home from Phoenix. I was seated on the aisle, with an elderly lady seated at the window on my right. A few minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants came through the cabin for the usual beverage service. I ordered a cranberry juice. The lady next to me ordered coffee.

A few minutes later, our beverages arrived. I cracked open my can of cranberry juice to pour it over the ice in my cup. The lady next to me sweetened her coffee and proceeded to take a (rather loud) sip. She then placed it on the tray table of the seat that was empty between us. A few minutes later, she reached for the coffee cup again, only to clumsily bump it with the back of her hand, knocking it over. Coffee spilled onto the floor.

“Whoops! My bad!” she said.

…and a chill went up my spine.

Your bad what? Your bad coordination? Your bad eyesight?


Undoubtedly, she meant, “My error.” Or even, “My mistake.” But she had chosen to use the street-slang version that she’d probably heard her grandkids use. Why she didn’t whallop them for speaking like that, I have no idea.

How is it that a woman who looks to be a relatively affluent octagenarian has come to use such a slang-phrase? Where’d it come from? I recall hearing it as early as 1994, when a professor of mine in college used the phrase. I seem to hear it mostly from young people, and even then primarily within the “MTV” and “Hip-Hop” crowds. This group of absolute mental midgets takes every little expression that’s used by their favorite rap icons and proceeds to use it in common communication. Before long, the horrifically bastardized “slanglish” (as I like to call it) becomes commonplace among other aspects of society.

And that phrase isn’t the only example os Slanglish that’s got me bugged lately, as if you thought I’d stop with just one.

How about this one? “Amongst.” Where’d the extra “S” and “T” come from all-of-a-sudden? Websters had to actually add it as a variant of the word among in 2003 due to it’s incorrect overuse. The word is AMONG.

And this one? “Don’t disrespect me!” The word “disrespect” is normally used as a noun or a transitive verb (meaning it has to have a direct object to modify the verb.) Using it in the way I described above makes the person who uses it sound like an absolute village idiot. “Don’t show me disrespect!” or “Pay me no disrespect!”

All kinds of words are taking on different meanings lately, too, thanks to various aspects of society. The word “gay” used to mean “happy.” A “hoe” was something you used while gardening. “Crack” couldn’t kill you, unless you laughed yourself to death at the “crack” your buddy made.

Here’s a clue, folks. If you don’t speak like normal people speak, you’re never EVER going to be taken seriously by normal people. Your cronies that wear their pants seven sizes too large and their baseball caps sideways are NOT normal people! They’re just silly kids whose parents haven’t bothered to teach them the importance of speaking the English language correctly. Your “Slanglish” that you’ve learned from watching too many P-Diddy and Snoop Dogg videos will do nothing for you but get you laughed-at by college recruiters and potential employers.

Thanks to Sam for inspiring this rant.

Oh, and thanks to Mom and Dad for making me speak properly.

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22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 david // Aug 30, 2005 at 10:33 pm

    While you are writing about the topic, what do you think of all the French words that have crept into the English language over the past thousand years?

    I hear otherwise perfectly-well educated people say “court” instead of “doomhall” and “judge” instead of “doomsman”. And people have become too fussy to eat ox or pig any more — now it has to be “beef” or “pork”.

  • 2 Hamish // Aug 31, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    “Here’s a clue, folks. If you don’t speak like normal people speak, you’re never EVER going to be taken seriously by normal people.”

    Glenn, Glenn, Glenn… who are the “normal people”? Where I’m from, it’s you that doesn’t speak like a normal person (whatever that is…), but we usually extend you the courtesy of not making snide or unpleasant remarks about your way of speaking (even though, to most of our ears (but not mine…), it’s probably both grating and illiterate, being an American accent). I have at least three native dialects (I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Britain and Australia), and have spent the majority of my life in places where my accent / dialect / language is not the native one. It gives you a slightly different outlook on accents, dialects, and the way languages evolve over the decades (yes, I’m a lot older than you, but your rant made you sound twice my age… :-)). To many in my generation, your way of speaking is doubtless a devolution of the way we speak (but not to me). Languages change, and you’re the beneficiary or inheritor of those changes — for example, I doubt you use “awful” to mean something that gives you a feeling of awe (“That awful way language evolves!” :-) ).

    “They’re just silly kids who’s parents haven’t bothered to teach them the importance of speaking the English language correctly.” — this is one of those reminders that every rant about poor grammar contains at least one grammatical or spelling mistake… your bad, eh?! :-)

  • 3 GC // Aug 31, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    It’s not about dialects or common errors of punctuation or spelling (which EVERYONE is guilty of from time to time.) It’s not about how someone is seen when they travel abroad, though I imagine a well-spoken individual would be seen in a better light among those who speak English in other parts of the world. It’s not about the evolution of the language or where some of our commonly used words came from. It’s more a commentary about the dumbing-down of America’s youth and the effects that has on the rest of society than anything else. I think that the process is most obvious in the way they use the English language.

    No one ever said you had to agree with what I rant about.

  • 4 GC // Aug 31, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    And let me ask you this: Are you two saying that the vacuous slang that kids in America are using should be seen as acceptable? Should they not be educated towards a higher-level vocabulary and command of the language?

  • 5 Hamish // Aug 31, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    Once again, who are the “normal people”? Your dumbed-down youth will be the normal people of the future, in the same way that for my generation you — and the way you speak — are the dumbed-down youth of my day. Same as it ever was. (Note: “dumbed-down” is a classic example of Slanglish if you ask me (as is “Slanglish”, but never mind…). I happen to like the phrase, but lots of people wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole).

    “It’s not about dialects [...]” — but it is about dialects; what you’re complaining about is the creation of new dialects and usages. Real languages are never stable, and what goes on in the various linguistic offshoots is often incredibly creative. Today’s bad grammar or dumbed-down slang becomes tomorrow’s official usage. To many Britons, American English is both corrupt and just plain bad (but not to me — I barely notice American accents any more after living here for 20 years). This geographical prejudice is based on pretty much the same logic as the usual generational prejudices.

    And note: I’m an educational conservative. I believe strongly in strict educational standards, especially in language usage (and I received a conservative education in some very decent British and Australian schools). Part of that conservatism motivates my belief that we shouldn’t mistake new usage — the usage of the future, in many cases — for lower-level vocabulary and poor command of the language. The history of languages (especially English) teaches us that, if it teaches us anything.

    And if I thought I had to agree with what you rant about, I wouldn’t be reading it, would I?! I enjoy your rants — but reserve the right to point out when I think they’re a little wide of the mark….

  • 6 david // Aug 31, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    My earlier posting was a joke (apologies if it was too subtle), but others have made the point more explicitly — there is not, nor has there ever been a single standard of acceptable English.

    Language is a social activity, not a set of fixed rules: the English you use in bed with your sexual partner is different from the English you use during a job interview, and that, in turn, is different from the English you use ordering a drink in a bar. You use different language talking to other pilots than you do talking to the non-flying, and you use different language talking to a senior captain than you do talking to a young first officer. Even more importantly, all of those idiolects will be subtly (or not so subtly) different five years from now, no matter how hard you try to keep them the same.

    Since humans are social animals, we tend to handle those different contexts instinctively. In your case, the woman beside you on the plane saw that you were young (she may have grandchildren close to your age), and — either consciously or subconsciously — she adjusted her speech to what she considered to be a younger vocabulary. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s how language is supposed to work.

    It might be time to cast off the prejudices you inherited from your parents. Think of how much the aviation industry has learned about CRM over the past 20 years — communication outside the cockpit is just as complex.

  • 7 GC // Aug 31, 2005 at 8:50 pm

    Neither of you are saying anything I don’t already understand. Though I understand it, it doesn’t mean I’m happy with it.

    Lower-level vocabulary becomes “usage of the future” only if you let it. My daughter won’t be using speech patterns such as those I’ve discussed in my house, I assure you.

    Respectfully, I believe you’re the ones who are off the mark.

  • 8 Flightfire // Aug 31, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    Just to preface, I like reading your blog, but as a member of the younger generation, I need to take exception to this rant.

    What is the purpose of language? The purpose of language is to communicate basic and advanced ideas to other human beings. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways. The purpose of language does not include recording it in some musty old book to be preserved exactly as it was used in the 20th century forever and ever, and ever. You understood the idea of what the elderly lady on the plane was trying to communicate, why not leave it at that?

    Your daughter will certainly use “lower-level vocabulary” because she will be exposed to people other than you. Your way of communicating ideas is not the ONLY way. You have to change your perspective and see it as a natural evolution rather than a “dumbing-down”

    Also, if you want higher-level language, try reading some scientific literature. I’m talking journal articles that are so abstruse you have to read the sentences five times in order to even understand what they are talking about. Do that, and see what you think about “lower-level vocabulary.”

  • 9 GC // Aug 31, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    Don’t paint me with the “Elitist” paintbrush just because I attempt to be proficient at reading and speaking English. It’s not unreasonable to expect the same of the rest of our population, either. Expecting it and getting it are two different things, however.

    I believe there’s a difference between natural evolution of language and what is occuring today. Natural evolution of language involves a relatively decent understanding of it in the first place. The people I’m speaking of in my latest post are neither the least bit interested in how our language works, nor is anyone of importance to them willing to teach them the importance of being able to speak well.

    The “evolution” of language these days (especially the slang that irritates me so) is often instigated and propagated by people in the entertainment industry (namely rap icons) and is occurring at a much greater rate than it ever has in the history of spoken language. You might even call it an artificial evolution.

    As far as the language of scientific literature is concerned, that’s understandably beyond (not beneath, however) normal levels of comprehension…most likely due to the use of scientific terminology that is outside most individual’s everyday vocabulary. However, I’m sure that if you were to strike up a simple conversation with any of the authors of these articles, they’d speak just as the few of us carrying on here do.

  • 10 Hamish // Aug 31, 2005 at 11:55 pm

    “Lower-level vocabulary becomes “usage of the future” only if you let it.” — I don’t know what “lower-level vocbulary” really means for you. Does it include non-standard words or phrases like “Slanglish” or “dumbing down”?

    I think it’s entirely reasonable to try to get kids to learn some form of standard English proficiently (as I had to as a child). But I also think there’s a time and place for that English, and if you restrict life to standard English alone, you’ll end up with a lot of rather-stilted sounding speakers. It just struck me as odd that you’d criticise someone for using informal usage (“my bad!”) in a place where that usage would seem entirely appropriate.

    Your daughter will inevitably end up speaking what you consider “lower-level vocabulary”. It’s that vocabulary that makes English a living language, and that differentiates your English from mine, and mine from (say) my parents’. As it ever was…

  • 11 Snoop Dogg // Sep 1, 2005 at 4:56 am

    I love your blog, but lighten up.

    Fo’ shizzle, my nizzle.

  • 12 Aviatrix // Sep 1, 2005 at 6:08 am

    Only a tiny fraction of the speakers of any language give a damn about how it works. They just know it does. They simply use it to communicate.

    This debate we are all having is what linguists refer to as prescriptive (“do it this way or you are doing it wrong”) versus descriptive (“whatever native speakers understand and perceive as sounding right, isright”) views of language.

    Professional linguists are generally educated scientists whose personal and academic usage corresponds to what Glenn prescribes as correct. But in their profession they approach obscure languages that have never had a grammar textbook and English in the same way: how is it spoken, really? To a linguist the rules of grammar are an attempt to codify what is perceived as correct. If native speech differs from the ‘rules’ then the rules, not the speaker are wrong. Heisenbergically (okay I made up that adverb, but you know what I mean), knowledge, especially incomplete knowledge, of the ‘rules’ influence modern English. Or why would anyone say “Between you and I”?

    In English there are distinctions of grammar and vocabulary that denote social class, and no one can fault Glenn for wanting to ensure that his children speak in the way he prizes. While they value dad’s approval they will switch between the speech dad prefers and the speech mode that gives them the most status in their own social circle.

  • 13 GC // Sep 1, 2005 at 5:09 pm

    Woohoo! Some support, I think!

    This horse’s time-of-death, 1009 local time.

  • 14 John // Sep 2, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    No, the horse isn’t dead yet!

    John Ciardi, the late poet and etymologist, had a lot to say about the changing nature of language. In one of the “Browser’s” dictionaries that he created, he wrote an eloquent introduction about the derivation of “homo sapiens” – literally “the clay that thinks.” Ciardi argued that we are really “the clay that speaks,” given the constantly changing nature of language.

    You can’t really fight changes in language, even though I confess that I cringe every time I hear a new anchor say “snuck” instead of “sneaked.”

  • 15 GC // Sep 2, 2005 at 11:27 pm

    I swear I’m going to shoot this horse!

  • 16 Anonymous // Sep 3, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    Less Dr Pepper, more flying, take
    some time to unwind.

  • 17 Anonymous // Oct 14, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    My congratulations go to the author. I hold the same opinion, and have wondered for years why people have become so lazy in their speech, and goes right along with people who are lazy typists. OIC is an aconym for “Oh, I see.” However, I agree that full use of English is the only way to set oneself apart from common speech and a common venue of expression.

    We speak the greatest and most extensive language on the face of the planet. If we fall into lazy speech patterns and acceptance of what is used in the ghetto, then we are no better than those who have coined the language some detest.

    Use of good English, complete sentences, and direction away from colloquial and regional speech is still a standard for which to strive — whether we live in Brooklyn, or Los Angeles. There is no excuse for poor use of English, even when English is not our native language.

    Freelance Writer and Editor

  • 18 GC // Oct 14, 2005 at 7:23 pm

    THANK YOU!! I knew I wasn’t alone!

  • 19 Anonymous // Jan 2, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    “Websters had to actually add it as a variant of the word among in 2003 due to it’s incorrect overuse.”
    I think you meant “its.”
    Also, “to actually add” is a split infinitive.

  • 20 GC // Jan 2, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    I’m flattered that you’ve been reading my blog archives, but please…STOP RESURRECTING THIS HORSE!!!

    Not knowing the difference between its and it’s at all is very different than knowing and being unusually careless, of which I am apparently guilty.

    There’s also something to be said for letting the person know who’s doing the critiquing instead of being “Anonymous.”

  • 21 Anonymous // Feb 8, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    The language is going to hell, like it or not. No excuses, whatsoever, just bad language skills. From somewhere else? Excused, yes — accepted? Never.

  • 22 greeseyparrot // Apr 4, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    I happened upon your blog when I employed Google to see if the topic of the misuse of disrespect had been widely addressed, I enjoyed your comments. Have you ever discussed the supplanting of the word affect (and on occasion effect) by the now omnipresent: impact? I’ve become so sensitized to this, that finding the word affect, now feels to me somewhat like what I imagine finding an oasis must feel like to a person dying of thirst.

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