United States citizens commit murder every day. While no weapons are involved, and no police reports are filed, we see it constantly on the local news and in television and print commercials. Heinous acts are carried out right in front of our eyes, and yet we say nothing. No police reports are issued, and no hue and cry is raised.
The murder of the English language does not seem to bother us.
I am not talking about regional differences in pronunciation; people speak differently in different parts of the country, and that is just the way things are, whether or not I think that a set of furniture should be referred to as a “sweet,” and not a “soot.” I am talking about the willful disregard for the life of grammar and correct English usage. Charges can also be leveled over the violent assault on the ears of us who value the beauty of words when they are used properly.
Case-in-point is the recent insistence of language killers to refer to people as “that.” One of the biggest offenders is a local morning news program (which shall remain nameless here out of respect for overworked and exhausted litigation lawyers everywhere). An insultingly simple trivia question is posed every morning shortly before 7 a.m. An example of the dehumanizing of the American people was displayed on the screen a couple of weeks ago when we were asked “What actor THAT won an Oscar for his performance…” The capitalization is mine.
People are “who.” People are not “that.”
To be fair, it is not only the anonymous television station that offends; I am seeing and hearing this particular language abomination almost everywhere. An area lawyer – who shall also remain nameless – regularly appears in an advertisement for a local award. This person, otherwise intelligent and educated I’m sure, refers to the recipients of said award in the same way as the aforementioned news show. The trend to call people “that” has gained ground over the past year, much like kudzu overgrows everything in its path, and it is every bit as desirable.
Other distressing journalistic practices of our mystery station can be observed every single morning on what I will laughingly call the news crawl at the bottom of the screen. I spent two months noting every major faux pas, for which, sadly, there is not enough space in this column. Whoever is responsible for writing the teasers is enamored of the comma, which is sprinkled around liberally without rhyme or reason. This person also hyphenates with gleeful abandon where a hyphen should not appear, but strangely eschews the hyphen where it is actually needed. Arbitrarily invented and unfortunate compound words such as “parttime” and “MidOhio” are just two of the resulting offspring. It is to weep.
Does this person not understand the concept of spell check? Is there no one at the helm who proofreads the crawl before allowing it to slither across the bottom of the television screen?
More recently we have even heard a Mid-Ohio Valley television personality strangle a language other than English. He confidently begins the travel advertisement by saying what sounds like “Bun jewer.” If France has any national self-respect, he will not be allowed into the country until he has learned to pronounce this simplest of phrases.
My mother, rest her soul, had no patience for the destruction of language. I suppose she passed the quality on to me. I used to assume that people who are responsible for serious news programs must be educated in journalism, or at least have taken one college-level English class. I no longer assume any such thing.
Of course, I could be wrong. After all, I originally come from a place called Tranna (Toronto) where people speak Can-ay-jin, eh?
By Sam Berg