ad astra per alia porci

Behold the gradual debasement of the English language
July 20, 2007, 3:12 am
Filed under: the arts

and the sporadic spurts of my blood pressure level whenever I see words like “gr8!” (an alphanumerical Frankenstein of the simple word “great”), “gers” (a carelessly construed and confusing replacement for the word “girl” since the Gers also refers to the Scottish Rangers Football Club) and “cuz” (becoz itz kool to use cuz) used in all forms of medium, primarily electronic and particularly Singaporean.

This article from the Guardian blog got me going on this tirade against abuse of the beloved English language (Engrish to most Singaporean ah bengs). The title of the blog post itself sparks controversy and provokes me to read the entry. The most wanton infringement of the laws of good English is arguably found on the Internet in the form of blogs, where the conversational pidgin encroaches into the formal territory of the written word. According to the article, the most used words in the blogosphere are as follows:


We must discount the presence of common words like “my” and “myself” and technical words that will inevitably be used frequently like “blog” and “post”. What irks me is the use of meaningless platitudes like “nice”, “lovely”, “stupid” and the immortal and endlessly versatile (and hence meaningless) “shit”, and the ubiquity of slangs and verbal pidgin like “yeah”, “ok” and “oh”. A common, carelessly written and utterly meaningless blog post would read like this:

Today I had a bad hair day. Yeah, it was not nice. Shit. Ok.

An alternative:

I saw a dress today. It is very nice. Yeah.

I always wonder if anything is actually communicated when one writes like this. In each case, only the first sentence is required if one is to relay purely factual information. In order to substantiate or flesh out reasons and opinion, we need to get beyond meaningless, general words like “nice” and move into more descriptive territory. And don’t get me started on why words that “yeah” and “shit” are even used. I do believe that with the advent of the internet and the popularity of electronic communication mediums like the blog, electronic messaging and email, English is getting banal, trite and utterly underused, resulting in a lack of communication. It seems that the faster and more advanced we get electronically, the less we actually communicate.

I am no standard bearer of model English usage myself; I am guilty of using these words often. What separates me from many others is that I use these words purely for conversational purposes and almost never in written form. In conversation, I use slangs and made-up words that are popularised because of necessity. The spoken word is as much about social function and the way it is said as it is about the absolute content of the word itself; slangs and other contortions have a social purpose in communicating effectively with peers.

However, when it comes to the formal written word, the correct use of English is imperative if one is to communicate effectively and create a positive impression in the minds of readers. This is even more so when communicating with strangers all over the world. Singaporeans might use the noun “arrow” as a verb to suggest being ordered to do undesired extra work but I am pretty sure the word loses its local meaning outside of Singapore.

With the written medium, it is very hard to clarify meaning, and hence proper English forms the basis of clear communication. Imagine a book written by an author using words with highly localised meanings that is read by an international audience. How does one clarify meaning with the author?

On top of this, sloppy English gives people the impression of bad taste, poor education and a lack of intelligence. Not everyone knows you well enough to look past this aspect of behaviour. Whenever I view a post on an online forum using bastardisations like “ger”, “farnee” and “luv”, I assume that the person who wrote the post is pre-pubescent.

What’s happening now is electronic medium is increasingly being used and seen as conversation, even though it is in written form. Words are carelessly used and miscommunication, or worse, non-communciation ensues. It is quite a sad sight, with words being disfigured and mutilated for the sake of abbreviation and convenience. I always feel guilty whenever I give in the temptation to abbreviate my words while text-messaging (e.g. “thks” instead of “thanks”, “dunno” instead of “don’t know”). Thankfully my aberrant behaviour has not supplanted my normal behaviour.

When that day comes, I will probably kill myself.


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