Post by Jerry
I have watched with heavy heart in recent years what I see as a progressive butchering of the English language. Technology (e.g., texting) and current culture (e.g., Twitter) truncate our ideas into consonant laden gibberish. Get it said in 140 characters or forget it. I wonder how shallow our ties with each other become, how sterile our relationships in such an environment. And if we never express deeper emotions, more complex thoughts, does our mind retain the capacity to do so over time? Are we becoming cardboard cutouts to each other? “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning needed 498 characters to answer that question.
I railed against this trend in Facebook posts and blogs, using, I thought, a powerful metaphor, “Turning English into Pablum.” That summarized the whole sloppy mess really well, at least for me. Then, to my surprise, I find that no one knows what Pablum is. I publish essays speaking of a person’s morals or “his mettle, honed by the Carborundum of life,” Readers say, What’s that?” and they probably don’t know what “mettle” is either. One more example; “Oh don’t be such a Pollyanna.” Hint: that one dates from 1920.
These are just three examples, there are many. I’m now in my 8th decade and these words remain active vocabulary for me. I used a Carborundum whetstone to sharpen my Boy Scout knives, fed my children Pablum, and have, like Pollyanna, been overcome with blind optimism occasionally. But I must sound like I’m talking a foreign language to some, perhaps many, readers.
So what to do? I have no answer, but the generic question for emerging authors to answer for themselves is this: How often in an essay is it permissible to cause the reader to consult a dictionary? And if we don't, is the future envisioned in Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows about to become our present?
Do you have words that are important to your voice that others fail to understand?