Real Mistakes, Real Laughs:

Air bases were built on captured islands of Tinian, Saipan, and Guam but they were barley within the range of the long-range bombers.

(hope the bombadiers weren't on gluten-free diets)

Didn't catch the typo? Scroll to bottom of page

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Non-Standard Standard

Showtime cable TV network airs a series called The Tudors, depicting court life during the reign of Henry VIII. The casting is predictably Hollywood (and therefore unrealistic), the historical accuracy is nonexistent, and the steamy sex scenes gratuitous. In British historian David Starkey's words, the [corporation that sold the series to BBC] had translated the Tudors into the crass world of the American soap series.”

Ouch. But check out his next comment:
“It is brutal dumbing down. It’s okay for the Americans to do it but is it ok for the BBC to wreck one of the greatest parts of history?”

It's okay for Americans to do it. Dumbing-down has become a way of life which offends my writerly sensibilities to the very core. It's bad enough that the educational bar is lowered to accommodate lower-functioning students, lest their self-esteem suffer from the stigma of "special education." But when incorrect language is so ubiquitous that it becomes acceptable...well, Britain has a right to feel superior.

Take the word regardless. It has so long been incorrectly used as irregardless that it's listed in the dictionary, albeit with the qualifier "nonstandard," indicating that the word is technically incorrect but sufficiently commonplace to warrant a listing. A good portion of America feels that if it's in the dictionary, it's legit. Hence, the non-standard becomes standard.

I justify my obsessive-compulsive grammatical disorder by saying that cross-genre authors are hyper-aware of human speech. In order for dialogue to ring true, an author must write what is realistically spoken instead of what is grammatically correct. This opens the door to all kinds of controversy over dialect, such as used in Gone With the Wind. Margaret Mitchell masterfully captured the essence of Civil-War-era slave speech by phonetically spelling relevant dialogue (ex. "What mah lamb gwine wear?"). Yet when I began writing, it was under the auspices of the no-dialect rule (I think the fear was that we would rely too much on dialect instead of composing our own mellifluous prose). With the advent of new "languages" used in texting and urban slang, however, I think all bets are off.

Then there's the hyper-correction. Somehow, we've become so conscious of the incorrect "her and me" that we substitute "she and I"...even when it's not correct. We grew to flinch at the awkward timbre of "her and me," no matter its grammatical role in a sentence. No argument about "the only ones left were she and I" taking precedence over "the only ones left were her and me." The problem is "he left the tickets for my brother and I." If only English grammar hadn't been replaced in the school curriculum in favor of more pressing educational issues like avoiding internet predators, Americans would know that "he left the tickets for my brother and me" is correct.

I'll go a step farther (that's right, farther, not further!). Most Americans incorrectly make fun of Boston accents. Aside from Johnny Depp, who perfectly nailed a Boston accent in the movie Blow, the only actors to get it right are native Bostonians like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. So when people think they are good-naturedly imitating a Boston accent by saying Bahston, Matt, Ben, and I have the last laugh. The familiar pahk my cah in Hahvahd yahd is all about the "r." It doesn't mean every vowel combination gets the same treatment. So listen up, all you self-styled comedians out there, remember it's Bawston, not Bahston. Say it with me: Go, Red Sawks!

I leave you with a final thought on America's standard of non-standards. Several famous writers (Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Stephen King, and others) comprise a musical group known as the Rock Bottom Remainders. I don't know when the greatest-hits collection comes out, but no doubt it will include the band-member-written hit, Proofreading Woman:
...she's got a big dictionary, real good grammar/she never says "between you and I."


1 comment:

One Man and his Dogs said...

Alas, David Starkey is being a little too superior here. British TV can and does produce material just as ready for the trash can as anything from the US.


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