Thursday, December 22, 2011
A Mythunderstanding of Slang
I used to love pointing out that the sadist who put the “s” in lisp was the same one that stuck an “r” in rhoticism, defined as the inability to pronounce the letter “r.” This would eventually draw out that one illiterate prig who, with double-negatives arguing that “nobody owns no language,” only served to put an extra sniff in my Awesome Scholar’s Arrogance. Because everyone knows educated people don’t start sentences with “because,” don’t use slang, and most certainly never aim to boldly split infinitives. The “gifted underachiever” is that guy delighting that he finds Sara Lee’s “Nobody Doesn’t like Sara Lee” grammatically offensive as it associates him with class, regardless of how much of the dirt on his face is chocolate frosting.
In 2003, Lynn Truss wrote Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a hilarious tale of a pedant mourning the death of punctuation; she refuses to board the buses at Victoria Station because posters on the side advertising Hugh Grant’s Two Weeks Notice [sic] were maliciously missing an apostrophe. Defining the capacity for nausea at the comma in “Bob,s Pets” as a Seventh Sense only the elite possess, she’d rather curl up in a box than live in a world where signs like “Waiter’s Wanted” exist to offend with their awful punctuation.
Now, there is no question language is important; the human brain assembles the world a million ways a million times a day by juggling words in combinations the best computers sweat through. It shapes culture in fascinating ways; the Australian aboriginal language Dyirbal classes nouns into four categories: 1) animate objects and men 2) women, fire, and dangerous things 3) edible produce 4) miscellaneous. So where an English speaker inflects nouns only in respect to plurality and verb agreement, the Dyirbal speaker must first identify that noun as either male, female, possible threat, or whether or not he can eat it before uttering a single sentence. Isn’t that interesting?
Some languages, like Japanese, have the “adversative-passive” tense for verbs which, like the insanity clause, allows people to abdicate responsibility. Mishima didn’t commit suicide; he was suicided. But despite awesome German nouns like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which means “beef-labeling-regulation-and-delegation-of-supervision-law” or the Spanish word for handcuffs meaning “wife,” language, like all heroes, has a tragic flaw. Without a pinch of salt, it achieves the alchemy of transmuting the ugliest hypocrisies into a “spreading-of-democracy” or arbitrarily vilifying human impulses by labeling them a “sin.” In one swoop, it undermines a person’s social class and therefore value by lumping how he speaks into a subcategory called “slang,” which we’re taught to associate with imbecility without having to prove why that person is below us.
It slaughtered Lenny Bruce, a genius smarter than the morons who never had to explain why Bruce was being arrested other than because he used words like cocksucker and was therefore disobedient. In 1966, two such cocksuckers conducted tests on black children and concluded that from their absent use of Proper Grammar they were little more than animals. So what else could condescending bigots do but set up “Bereiter-Engelmann” preschools, where these awful little savages could be taught a little class by imitating white people?
Exactly how is being repulsed by the way a person speaks different than being nauseated by their skin color? It’s a bitter pill to swallow for us pedants; both are forms of willful negligence allowing you to assume value without having to create it. So what if it’s amusing knowing your gorgeous ear is sensitive to the erroneous modifying of verbs with adjectives? There is little qualitative difference between Ms. Truss refusing to board a bus transporting awful grammar and Miss Annabelle refusing to because there’s a Negro riding on it.
The real imbecile is the one presuming he knows what you are because he buys into the myth of slang being “immoral.” It grants him the petty narcissism of being able to show that he’s offended. Does this mean grammar is racist and should therefore be scorned? Before you go around lynching grammar as elitist, I leave you with this—in 1327, Welsh conspirators needed to murder King Edward II without clear evidence of their involvement. One of them sent this note to the perpetrators: “Kill Edward not to fear is good.” Purposely ambiguous, punctuation was left out in case the plot backfired. So poor Edward did die at the mercy of a scalding iron shimmied up his anus where, quite frankly, the one thing that could’ve saved his colon was a colon.
Posted by M. David Hornbuckle at 12/22/2011 08:04:00 AM