Saturday, August 29, 2009


I guess it’s a sign that I’m getting on in years, but I miss the old grammar rules.

I always thought it was easy to determine the intelligence and education, not to mention the acumen and taste, of various people simply by reading what they wrote and how they wrote it.

If they showed they didn’t know basic English grammar -- when to use “it’s” and when to use “its,” for example (see above title) – I thought I had them pretty well figured out as people, even though I had never met them.

But all this has changed. Seated at my ‘pewter and logged on to the web, I can see that an entirely new language is being created. It’s a strange dialect, presumably based on English, which has taken over, and it pays no obeisance to, or even recognizes, rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, not to mention capitalization or other outworn concepts. In addition, it relies heavily on acronyms and emoticons.

And yet, the internet folks often seem quite intelligent and manage to communicate very effectively using this new vernacular with their chat friends.

During my pedagogical years I was at times dismayed to find that such usages as “IIRC” and “IMO,” among others, were occasionally used by students writing their term papers. (No one used an emoticon, however, I’m pleased to add.) So are acronyms and emoticons, accompanied by a total lack of rules of English grammar, simply a short-term, ephemeral phenomenon, specific to internet communication, or does all this represent the real future of our written English language?

By the way, scientific research has established that “ACRONYM” stands for “A Crazy Reminder of Names You Misplaced.”

Question is, is this where our language is headed? Will this rough-hewn, stripped-down internet argot become Standard English one of these days? What’s your opinion?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


So the plumber calls and tells me he’ll be at my place next Tuesday some time between 9am and 12noon.

On Tuesday I sit home for a couple of hours waiting for the plumber like a person condemned to house arrest. He calls around 12:30 to apologize, seems he’s running a bit late, but he’ll make it by 2.

As good as his word, he shows up around 2. Evidently he had been too busy to call.

Remarkable. I got to thinking of the business I ran for quite a number of years. If I ever called a client and said I’d come to his office for a meeting next Tuesday and I’d be there some time between 9 and 12, I would never get to see that client again – not even from a distance.

Come on, plumbers, painters, carpet cleaners, refrigerator repairmen, give us a break. Mention a time when you plan to show up and then make an effort to arrive at least within an hour of that time. If you see you’re not going to be able to make it, remember that great invention of Alexander Graham Bell (who invented the Graham Cracker) and give us a call.

Ever have a waiting-for-the-plumber experience?

Monday, August 24, 2009


A propos of nothing, I was thinking recently of a fine dinner I had at a classy French restaurant in New York a few years ago.

You knew it was classy because there was no English translation on the French menu.

As I enjoyed my meal, I noted that there was a table of six nearby; one woman was acting as French translator for the others at the table. She was doing very well till she got to the word “huitres.” (“Huitres” is French for oysters.)

After mulling this over for a while, she said: “Well, it’s eight of something.”


Here’s a movie review of a film I never saw.

I never got around to seeing it, but I’ve often thought of it because it may be unique. The film was “Yes,” released a few years ago, directed by Sally Potter.

We have had scripts before that used verse, usually blank verse. One thinks of Maxwell Anderson and T S Eliot and a few others. But Sally Potter was one courageous director: her movie “Yes” was in rhymed iambic pentameter.

Imagine, a modern film about modern couples and modern problems and situations, in iambic pentameter – Shakespeare’s system, five beats to the line.

The trick, the challenge, for the actors faced with such a verse style was to make highly artificial language sound like natural speech. This was tough enough to do in Shakespeare’s day and it would seem to be a lot tougher for actors today. As one script example, the girl in the film says, “The things they’ve done have not been in my name. I feel no pride. I feel a deepening shame.” You can count out the five beats as you read the line.

I have the feeling – and I could of course be wrong – that the average moviegoer felt such dialogue was simply stilted and rather wooden, perhaps not really caring much about the revolutionary thing the director was attempting to do.

Some critics loved it; others thought it was kind of a mess. “Say ‘No’ to ‘Yes,’” was the way one put it.

But who knows? The movie might ultimately turn out to be some sort of cult classic, in spite of, perhaps even because of, its iambic pentameter approach. In any event, it does seem to be unique.

What’s your opinion?


In my Shakespeare studies, I came across something surprising: hats can talk; they have a language; they can say things.

First off, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that in Will Shakespeare.’s day people wore their hats indoors. When the Shakespeare acting company, back in the 16th century, put on “Hamlet,” as a f’rinstance, the actors all wore their hats, even though they were supposed to be inside a castle.

So modern producers of Will S.’s plays should have all their actors equipped with headgear, even for the interior scenes.

This, of course, will never happen; no one in a modern audience would understand the reason for it. But it would be authentic.

There’s a fascinating scene in “Hamlet” that points this up beautifully. In Act 5 Osric, a foppish messenger, comes to Prince Hamlet with a message. As is to be expected, he removes his hat – after all, he’s speaking to a Prince.

Hamlet then chides Osric for having his hat off. Modern audiences usually find this scene difficult to understand; isn’t Osric supposed to have his hat off when speaking to royalty?

Well, it’s complicated. Hamlet knows Osric should remove his hat when he first addresses him; that’s normal protocol. But then he should put his hat right back on -- wearing a hat indoors (see above) is normal. So when Osric, in spite of Hamlet’s order to put his hat back on, keeps his hat off, the Prince gets irked. An expected show of respect for authority is now being irritatingly overdone; Hamlet suspects the sincerity of such exaggerated obsequiousness.

Do you think that today it's possible to wear a hat that can convey a message?
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