“Do you have a temperature?”
“Well, why didn’t you say something? We should get you tested.”
“What else? The virus.”
“Why? I heard you cough this morning and just now you blew your nose and then you said you have a temperature.”
“I inhaled some spit and choked on it this morning. Your chili always makes my nose run and everything has a temperature, including you. Do you mean fever?”
“Oh, you know exactly what I mean.”
That was the fiction section of this column. What follows is nonfiction, except for the parts that aren’t.
I’m a literal kinda guy. I really dislike the mental gymnastics necessary to decipher some of the verbal hodgepodge that passes for communication among certain of our species. It seems that being imprecise in speech is a trendy affliction that grows ever worse as I grow ever older. However, unlike most impairments, this one should have been cured with a few junior high school English classes that tested for a working knowledge of our native language, American English. Failure should relegate the student to a summer program supervised by someone like my Aunt Shirley or Larry Hall or any of their generation. These folks spoke with precision and color, leaving no doubt about the message.
Even though I (barely) graduated from high school, selflessly and firmly anchoring the bottom of my class, I have a fair grasp of the rules of grammar, as do most folks of my vintage. Spelling and vocabulary? Easy, compared with typing class. Diagramming sentences? Piece of cake, compared with Algebra 1. I couldn’t climb that stupid rope in gym, but English class was 40 minutes of R&R. So, while I gave the subject neither effort nor attention, thanks to the gentle but firm teachings of Mrs. Dane, I am nevertheless able to effectively communicate with English speakers who are not teenagers. Most of the time.
So, what in tarnation happened? I know a couple of English teachers, AP English teachers, who have launched a generation of well-taught young adults into the world. Yet, the public writings found online, in advertisements and on signs, in private communications and corporate reports — seemingly everywhere but in this publication — indicate a near-total absence of language accuracy. There’s entertainment to be found in there, though.
Occasionally, the written word is spelled phonetically with the local accent applied, as in a “three-draw” cabinet. More often it’s the homophone (it’s OK, look it up) like “break pads” or “A/P flower,” or the all-time favorite “their-there” stumbler. Mostly, though, it’s a simple spelling error. When I spell a word incorrectly, my bossy devices offer a rude pop-up suggesting that I should at least walk by a school at some point and to “CLICK HERE” to see if I have set a new internet standard for illiteracy. Letting the misspelled word go by then becomes deliberate, and really, I look like an idiot pretty often by accident as it is. I don’t want to make it worse on purpose.
It has been suggested that my failing eyesight and hearing are, in large measure, at fault for my perceptions of this matter, to which I say, “HA! FAT CHANCE!”
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.