Grandpa’s Grammar

Your per-nunky-ayshun is her-ibble!

So spake my grandfather once upon a time, admonishing me—perhaps five years old at the time—when I mispronounced a word while talking with him.  I remember dissolving in laughter, delighted by the strange words coming from his mouth.

Language, and its proper usage, were important to him.  An accomplished calligrapher, a voracious reader, and an avocational writer, he was forever dwelling on the importance of speaking and writing correctly.

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Years later, as a young teacher, I carried on that same tradition by including grammar lessons in my pupils’ daily curriculum.  When I became a father, I continued the practice in conversations with our daughters.

Neither my wife nor I favoured the inane baby-talk that was so prevalent among parents back then as they communicated with their children.  Right from the beginning, we resolved to speak to the girls in proper sentences, expressing complete thoughts, using correct terminology, pronouncing words properly.  Most of it probably went over their heads in the beginning, of course, but we definitely set an expectation in their minds that effective communication was important.

Along the way, I made time to tell them of the various quirks and anomalies of the English language.  Making a game of it, or including it in story-times, helped, I think, to convey the lessons.

I’d explain to them about adverbs and adjectives, and how they’re used.  “Adverbs usually, but not always, end in ‘ly’,” I’d say.  “So, you don’t run quick or slow, you run quickly or slowly.  You don’t dress nice, you dress nicely.  Get it?”

“Huh?” their quizzical expressions would seem to say.

“You can feel good,” I might continue, “but you’re never doing good.  You’re doing well.  And, you’re never doing poor, but you could be doing poorly.”

“But, you’re always saying I eat too fast,” the eldest once said.  “Does that mean I’m eating too fastly?”

At that point, I launched into an apology for all the exceptions to the rules in English exposition.

Spelling and vowel-sounds were often challenging, as well, when I’d lead them through the pronunciation of such lookalike words as: through (long u sound), tough (short u sound), although (long o sound), cough (short o sound), and plough (sounds like ow).

For a long time, we enjoyed playing a silly-sounds game, asking each other to correct the mispronounced words in sentences like this: ‘Althoo my meat was toe, I got thruff most of it.’

To many of our friends, parents themselves, my emphasis on grammar and spelling likely seemed fetishist, even obsessive.

“I could care less about that stuff,” they often said to me.

“No,” I’d reply, “I think what you mean is that you couldn’t care less.  If you could care less, it would mean you consider it important.”

Most of them would roll their eyes and drop the subject.

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Pronunciation was always the main issue, though.  In time, the girls would recognize and laugh at obvious mistakes they’d hear on the radio or television, from speakers who ought to have known better.

“That guy said Nagra Falls, Daddy,” one might say.  “It should be Ni-a-ga-ra, right?”

Her sister might pipe up, “I heard someone talk about the nu-cu-lar bomb, instead of nu-cle-ar!”

“How about this one?” the first might say.  “We don’t eye-urn our clothes, we i-ron them.”

“Yeah, and there are no taggers in the zoo; they’re ti-gers.”

I suppose it was Grandpa’s grammar lessons that imprinted on me, and led me to become so insistent on proper language usage.

But, what about the situation today, I wonder, when so much of our verbal and written communication is made up of verbal shortcuts?

abbreviations

Is the proper usage of language still important?

So many times now, I hear people say something like this in conversation: “So, she goes, ‘I like your dress.’  And I go, ‘Thanks!’  Then, she goes, ‘It’s nice.’”

Can they not use the correct word, as in ‘She said…’ and ‘I said…’?

It’s common anymore to hear someone say ‘What?’, not ‘Pardon?’ when they haven’t heard me; ‘Fer Shurr!’, not ‘For sure!’ when they’re certain of something; or, ‘It don’t matter!’, not ‘It doesn’t matter!’ when asked if everything is okay.

To me, it does matter.

Still, in the grand scheme of life, perhaps it no longer counts if our language continues to be used correctly and in its purest form.  It is a living thing, after all, and should, therefore, be expected to evolve over time, adapting to technology and 5G capabilities.

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But, so much of the first impression we convey to others about ourselves is wrapped up in how we speak, and in how we sound to others.  So much about our intellect and learning is tied up in how we write.  I have trouble accepting that grammar, spelling, syntax, diction, and pronunciation may no longer be valuable in our human discourse.

My grandfather told me over and over that our language should always be held in respect, and used in its highest form.  And I, a child at his knee, believed him.

“Otherwise,” he’d say, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, “it will be a true cattas-troffy!

Manic Manifestations

This era of gender fluidity in which we live presents some complicated situations for elderly gentlemen—among whom I am more and more often numbered.

By gender fluidity I mean two things.  First, the long-time conversation around the issue of feminism, and what it means to be a woman in today’s world.  The topic is not new, having been a part of our public discourse through most of my adult life.

Gloria Steinem, a journalist and activist, defined feminism as a recognition of “the equality and full humanity of women and men.”  Bell Hooks, an author and activist, explained it as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”

The second aspect arises from the increasing awareness and sometimes reluctant acceptance of people’s choices respecting their sexual orientation.  The initials LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer/Questioning) were unheard of, at least in my circles, not so long ago.

Mind you, the issues confronting people who question their gender identities are not new.  But the open, public conversation about them is a fairly recent development.

My viewpoint has always been live and let live, and I have never questioned the sincerity of those whose inclination leads them to follow a different path than I.  Believing us all equal under the sun, I support those who agitate for equality among the genders; for recognition of gender identity; for a rethinking of what it is that makes us human; and especially for acknowledging what differentiates us as men and women.

But such issues do lead to complicated adjustments for me, an older man who cleaves to the old ways, who has never doubted or lamented the fact that I am male.  Not privileged, not ascendant; just male.

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I refer here to alterations to our language that seem to assail me for doing what I have always done.  The changes involve substituting the word man for parts of otherwise perfectly understandable words, creating a verbal-portmanteau previously unknown to our language.

For example, when I sit down now, on a shared sofa or bus seat, I may be accused of manspreading, the act of sitting with my knees apart.  This, I assure you, is less a hostile statement on my part, and more a search for comfort.  I intend no offense by it, but now increasingly find myself trying to shrink into as small a space as I can possibly occupy.

If I am asked to account for this conditioned behaviour, I might be accused of mansplaining, which is apparently a less than satisfactory justification.  Implied is the notion that I am merely defensively defending an unsustainable position.

Occasionally I find myself in a cluster of other men at a social gathering, enjoying our respective insights into politics, sports, or someone’s latest fishing trip.  It’s never too long before one of our fair companions happens by to ask how long we plan to carry on our manversation.  It feels like a putdown…or mandown!

But when we dare to get involved in a mixed-company discussion, and if one of us turns the talk in a different direction, we could be accused of manjacking the conversation.

I feel sometimes as if I’m being managed unfairly, or manipulated, even manhandled by those who resent what they assume is my inherent sense of masculine superiority.  They come across as manic in their correctness.

If I, perchance, did consider myself superior, it wouldn’t be because I’m a man; rather, it would be due intellectual brilliance, sparkling wit, or matinee-idol appearance.  Alas, given that none of these is true, I have long accepted the reality of my pedestrian, mundane maleness.

Perhaps it’s time I just man up and live with the new realities.  But that feels so…so…mandescending!