Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's taken Alot for me to say this.

Some of you probably suspected, but not many people have been fully let in on this.  I know at the outset I promised that my one blogging rule for myself was complete honesty - and technically I've told no fibs, but - well, it's time to come clean.

I am a recovering addict.

I still struggle sometimes when tempted by an outrageous stimulus or am just having a 'low' day and my reserves of forbearance, strength and stamina are low, but I remain focussed.  I accept that I may always have the sort of thoughts that could lead me into trouble.  But lately, a number of things have helped me really turn over a whole new leaf.

Truly,  I can now say with complete sincerity that I am no longer the appallingly, hopelessly addicted grammar, spelling and punctuation pedant I once was. Srsly.

It's a relief to say it - to admit I had a problem and to know I'm never going back.

No, this is not me. But he looks peeved about some grammatical sin, doesn't he?

My love for the weird and wonderful language that we still like to call English has flowered more richly and abundantly than ever since letting go of this addiction; and not as I might have once feared withered through the taint of impure usage.

True, I still do my best to use English well: To build on the traditions laid down over the centuries, to honour the consensus of users' understandings and the rules of grammar and punctuation.  I also spel goode.  And try to avoid typos, without obsessing.  But this, and the previous sentence, demonstrate amply that I have in fact moved on from the dary days where never, ever, would one be properly allowed in civilised writing to start a sentence with the words 'and' or 'but'.  I have now embraced the full stop (period) as a metering (yes, that's the English/Australian spelling in this usage) device, rather than just a tool of linguistic compliance.  As that last sentence also demonstrates, I now use commas similarly as a metering tool.  Occasionally, I have been known to say something like "none of them are taking notice of the grammar mangling in this sentence" because, well, that's how we do it these days.  If you must know, it should correctly be "none of them is..." because the word 'none' is singular, from the contraction 'not one'.  So there.

It feels good not to be a grammar nazi anymore.

So, what got me over the line?

There have been lots of factors at play, but here are some edited moments:

The apostrophe catastrophe.
Having an apostrophe in my name quite possibly gave me a slightly closer-than-average affinity for the perky little levitating comma chap we use as a possessive or to denote a contraction of words (amongst other legitimate uses).  Since, like, forever I have been spotting him hung out to dry embarrasedly misplaced in public locations - advertising is the worst.  However, the ubiquity of its misuses (no, you don't use an apostrophe in 'its' when it's a possessive as with the first and second usages in this sentence, but do when it's a contraction of 'it is'as in the last two instances) even back in my childhood meant finding some kind of internal calm about it or suffering some form of juvenile chronic hypertension.  Now of course, it's everywhere.  The as-yet-unresolved issue of using an apostrophe when pluralising a number or acronym ("Wow! Two 70's CD's!") will work itself out.  I favour no apostrophe.  I'll explain why L8R.

Txt Msgs, IM, Twitter, Netspeak etc
Well ppl, since u r online now I shall assume that u r across this abbreviation and acronymic thing sometimes called Netspeak.  Lol and all that.  Personally, I don't like it.  Just the other day I heard some one say "O M G!" even though by syllable count it would have been no longer to say "Oh My God!"  But acronyms have long been used as Leetspeak (old Netspeak for "elite" speak, meaning the nerds 'in the know'), intending to denote the user's close familiarity with the subject matter and as a tool for increasing peer bonds and rapport.  It's rarely an effective abbreviation verbally (try saying "WW2", it's far longer and harder than saying "World War Two", but vets or vet wannabes say it a lot).  In that last sentence are two pre-tech explosion examples (along with a more recent one in this sentence) of new abbreviated words that have entered our language: vet, wannabe and tech.  When I got my first mobile phone there was no SMS service, because screens were only one line.  When SMS came in and txt spk developed I resisted and capitalised, punctuated and did not abbreviate.  Then I got a phone with no apostrophe function.  Over time, and through the attrition of use, I have softened somewhat.  I even use emoticons ;-)  Now I have a qwerty keyboard with all the fruit on my iPhone however, it's a snap to write properly again.

They're the things at the end of my arms containing a set of fingers that I use for typing and so forth.  I got rather good at itfor a time back there when I was a phone jockey for Centrelink and had to talk/type/listen (as they say) really fast and accurately.  Since then however I have developed what te medicos like to call peripheral neuropathy (something wrong with your nervous system towards the edges of your body - nstill means nothing really) which in a nutshell means my hands are starved of nerve impulses so the muscles have atrophied and are turning my once beautifully strong and supple guitarist's hands into weak clawlike appendages of the sort usually found on ancient arthritic humans.  (Oh, poor me =( ).  What it means here is that I now only use my right middle finger and left index finger for all typing duties, involving lifting my whole arm from the shoulder to do so.  Kinda slows you down and messes with your accuracy.  Upshot?  A silver lining of forgiveness to myself - and by extension others - about typos.

A Merkinisation
Once upon a time there were certain agreed-upon spellings and rules governing the proximity of consonants and vowels to determine the vowel sound, and these applied across the anglophone world.  Somehow, in America, sometime, these changed.  Centre became center.  Maybe this is a pronunciative driven thing, as the Merkins generally roll their 'r's at the end of words.  Traveller became traveler - which according t the old rules should rightly be pronounced traveeler.  There is quite simply more written literature produced globally in American English now than in other forms, and Microsoft has dipped its mighty oar into the fray too.  American English is the default spellchecker setting.  Medical language has gone that way, with the 'oe' being dropped from diarrhea and esophagous and homeopathy now, even here in Oz.  Medical literature is rather global these days.  When I write on mainly American fora, I generally maintain the English forms of spelling, but I can feel it slipping.  I saw it all the time in the APS (Centrelink) where other workers would write on customer records in American, and of course, lamentably, many were also of borderline literacy levels.

A Merkin - more than a homonym.  If you're not sure, do look it up.

The Alot
Sometimes you can identify a turning point, a precise moment.  Sure, I'd been softening and practising non-judgement of those with what really is just a different way of using the language than I, but there was something missing.  Something yet to be found - the absence of care was not enough for me, there needed to be something positive and new brought into the frame.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Alot.

The Alot may have spontaneously evolved as a response to linguistic pedantry, or perhaps to fill the niche created by bad typing.  Its name comes from the omnipresent error these days of people missing the space bar when trying to type a lot.  It really does happen alot.  Such as the Alot has a human genesis, it is the gifted and entertaining Allie Brosh, via her excellent blog, HYPERBOLE AND A HALF.  I have been trawling about the 'Nets for many a year now, and only actually read about 4 other blogs regularly.  Hers is top of my list.

Allie says that she made up the Alot as an aid to help her overcome her compulsive need to correct other people's grammar and that "it has provided hours of entertainment for me in a situation where I'd normally be left feeling angry and disillusioned with the world."

For example, when reading "I care about this alot" you can imagine this....

And there are many more spiffily drawn examples, go look see. 

So the Alot has helped free me from the tyranny of negativism also.  I can now enjoy an imaginary wonder creature every time I see something realating to the incredibly versatile Alot.  I even go out of my way to do it in my own mind.  Just the other day I made Alot of kindling.  He was a happy but splintery and combustible guy.  People are knitting Alots....and so it goes.

There are many fans of this site, and it's fascinating watching a consciously created word start to become firstly an internet meme, and perhaps become one of the few actually designed words to enter our language through popular acclaim.  I'd like that alot.

I used to be concerned about the future of the English language, and I know I was far from alone in that.  The proponents of other languages (notably the French) have been for a long time now concerned about its rise as the lingua franca (ironically translating as "French Language", from the Norman imposition of French as the official language of Britain) of international trade and commerce, and what effects this might have on the 'purity' of their own language.  The Academie Francaise spent most of the last half century in an ultimately doomed effort to hold back the tide of neologisms, mostly from English.  They renamed things like the Jumbo Jet, Sony Walkman....there were thousands of artificially created 'French' terms coined every year to stem the flow.  They gave up.

Why has English succeeded so well then?  It's not just the luck of colonial power politics, it's something deeper.  Our language is a mongrel creation that has always changed, adapted and assimilated everything it touches.  It is only a very recent phenomenon that a serious attempt has been made to pin it down firmly into a static system.  An unchanging language is a dying one though, yes?  It has been found that in East Asia for example many business people who do not speak the same language use neither of their own languages but a variant of what's been coined as Globish, or 'global English'.  A usable set of 1500 words or so seems to do the trick for pretty much every need.  You know probably 25-30,000 words, and use at least 15,000 very regularly, as a contrast.  If you've travelled to a non-English speaking country, without speaking the local language, you've spoken Globish for sure.

It is the very flexibility, malleability and permeability of the English language tradition that has allowed it to thrive and prosper.

Is Globish the foundation of a true global language?  Probably, yes.  Will it replace English?  Eventually, I guess that's likely.  English will possibly meet Globish in the middle somewhere along the way over the next few centuries (assuming our species makes it that far) and would be taught at schools as a parallel language all over.  Ironically, it will likely make 'native' English speakers the relative losers, not having the benefit of a whole other (soon to be globally said as "a whole nother") way of seeing that a second language gives you.  English as we know it will most likely 'dumb down' and destroy at least some of its archaic and nonsensical pronunciation, spelling and grammatical rules.  Creeping illiteracy in the Anglophone world will assure that spelling becomes more flexible and probably more homonymic.  We may see such things as the death of their/they're/there and compaction into a single spelling  whose meaning is denoted contextually only.  Who knows?

Like everything, there will be chaos, and new order.  Entropy, and light.

In the meantime, I shall just relax about the whole evolution thing, I think.  Change:  It happens alot.



  1. The more I read, the more I laugh. I would love to meet you IRL as I'm sure we would be kindred spirits. Maybe someday, if I ever get halfway around the world. :-) (I'm Karin from the BD group, if I haven't already identified myself) We are very similar and my husband and I have had extensive conversations about dangling prepositions. Although I never realized it, it is definitely part of colloquial speech where I am from. (hehe, see that?) It is a trend we want to keep from the speech of our children. Along with several other fun ones. I have several "grammar geek" friends and we exchange stories and pet peeves.

    I also could not imagine losing my music. When my daughter was sitting in a coma, I would cry as I would contemplate her not being able to hear or understand me as I would sing to her. We've had several times where we thought her hearing had been damaged severely. However, singing is one of the things that she does well. :-) She talks in her own grammar and I cry again seeing her accomplish those things I never thought possible in the early days. She is able to sing several stanzas of a strophic song, but still can't tell you a basic storyline out of a simple picture book.

    The body (and brain) is an amazing thing. I am constantly amazed at what we are able to do when we must. It's not always nice. It's not always pleasant.

    But it has its own worth.

    If we are willing to learn.

    I have been honored to see a portion of your journey. It helps me on mine.

    Thank you.

  2. Globish should not indeed dominate the World, because this would be unethical.

    Globish reminds me of another project called "Basic English" Unfortunately this failed, because native English speakers could not remember which words not to use :)

    So it's time to move forward and adopt a neutral non-national language, taught universally in schools worldwide,in all nations.

    As a native English speaker, I would prefer Esperanto

    Your readers may be interested in the following video at Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

    A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at

  3. Dankon, Brian, for your comment. I applaud the original sentiment of Esperanto, to have a language that transcends political divisions - hence creating such a language artificially - and can see merit as a tool for accelerating the learning of other languages. In terms of overcoming old political divisions, I feel it would be more ultimately healing to accept that language, like culture, is ultimately organic. It will do what it does, and it's far too complex to control. Plus, creating something new does not heal wounds caused by the old. Healing those wounds may require accepting the things that wounded us into our lives and allowing them to transmute into tings we like. i'm not proposing anything, btw, such as an enforced shift in any direction. Globish is a thing that has happened, not something that can necessarily be defined and taught as a structured system. Everyone will speak it differently. I recall having some bizarre but entirely effective conversations in Mexico in a mixture of English (Globish), Spanish, and Japanese. Along with gesture, the international sign language. My feeling is that Esperanto may be shown by history to be primarily an important moment of utopian thinking, and an illustration of the limitations of and attempts towards globally imposed social enginerring. Be nice to be wrong about that though, wouldn't it?