The Last Word on Ain’t

As I finished this book, two more quotes from it struck me as worthy to include in my blog. One is a quote of what Bergen Evans had to say about changing times and language (Bergen Evans will be known to people my age 73 as a word man whose name stood for solid inquiry into language that the average man was interested in and could understand). On p. 251, Skinner paraphrases Evans and then quotes him: In this and other ways, the language was becoming less stuffy. “Forty years ago it was considered courteous to use formal English in speaking to strangers, implying they were solemn and important people. Today it is considered more flattering to address strangers as if they were one’s intimate friends. This is a polite lie, of course; but it is today’s good manners. Modern usage encourages informality wherever possible and reserves formality for very few occasions.”
That is a balanced way of looking at the changes in discourse in our society. Only one person in my family was like that, an uncle who had been born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But in my wife’s family, formality was much more prominent. I remember my wife scolding me for wearing a T-shirt, not an undershirt but a regular T-shirt, in front of elders. I’ll write more on that under Basics when I talk about high context and low context cultures.
Another quote, p. 303: In a way, the controversy over Webster’s Third was simply a controversy over what it means to be cultivated. In the previous paragraph he paraphrases J.P. Bethel: The day of paramount emphasis in academic circles upon the humanities has passed. Gone were the days when dictionaries represent high culture. Gone were the days when people looked to Latin to explain English; gone were the days when, as a rule, educated people knew Latin. Consider that in 1918 William Allan Neilson had observed, as if it were news, that “most cultivated men” did not speak any of the classical languages anymore.” Actually, Latin fluency began disappearing around the 1600s, when grammar teaching reached ascendency, and really went the way of the dodo bird with the grammar-translation method which was NEVER MEANT to teach Latin as a language. BTW, the usage “any of the classical languages” would get the red pencil if I were editing: there were only two commonly studied: Latin and Greek. Sanskrit, the other one, was not widely studied and Classical Chinese and so forth were not recognized as on par with Greek and Latin. Funny.

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