Magazine article The Spectator

Is It, like, Such a Tough Ask to Speak Proper English?

Magazine article The Spectator

Is It, like, Such a Tough Ask to Speak Proper English?

Article excerpt

We all know that correct English is no longer taught in most of our schools, but now at last the government seems to agree.

A few weeks ago it announced the introduction of new A-level grades to make it more difficult to achieve the highest ranking.

From next year pupils will have to gain 80 per cent to be awarded an A-grade A-level and 90 per cent if they are to earn an A* -- and they will not be allowed to sit the exam again to achieve a higher mark.

A damning research programme has just found that there are fewer school-leavers in work or training now than there were when Tony Blair entered Downing Street ten years ago. An alarming 206,000 16-to-18-year-olds are classified as NEETs -- not in education, employment or training -- and employers are finding increasingly that even some university graduates are barely semi-literate. No wonder the proper use of English is declining so rapidly.

Nobody under the age of 40, for instance, even in middle-class families, would dream nowadays of saying 'my friend and I went down to the pub': now it's 'me and my friend' or 'her and myself gone dahn a boozer'.

Nobody under the age of 40 ever uses the words 'said' or 'says' any more: it's always 'go', 'is' or 'went': 'So 'im and me goes dahn a boozer an' 'e's like, "Hey, man, check the babe in the corner!" an' I go, "**** me! I'm in love, " an' 'e went, "Hands off, man, I saw her first" so I'm like, "Too bad, man, she's mine."' Carelessness about our beautiful language is sprouting everywhere, even among the allegedly intelligent. Sheer ignorance, for instance, has changed the word 'disinterested', which means neutral or unbiased but is now widely used to mean 'uninterested'.

'Decimated' means 'reduced by one tenth' but is now used constantly to mean 'obliterated'. Originally 'prestigious' meant dodgy or deceitful but most people nowadays seem to think that it means 'full of prestige'.

Such irritations, however, are insignificant by comparison with some truly dreadful modern horrors: the nouns (like gift) that are now being used as verbs; the 'must-have' gadgets;

the BBC Wimbledon commentator who remarked that the challenge faced by one player 'was a tough ask' but another was 'do-able'.

A couple of days later BBC News 24's chief political correspondent, James Landale, reported that the job of the new Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was also 'a big ask', and Sky TV's cricket commentator Nasser Hussein, a graduate of Durham University, remarked that the West Indian batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul had just played his side's 'stand-out innings' -- and he said it again, twice, a few days later [1 July]. He meant 'outstanding'.

What is truly depressing about this decline in the use of the language is that it has now spread even to the very people who should be upholding and defending it: professional authors, writers, journalists and broadcasters.

On 27 May, I'm sorry to say, even the Spectator's Rod Liddle, a master of English, reported in his Sunday Times column that John Prescott's farewell tour of America and the Caribbean was paid for 'by you and I' instead of 'by you and me'.

On the same day in the Sunday Telegraph John Preston wrote in an interview with Charles Webb, the author of The Graduate:

'He has no interest in money, and nor would he get any if Home School is made into a film.' Why and nor?

In another issue of the Sunday Times the Emeritus Professor of Family Planning at University College London, John Guillebaud, remarked that 'the greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child. …

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