Friday, May 19, 2006

How To Talk Correctly

My sister-in-law lent me a book a while back... ok a long while back... and I had a look through it tonight when I was cleaning up. It's a 1942 grammer and speech guide called, funnily enough, "How to Talk Correctly." The funny thing about this book is that it advodcates one way of speaking and the author (George P. Duncan) isn't shy about slamming those who "fail to speak correctly."

The book, which was only published 64 years ago, clearly tries to cling onto archaic rules and the author digs his heels in against a lot of the change that was already happening. He lists the second person pronouns "thee" "thou" "thy," and "thine" as properly used in some situations, even though they had fallen out of general discourse long before 1942. The book also shows how fast the English language is changing. A lot of the words and phrases the author uses just aren't around anymore. Here are some of the good parts...

Vulgarisms and Slang

Carefully avoid using vulgar and unmeaning words and phrases and slang; as You don't say so! Anyhow, Over head and ears, Kick up, Walk into, &c. [Anyhow?? By the way, &c is how they used to say etc. And I guess some of those words didn't last... who says "over head and ears" these days? What does it even mean? Ok back to the book...]

"Mr. Bowery and another gent were with me." We must class this detestable contraction with the vulgarisms, though it is often met with in good company. Always say a gentleman.

The following are a few of the current volgarisms of the day:

Sparrowgrass, for asparagus
Aint, for is not
Haint, for has not
Winder, for window
Bran new, for new
Fetch, for bring
Gal, for girl
Sallet, for salad
Umberel, for umbrella

Such words as pell-mell, bamboozle, helter-skelter, hurly-burly, topsy-turvy, though sometimes allowable, should generally be avoided.

[Ok first of all I think pell-mell should be used more, not less. Second, I think it's funny when people say not to use aint. What's the deal with that word? It's been used for hundreds of years now... at least since the 1700s... and it's a contraction just like a million other contractions we have in English. Yet, while most other contractions have been accepted, aint is still a problem. Why is that??]

Pronunciation of Surnames

"In acquiring the part of Speaking correctly, the pronouncing of Proper Names is a matter of considerable importance, as a correct rendering conduces to ease and grace in conversation. The object of the self-taught, and imperfectly educated person should be, to leave as few traces as possible of the defects of early training; and the evidence of those defects is in few matters stronger, than the way in which the unlearned pronounce certain Proper Names in English."

The book goes on to list about a hundred common last names and tells the reader how to pronounce them... I've never heard a lot of them and most the others sound... old.

Ok well that's about it... there are a couple other things the author says when talking about errors that I thought were funny: "The English is undoubtedly the noblest of modern tongues; but no other language of a civilized people is so badly spoken and written." Wow, the noblest... I mean, we must have beat out a lot of competition for that title. Too bad about speaking our language worse than any other civilized people (it seems maybe we still beat out the uncivilized though). And what's up with calling it "The English"?

Also... "Our mother-tongue - the strong, copious, flexible Anglo-Saxon - is our richest inheritance. We have reason to be proud of it, and ought to labour with the greatest assiduity to perfect ourselves in its use." How's that for motivation...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This book was actually written circa 1900 in London. I have a copy of it. You may have a newer edition, but the author also uses the more familiar I, you we, etc...

11:42 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home