22 October 2010

Day 209: Consider the Lobster

"Authority and American Usage" in Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. ISBN: 9780316156110.

I love this essay for several reasons.  The first is the fact that Wallace is assigned to review a dictionary and usage guide.  This is something I'm somewhat familiar with doing.  I won't say I've had the experience or practice of a more seasoned librarian, but I'm pretty good at looking at a reference source and knowing what kind of library or person would find it useful, how they might use it, and the general bent or lean of the author or publishing organization.

It's true, even dictionaries have agendas.

The other thing I liked was Wallace reminding the reader that language is a tool.  This tool has a particular goal of communicating ideas, concepts, directions, emotions, etc. to other people.  However, it is also a tool for defining identity.  For instance, if I happened to speak French as a first language you would know I was from one of a handful of cultures and could possibly guess that I was from Canada or France given my pasty skin tone and Americanized manner of dress.  But it goes further than that: each language has its own dialect and even its own slang subsets.  Fifty year-old white men do not talk the same way that 15 year-old girls do, even if that 50 year-old happens to be the 15 year-old's father.

So what?
Well, I'm going to say something that kind of makes me want to die a little inside: As much as I don't like it, text talk has its uses as a language.  I hate it.  I hate what it has done to people's already poor spelling abilities.  I hate that I have picked up bad text habits simply because I read so much of it that it becomes incorporated into my internal spell checker/grammar guide.  I am really fucking tired of seeing people spell "indefinite" as "indefinate" (it's WRONG!) and spelling out etc. as "ectcetera."  There's not even a "c" in front of the "t" in the abbreviation, why are you doing that?
On the other hand, a large portion of the population now communicates via text message, Facebook, and Twitter.  These mediums are usually pretty limited character-wise, so the drooling-idiot butchering of a traditionally rich and wordy language makes sense.  Of course we need a shorthand under those circumstances in which to fully communicate ideas and intentions.  However, if you try to communicate in that language to someone who doesn't speak it, you are going to get stared at blankly.  Therefore, put down the cell phone and start composing lengthy letters to your grandmother, who will not only appreciate it, but may provide you with the benefit of a complete education in etiquette and what it was like growing up during World War II, then maybe you'll stop your bitching about your broken iPhone.
There, I've made concessions, go learn proper English.  I'll work on typing liek I dont no how 2 rite, fml, lolz.
I don't necessarily agree with this review, but I think it's well written, entertaining, and makes some good points.

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