No-one has ever been able to convince me that the English language is straightforward. Many have said it must be easy if three-year olds can speak it. And yes they can, to a point, as do we all. But the challenge always arises when we start to put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard.
I watched an excellent TED talk recently (www.ted.com/talks) where the speaker talked about how if the evolution of humankind so far was put into a day, that the written word would emerge at around 23.55. I wish I’d remembered to keep the link to the talk and could remember the name of the speaker so I could share it with you but it really did make me think.
Why does the development of our language make our lives so difficult? Every language has its own idiosyncracies, traps and confusions. Look at the title to this post. Yes, I checked the dictionary to make sure I’d got them in the correct order – and even in this sentence, should I use correct or right? They both mean the same, don’t they? What about less or fewer? The incorrect usage of these terms I know infuriates many people. And then to add confusion we have the homophones, for example there, their and they’re.
I’ll share with you some fabulous sentences that I found through a Facebook link to an entertainment site (I know but it’s still research).
The bandage was wound around the wound.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse
We must polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
Horrifying isn’t it!
Great philosophical treatises will explain how our language has a great history of adoption, adaption and evolution and has a rich heritage of which we should be proud. You’ve only got to look at Beowulf, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, the works of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde, amongst others, to see the changes that have occurred over the centuries.
So with all these changes, and those that are still occurring today, why do we expect everyone to be able to write well? We employ staff for their financial, scientific, technical or engineering skills which have been honed over many years – and then expect them to write fluidly, engagingly and authoritatively. And when they aren’t able to, we criticise them and by association criticise their knowledge as well. Why? Most people applaud those who can speak and write in multiple languages, but do we praise and celebrate excellent writers of the English language? Well, yes, but they are generally dead when we get round to it. We may talk about a great story that we’ve read in a book, but unless studying English at school or university how often do we talk about the choice of words, the thrust of the argument, the thought process that the writer has gone through to be able to put across their message?
Writing isn’t easy but it can be a complete joy for both the writer and the reader. Writing can engage or alienate the reader, something that should always be considered when one puts pen to paper. Good writing can have a huge impact on success whether personal or corporate. It can make the difference to a company winning a multi-million pound order from their most important client or keeping them away from litigation.
So please, applaud those of us who choose to use the written word to make our living. We have chosen to do so because we love how language works and know how it can affect people and so we can plan accordingly. We know most people don’t, so why not take some stress out your lives by engaging a writer to work with you on your most important bids, proposals and projects. Who knows we may be able to help you love words more.