(Anti)disestablishmentarianism

Way back in the day, when things were simpler and people were actually expected to know how to do things like spell and construct sentences correctly, my grade 7 homeroom teacher always supplemented our weekly prescribed, curriculum-based, spelling test with an extra-special challenge.

As a result, I learned the spelling- and the meanings- of a lot of very interesting words.

Tintinnabulation was one.  How wonderful is it that there is a single word to describe the ringing of (church) bells through the countryside?  It always reminds me of Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, by William Wordsworth- partly because my first exposure to the poem came around the same time I learned the new word and partly because the bucolic setting of the poem lends itself to hearing bells in the distance, but mainly because of the similar sound of tintinnabulation and Tintern.

I love language(s).  I love words.  I love playing with them and respectfully befriending them as befits their vast importance in our human interaction.  Words facilitate communication.  While there are, certainly, other methods of communication, the effective use of language is undeniably one of the forces with which we need reckon as we attempt to make sense of this human existence and try to get along.

As has been the case for most of my adult life, part of my current role involves working with other people and helping to hone their written communication skills.  Being talented, driven professionals, none of my colleagues are completely hopeless with when it comes to the clear and effective use of language, but the reality is that we are surrounded by opportunities to misuse our well-learned writing skills once we move outside of the halls of academia.

It’s partly peer pressure.  I see sooooo many typos/inconsistencies/grammatical errors in allegedly edited publications/news groups these days.  Status updates and tweets and PMs are rarely given the once-over, let alone the twice/thrice-over that I tend to use when putting things out into the ether.  The people that we see on tv speak in colloquialisms that seem barely recognizable as mother-tongue English.

It’s also laziness.  We know better, most of the time.  I’m positive that people really know the difference between to/too and there/they’re/their- but (maddeningly) don’t get the importance of actually writing the correct word.

I realize that, here in my WPWorld with my WPPeeps, I frequently devolve and use extremely vernacular or truncated language, while employing my own little stylistic idiosyncrasies that very much reflect my voice (at least the one in my head that shouts the loudest…).

I’m allowed.  colemining is a blog.  Its purpose isn’t about business or professional concerns.  I’m chatting with my friends- putting some of my ideas out there and responding to the ideas of others that strike me as profound, interesting or entertaining.

I’m also of the mind that once you reallyreally know the fundamentals of a language you then, and only then, get to play around with them.  And I’m pretty confident in my grasp of the fundamentals of language (more than one, truth be told).  So I’m okay with writing choppy, seemingly-incomplete sentences, hereabouts.  Or beginning sentences with ‘so’.  Or ‘or’.

That’s the language in which Cole chooses to write.  If it isn’t everyone’s cup o’ java, it’s all good.

Word-crafting is an art– and when it’s employed by those with a real talent for turns of phrase and clever construction it is truly beautiful.  We find such wordsmiths in many realms- of music, literature, poetry, philosophy… even (dare I say it?) in the political world.  Expressive, connotative language describes and illustrates our humanity.  Regardless of the specific medium- or subject matter- it connects us by helping us to communicate our stories- individual and shared.

Before I accepted my current role, I languished a little bit in the wasteland between the world of academic writing and that of business correspondence.  ‘Writing’ ‘form letters’ (a primary responsibility of my previous job), offered few opportunities for either creative flare or nuanced construction.   By their very definition they were formulaic.

That temporary residence in said void led to a whole lot of playing with words and encouraging their music in my spare time- something that has been wonderful for my creative output (work on the novel(s) and such), but it also made me a little lazy, to be honest.

As I get back into the scheme of things, I’m finding that editing the words of others is a little less instinctive than it once was.  It’s taking me longer to restructure and rearrange than was the case, once upon a time.

Some things are straightforward- eradicating ‘as per’ from all writing that crosses my desk requires no effort at all (I realize that the construction is used widely, but it is both jargonistic and freakin’ redundant – the English/Latin hybrid makes me cray-cray.  It is pretentious and generally lacks clarity- even assuming it is used correctly.  My SO suggests that I am tilting at (yet another) windmill with this one, but I am determined that nothing that comes through my hands will contain that vitiated vernacularity.  We hates it, my precious.), and ‘utilize’ becomes ‘use’ with barely a second thought.

Switching passive voices to active ones?  That involves a little more time and thought and trial and error.  But, as I attempt to emphasize the effectiveness of using the best possible words to convey meaning, I’m discovering discussions about language use everywhere.

That synchronicity thing again.

There was a news story on the CBC this morning, as I got ready to leave the house, which discussed findings that suggest that ‘expert’ texters are better spellers than those who are less dexterous with the one-handed typing.  It makes sense, linguistically, in a way.  Breaking down words into shorter forms helps with the understanding of the constituent parts of the whole.

While searching for reading selections for my first cottage weekend of the summer (T-minus 5 days, and counting!), I kept running into discussions about the perceived literary ‘value’ of certain bestsellers.  Not being much of a proponent of literary criticism- and frequently not a fan of those books that make the critics roll over and purr- I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to the foofaraw.

I like what I like- and if a novel doesn’t hit on all the aspects required to grant it legitimacy as part of the Western Canon?  Oh well.  If an author engages my imagination and creates characters that resonate and stay with me, then I’m happy to have spent the money to support their efforts.

Writing is hard.  Doing it well is underrated.  Effective communication always requires clarity and the ability to know and accurately read an audience.  Sometimes that involves using colloquial or informal language.   In other circumstances messages need demonstrate a requisite level of professionalism and polish that is often lacking.

IMHO that whole clarity-thing requires the correct use of grammar.  Am I a Grammar Nazi?  Perhaps.  But it is a skill that we seem to be losing- much to my distress.  We would need to spend a whole lot less time looking for meaning in the words of others if their messages were well-constructed and to the point- without layers of extraneous rhetoric and misused language.

When we were told to learn the word antidisestablishmentarianism for one of our weekly tests, our teacher offered a brief definition and the explanation that it is one of the longest words in the English language.  I thought it was pretty cool.  It was long and lyrical and rolled off the tongue not unlike that most wonderful literary creation supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. 

The meaning of the word didn’t register much, at the time.  It wasn’t really a concept that hit all that high on my 13-year old list of things I should be thinking about retaining.  But I did.  And it is a word that has surfaced more than a few times over the course of the studies that have been the focus of most of my adult life.

As a movement, antidisestablishmentarianism opposed proposals that sought to remove the Church of England from its status as the state church of England, Ireland and Wales.  It was tied into the role of the monarchy as head of the Church and concepts of the absolute separation of Church and State.  It’s still a concept that comes up- in the British context- now and again.

Who knew- back in the dark ages when I learned the word- that I would grow up to be a card-carrying disestablishmentarian?

Knowledge isn’t something to be squandered- and those things we learned in our schooldays (halcyon or otherwise) aren’t transitory.  Despite suggestions to the contrary, the need to learn the fundamentals of correct spelling, grammar and vocabulary is not something that has gone the way of the dinosaurs in a world of spelling/grammar check and lowest common denominator vernacular.

Even when we take the time to listen to one another (not something that happens nearly as much as it should) it can be extremely frustrating trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in the convoluted/misused language that has become the norm.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my beloved Monkees.  Wailing their way through Boyce and Hart’s Words:

‘Now, I’m standing here.
Strange, strange voices in my ears, I feel the tears
But all I can hear are those

Words that never were true.
Spoken to help nobody but you.
Words with lies inside,
But small enough to hide
‘Til your playin’ was through.’

Clarity.  Using our words with integrity without sacrificing accuracy, style and beauty.  It can be done.  It SHOULD be done.

Just a few thoughts for our newly elected majority government here in Ontario.  And all the rest of us.

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34 comments on “(Anti)disestablishmentarianism

  1. Oh, this was music to my ears, my friend.Thank you for this!

    I’ve seen blogs at both ends of the spectrum. At one end are writers whose posts are filled with typos and misspellings and so many grammatical errors it’s difficult to read. As a reader, I don’t want to have to do all that work! At the other end are writers whose spelling and grammar are perfect, but their wording is so flowery and superfluous it’s a struggle to get through the fluff to taste the meat.

    Simplicity and editing, please! I’m convinced those are at least two keys to the clarity of which you speak.

    • colemining says:

      Susan- yep. I try hard to get through those blogs that are riddled with grammatical issues- in the hope that there is a strong idea at the core- but give up, more often than not. I just can’t do it. If wonderful ideas aren’t presented coherently they aren’t going to get anything close to the airing they should.

      While I admit that I sometimes run into issues with remaining, um, concise hereabouts, and the odd typo might well slip by here and there (self-editing can be pretty hard), I can’t imagine publishing something without a pretty thorough edit.

      Thanks for the visit! xo

  2. Doobster418 says:

    Excellent post and I’m with you all the way. I’ve been called a grammar pedant and a peevblogger, but that’s fine with me.

    I remember as a young boy being so proud of my ability to spell the word antidisestablishmentarianism. Such a cool word, such a long word. I think when I learned to spell it, it was longer than I was tall. Of course, I had no idea what it meant at the time and it actually took me years after I learned how to spell and recite it out loud in order to impress my parents and their grown-up friends, to learn its meaning. And, like you, I am anything but a supporter or believer in the meaning of a word I was once so proud and pleased to know how to spell.

    • colemining says:

      Doobster- I try hard not to be pedantic, but I’m sure that some people would describe me as such. There is a difference between perfectionism (although I’m often guilty of that, as well) and doing things the right way. Which includes avoiding the misuse and abuse of language.

      Isn’t it a wonderful word? Love it! And pleased that I still know how to spell it after all these years!

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Ok. I had to stop right here: . . .eradicating ‘as per’ from all writing . . .

    OMG, YES!!! I thought I was alone in being irritated by that. Thank you for saying something.

    Now. . . back to reading. . .

    • I’m back.

      I’ve said — and therefore believe — similar things on my own blog and in my classroom. I never thought, however, to include a song by The Monkees. Clever. 🙂

      I have a separate blog, “Write Intentions,” that was set up with the intention (hence the name) of providing a simple review of the grammar and composition basics that we all learned in school but were too cool to think would mean anything. One of the challenges of choosing content is that it is didactic and based on the curriculum of the school system where I taught. For example, we used five basic sentence patterns, but it’s possible that another system might teach six or seven.

      Another challenge is that most of the followers are more skilled at writing than I am.

      Whatever.

      One of my speeches to my students followed the general theme that it’s important to learn the rules so you’ll be able to break them effectively.

      I’m going to stop now, since I’m preaching to the choirmaster.

      Hope your upcoming cottage weekend is wonderful!

      • colemining says:

        The Monkees always have something of value to contribute.

        Will you send me the link to your other blog? I’d love to have a look. Always searching for great resources for this type of thing. Even if such things aren’t standardized everywhere, learning about the different curriculum-based basics would be lovely.

        Yep- can’t break the rules without knowing what those rules have to say. I’m all for play- but one needs to understand and respect the toys before messing around with them.

        Can’t wait to be lakeside with some great wordsmiths! It WILL be wonderful- and thank you for the warm wishes. Thanks for reading! xo

    • colemining says:

      Lol. THANK YOU, HC. Glad I’m not alone!

  4. Love this post. Couldn’t agree more. I have friends that tease me about being a grammar nazi, and I suspect they find me pedantic as well, but really, I’m always going on and on about the same things: your/you’re, too/to, then/than and it’s/its. These are basics!
    I recently saw a photo taken from a child’s school, wherein the banner read “Kindergarden Graduation.” I receive newsletters from schools with extremely noticeable spelling errors. I get angry that my children write reports graded on content only. It’s terrible! It is sheer laziness. Spelling matters!

    • colemining says:

      Joey- grading only on content makes me crazy! I marked way too many university undergraduate papers that were grammatically abysmal- and then had to deal with the students who just couldn’t understand why they ‘lost marks’ for spelling/grammar/lack of clarity.

      Whenever I see an ad or a sign or a flyer with obvious errors, part of me weeps. It isn’t acceptable- and if that makes me pedantic, I’ll own the designation. Happily.

      Thanks for your visit!

  5. bethbyrnes says:

    We could all use brushing up on Edmund Wilson and Strunk and White. Make each word tell. But, I think the best route to mastering proper English, apart from being an English major, is being forced to translate from a foreign idiom into our own. It is amazing how precise one needs to be when attempting to express a complex idea written in, let’s say, Latin or Italian (for two archaic languages) in our native tongue. That was the rationale we were given for studying Latin, in the first place — that it was one of the bases on which the English language was constructed and knowing it well, would simplify an understanding not only of the spelling of English words but also how to tease out their meaning upon first encounter.

    My mother is incredible at that skill. She can spell any word she hears in just about any language, including transliterating non-Western/European languages into English characters. One reason she has that talent is likely just native ability, congenital giftedness in that area. However, it can also be attributed to the fact that she studied Greek, Latin and German as an English major who went on to become a special needs and child development expert. Her undergraduate training was exceptional and without it, she could not have expressed the concepts she employed in her specialty with the same elegant linguistic clarity and thrift.

    If we dismiss the centrality of liberal arts and reject the foundational advantages the classics confer, the result is the undereducated, inarticulate populace that dominates the US (if not other English speaking countries). I was not an English major, but being raised by one who was relentless in correcting me, I can speak and write properly when I must. Any time I don’t, it is due to pure laziness.

    • colemining says:

      Beth- brushing up is something we should all be doing- frequently. Slipping into bad habits is all too easy.

      I feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to study a number of languages- and living in a country with two langues officielles has contributed to my love of linguistics.

      Unfortunately, emphasizing the importance of language learning- as part of a liberal arts/classics/Humanities education- is something that we have lost. People who don’t know me often ask, after hearing me speak, if I am British. I’m not, obvs. Canadian through-and-through, me. But I speak correctly (most of the time- I can be as lazy as the next peep), which isn’t the case with everyone.

      Correct language usage is thing of beauty- it can be a wonderful instrument in the hands of a master. How lucky you are to have been its importance by your mother. She sounds quite remarkable, indeed.

      Thanks for reading! xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        Well said!

        And while we are at it, all of us could use a primer on pronunciation.

        If you watch the old films from the 1920’s to the 1950s, you will hear what many people take to be a British accent. The actors were Americans, Grace Kelly, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, for example.

        That is the way English was taught, even in the public schools at that time. What happened? Now we all sound like hillbillies.

      • colemining says:

        Lol. It’s true. We DO sound like hillbillies! When we don’t sound like thugs.

        That’s one of the things I love about the older films- the language is both well-written and well-spoken.

  6. LindaGHill says:

    Thanks for the video – I think I last heard that song 40 years ago. It brought back memories of dancing to the Monkees in my parents’ basement.
    As per your comment, I may stop using “as per” in my business letters. 😛 I think I learned that one in high school.
    I love the language as well, and I hate to see what technology is doing to it, in regards to allowing us to forget how to spell etc. (There’s that Latin again, damnit.) 😉

    • colemining says:

      Linda- lol. Latin adoptions are fine- I’m just opposed to the erratic combination- in one construction- of Latin and English- especially if that combination, when translated, is redundant.

      The Monkees are a sentimental fave of mine- hoping the remaining three will see fit to grace us with their presence north of the border sometime soon.

      Technology is great in so many ways- but it really does facilitate our inclination to laziness.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. It is indeed a treat to encounter writing in which the author has taken the time or made the effort to craft something that both adheres to the fundamentals of grammar and simultaneously reflects an understanding of writing as an art.

    What little exposure I’ve had to classics has been self-induced, and I am the better for it, in terms of thought and writing.

    • colemining says:

      Nav- the Classics- however we come to them- are invaluable for helping us to approach the construction/development of both ideas and writing. Kudos to you for taking the time to explore them on your own!

      There is nothing like good writing- when a story pulls you in and won’t let go… And there are GREAT writers out there- in so many forums. It’s everyone else I’m worried about…

      Thanks for the visit!

      • My pleasure, Cole.

        You’ve got me thinking about my book, now, together with its planned sequel. I am guardedly confident that I can unify Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” with Edward Gibbon’s
        “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” between the two books. If I can pull this off, surely this would be an accomplishment worthy of reading years hence.

        Yet, I’ve written for the common and not scholarly reader (not that I am a scholar, myself). I wonder how history will remember my work, if at all? I have little desire to immerse myself in riches or fame, but the thought that I might make some meaningful contribution to humanity’s corpus of knowledge, however humble that contribution might be, is a pleasant one.

      • colemining says:

        Nav- I think, as writers, we first need to identify our audience and then speak to that audience in the most effective way possible. If you engage your readers, then you make a contribution- regardless of what posterity might have to say.

        We transmit ideas in so many ways these days (since we have so many media with which to do so) and exposure to ideas causes us to take those concepts with us when we self-reflect and share our own interpretations of the world around us.

        This is the power of words. That power should be respected rather than abused with things like lazy grammar.

  8. Ste J says:

    Soon I am sure there will be qualifications to be an ‘expert’ texter. It seems with the spread of ‘dumbing down’ and social media like Facebook seem to exacerbate the problem so that anybody who genuinely cares for language is a pedant or grammar Nazi. It is a sad state of affairs, in fact the Oxford English Dictionary added the love heart symbol to its pages the other year. The reason being because it is in popular language now.

    • colemining says:

      Ste J- I’m okay, actually, with the inclusion of signs and symbols in our means of communications (that’s what semiotics is all about, after all- and Umberto Eco is one of my heroes)- but I understand what you’re saying. It’s why it has been included in the dictionary that is distressing.

      Generally it IS a sad state of affairs- and getting sadder. On the one hand, those of us who care about using the language correctly and effectively are dismissed as grumpy old pedants who don’t see that language is alive and always-evolving. On the other you have academics and critics who see fit to dismiss all popular literature as ‘unworthy’.

      I get part of that first one- I do. Language is ever-changing and developing. We absorb terms from other languages and create new words all the time. But the rules need still apply- we need their clarity to keep us all on the same page. That second point? One of my cottage books (which I admit I’ve already started) is Joyland by Stephen King- purchased per your recommendation ages ago. It might not make the literary critics stand up and cheer, but no one writes characters like SK. Except maybe Anne Rice- and she’s deemed ‘popular’ as well. I’ll take them over your Jonathan Franzens any day.

      Thanks for reading- and for your input.

      • Ste J says:

        True, I haven’t picked up an Eco for a while and he is a purveyor of awesomeness when it comes to thought and word.

        It is a fine line between a traditional and modern look at language, but to leave it unchecked would make for language anarchy…lanarchy. I really enjoyed Joyland…I hope you do as well.

        I find King’s story conclusions his weakest point but as for character building he is superb, even his short books are crammed full with fulsome characters. Popular books are good to unwind with after a slew of literary books have passed my eyeline but I try to avoid the pretentious wherever possible.

      • colemining says:

        It does seem as if he is rushing them to conclusion a lot of the time- they build and build and build- and then end somewhat abruptly. But I’m enjoying Joyland so far (yes, already cracked the first of the ‘cottage’ books. I’m bad).

        ‘Lanarchy’. Love it!

  9. What a coincidence; I just wrote a post about the word “only.” Must be that synchronicity thing. I totally agree that “tintinnabulation” is a great word. E.A. Poe used it in his poem “The Bells,” which I memorized at age 14 or so and should read again. As for being called a “grammar Nazi,” that’s just part of the anti-elitism thing in our culture, which comes (I suspect) from those who are too lazy to learn things and therefore belittle them. Thanks for this post!

    • colemining says:

      Hi Audrey! There’s a great deal of truth to that, I’m afraid. As if correct grammar/speech is somehow elitist and therefore, by some bizarre definition, wrong. Don’t get it. Never will.

      I love Poe! And I had completely forgotten about The Bells and his use of that wonderful word! Must re-read! Right after I check out your post on ‘only’!

      Thanks for the visit!

  10. DyingNote says:

    My ‘favourite’ misuse of words – ‘loose’ for ‘lose’.

    I love language too although I don’t watch it always 😉 The love of language was a big driving force for Tolkien in creating his mythology.

  11. Great post, great song 🙂

    I break rules all the time in my writing. But like you, I also believe that once you know the rules, you are allowed to break them. And blogging IS a different kind of writing.

    On a Monkees note, they finally made it to my hometown two weeks ago. It was nice not to have to road trip to a concert. And as you would suspect, they killed it. Again. Coincidentally, I always loved this video because it made me wonder what tone the group would have put forth if Micky had been more of the “front man” versus Davy. With this latest incarnation of Micky, Mike and Peter, I think we have our answer. And the answer is: it’s awesome. The dude has mad energy and electromagnetism.

    • colemining says:

      SO lucky! I’m trying to figure out just what we have to do to get them to visit north of the border. I love that video too- although Pete does look like he’s in pain, at times.

      Thanks for the visit!

  12. […] words are more fun than others. This one, for example. Interestingly, the stuff I wrote about while talking about that word, in […]

  13. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    I feel like I’ve been a little harsh, lately, in my condemnation of certain words, so here’s one that I quite like. Add to that the fact that it’s Monday, and I’ve had to deal with a fair lack of clarity already today, so here’s a little post I wrote about the importance of the words we use- and how we use them.

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