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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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The “Write” Way to Use the Language

I guess I’ve always been a nitpicker about spelling and punctuation. I’m sitting here drinking one of the two cups of green tea Terry has mandated I consume daily (something to do with antioxidants). I’m drinking it out of a coffee cup my staff at Disneyland gave me eons ago when I was the Park’s Advertising and Promotion Manager. With a not-so-subtle dig at my insistence on correct spelling, the head of my art department had decorated the mug with a figure of yours truly, holding a gun in one hand and a sign in the other that reads “Disnyland.” The caption beneath the figure read: “I’ve had it with you guys that can’t spell Disneyland.” I was so touched at the time I didn’t even point out that it should have been “who,” not “that.” Over the years I’ve gotten increasingly curmudgeonly as our society’s commitment to the proper use of our language has become more erratic. Television is a good place to start. On a blatant hour-long plug for its upcoming Super Bowl broadcast, CBS aired a special on the greatest Super Bowl commercials of all time. Lara Spencer, who once hosted the classy Antiques Roadshow on PBS and then descended to the depths of fronting a syndicated tabloid TV show called The Insider, was recruited to host the show. During the program she informed viewers that “These next ads haven’t broke any laws.” Talk about broken English! Lara may be easy on the eyes (how’s that for an antiquated cliché?) but she grates on the ears. But it’s not necessary to watch network television or to read increasingly poorly edited newspapers; our ability to use the language correctly right here in the Valley is descending to linguistic depths. Restaurants seem to have a particular disregard for the King’s English. Why else would the Coral Tree Café place table tents throughout its Encino restaurant proclaiming that “Complementary Wi-Fi” is available”? I’m not sure what it’s complementary to, but I presume that they mean to tell us that it’s free. Why else would Chablis, a new restaurant in Tarzana, promise its patrons a “Pre-Fixed Dinner Menu,” rather than a prix fixe menu? Maybe they are warning us that they prepare their meals in advance rather than that they offer a set price meal. Why else would Versailles, the Cuban restaurant across from my office, proclaim on its permanent signage that they serve “Cuban food at it’s best”? Maybe someone should tell them that there’s only an apostrophe in “it’s” when it’s a contraction of “it is.” I admit that when I peruse a restaurant’s menu my eye – inadvertently – goes directly to any typos. It drives my dining companions crazy, and I excuse my linguistic paranoia by proclaiming innocently, “I guess it’s just part of my charm.” But it’s not. But today’s dependence on technology is as much a culprit as those who disrespect our language by misusing it. On more than one occasion I have been handed copy by a staff member rife with misspellings. When confronted with the offending copy, the unrepentant staffer would give me a stunned look and provide the apparently airtight alibi, “But I used Spellcheck!” With my usual total lack of understanding and sensitivity, I’d reply, “I hired you, not Spellcheck.” I’m not a nice person. And much as I tried, I could not complete this column without referencing the apparently mandatory abbreviations that clog the blogosphere and instant messaging communications. Had he been composing his to-be-delivered Gettysburg Address on his Blackberry rather than the back of an envelope as he did, our sixteenth President would have tapped: “4 score & 7 yrs ago.” Back in about 1600, William Shakespeare would have written down the words to be placed in the Melancholy Dane’s mouth as “2 b r not 2 b.” All of this brings up the obvious question: “Should we just abandon rules and guidelines for the use of English, or should some stalwart souls serve as a bastion for the preservation and proper use of our own language, the richest and most diverse in the world? Its complexities, contradictions, and convolutions are its very joy. I love the men and women of letters who poke fun at English, yet have used it to great ends. For example, Carl Sandburg once wrote: “I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it.” Similarly, when a young reporter chided Winston Churchill for ending a sentence with a preposition in one of his speeches, the Prime Minister replied churlishly, “From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” William Safire, NBC’s Edwin Newman, and a few others have chosen to man (should it be “person”?) the barricades of proper English. I join them in that crusade. We will hold back the tide of misplaced apostrophes, idiotic word usage, sloppy grammar, and inane abbreviations. Pray for our success. “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” — Oscar Wilde Martin Cooper is President of Cooper Communications Inc. He is President of the Los Angeles Quality and Productivity Commission, Founding President of The Executives, Vice Chairman-Marketing of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley and a member of the Boards of the Valley Economic Alliance and of the LAPD’s West Valley Jeopardy Program. He is a past chairman of VICA and Chairman of its Board of Governors. He can be reached at mcooper@coopercom.net.

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