Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beware: English Teacher!

Why is it, I’ve often wondered, that when I tell people at parties that I’m a high school English teacher, even adding, since 2009, that I’m retired, I note a brief wave of anxiety cross their faces? You’d think people would be delighted to have the opportunity to talk to someone who really knows which predicate nominative to use after a copulative verb. But something dawned on me yesterday, during a silence after I’d said, “This is he” to someone who’d asked for me on the phone. Had I really just burdened some poor sod with the equivalent of “This is he whom you’ve called”? Far from erudite, it sounds like Lily Tomlin’s operator asking, “Is this the party to whom I’m speaking?”

It got worse later in the day when I was reading an article about a prominent state governor's attempts to find the state ways to save money. The Governor was quoted as saying, "We literally have to take the ladder from the tree and shake the whole tree." My response: "Really, you're going to literally shake a tree?" Wouldn’t a normal person have wondered how we could balance the books without impacting the needy? Is it really necessary to put this politician back in the 8th grade for a lesson on the difference between metaphorical and literal?

Here’s the horror of it: Yes, I do think this man should be taught the difference. No kidding, a little creature within me believes someone should advise politicians about violations of figurative speech. “That settles it!” you say, “English teachers are like cops who give you a ticket for being the third car in the intersection to turn left while five people just ran a red light with impunity. They’re like robots turned loose on society to keep anyone from saying, ‘She went to the mall with my friend and I.’”

But I protest back that it’s a quality-of-life issue. There are few things more grating on the ears than “I” used as an object. It’s right up there with leaf-blowers. Really, English teachers should be protected from the effects of thoughtless speech. Perhaps disability coverage could be extended to include stress caused by extended exposure to bad usage. Who knows what damage has been done to my nerves over the years I’ve endured “I could care less,” knowing that the speaker means the opposite, that he or she could in fact NOT care less. Or the sleepless nights I suffered knowing that the use of “like” as a replacement for “said” and “all” as a replacement for “emphatically,” as in, “She’s all like ‘I’m not going,’ and I’m all like ‘Yes you are!’” had crept up from the rebellious realms of teenage girl-speak to the very boardrooms and press conferences of the nation! How fruitless were my years spent exhorting America’s youth to communicate clearly and logically! I need the state to cover the skyrocketing prescription costs of sedatives to help me face the demons that mock me in the night. Yes, they mock me, calling out, “Mr. Lasken, behold, if ‘like’ is now synonymous with ‘said,’ and everyone understands it, then your mandate that speech be meaningful has been obeyed! You protest for naught.” And it does not end there. These studious demons torment me with knowledge. “Consider,” they cajole, “that ‘good-bye’ used to be ‘God be with you,’ and you, would-be defender of the faith, would have done your darnedest to have halted that natural progression. See and be doomed! Ha-haaaaaa!”

Silence, demons! I’ll hear no more! Don't you see? It’s continuity I crave, not obstruction. U can change the language all u want, as long as ur aware what’s behind ur usage. Is that 2 much 2 ask?