Grammar viruses go epidemic

The peer learning that occurs on school campuses can take the credit for grammar viruses that incubate, thrive, flourish and mutate into more lethal strains with time. Children seem to pick these up from spores in the air and bring the germs home in spite of parental admonitions to speak correct English.

"Mummy, the bus came," from the lips of a pre-schooler is excusable because it conveys accurately the status of the bus- that it has arrived. But it is odd to hear from a child not so young: "How much toffees will come in Rs 10?" Toffees coming? How have they arrived, and from where?

What is alive in school will get into college, which is officially the stage to announce to the world that you have arrived: no homework, or uniform, and often, no class, unless one is very unlucky. Adolescent nirvana: the advent of canteen as the hub of all socialisation. Classrooms are incidental to the great college experience. There is nobody to edit one's bloomers, no one to say what is wrong or better, because to write and speak as you like it is hip.

There are a hundred ways of spelling Ma'am: Mam, M'am, Ma'm, mam', Maam, Madm, M'''am, Mm'e, and even Mmmmam-no matter that only one is correct. Since variety is the spice of life, we love devising new variants of the spellings.

In my days (agreed, it was a very long time ago), teachers could smell bad spellings or wrong usage from miles. The words we would misspell consistently were "embarrassed", "vacuum", "balloon", and "woollen", if you did not count "onomatopoeia" or "diarrhoea" (because these were of foreign origin). Beyond these minefields, we wrote straightforward English with reasonable accuracy. We knew where to put inverted commas and what to do with vernacular words-you italicised them. If we made a mistake, we apologised shame-facedly and went back to the dictionary to check. Placing the tricky apostrophe correctly within "Its" brought with it a triumphant adrenalin rush.

Dictionaries back then were neither reference books in huge libraries with miles of occupied shelves nor miniature prayer booklets that you could slip into the pockets of your jeans. It was a real book, which you carried in your school bag because you needed to consult it when in spelling dilemma or vocabulary crisis.

To my liberated young friends, who believe in reinventing the starchy rules of grammar and think spellings are personal to the user, I only want to ask: "How much Saridon will come in Rs 10? My head pains badly after reading your lingo."

Better still, I can join you by saying: "Jus lurve your style-its 2 gud!"


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