Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Unmarried Conjunctions


Hello dears.

If there is one thing that outs you straight away as being a senior citizen, I've realised, it is an unnatural level of concern for grammar.

Thats' GRAMMAR with two A's, you'll note.

Not GrammEr with a totally alien "E".

And not to be confused with GrandMA, who could be an alien for all the difference it makes.

First rule

The first rule of this obsession, I realise, is that a good granny must throw out any sense of irony or self-awareness about their own use of the language.

The fact I'm writing this merely underlines that whole sentence.

But underlining is tacky, so don't do it.

Personal grammatical foibles are always perfectly reasonable, and any semantic confusion is entirely your failing, I'm afraid.

Modern teaching methods are to blame.

And texting.

Especially texting.

Rule two

The language is mine. I inherited it.

I reserve the right to harangue you about the "Grocer's Apostrophe",  but don't you dare take issue with me over the "Oxford Comma", unless you can prove you also watched Bonanza the first time round (on Sunday nights).

Sentences without verbs. Or objects.

These are mine to claim should I wish. Because I will be doing it knowingly and with mature irony.

You can do this too when you're old enough.

But not now.

For now you are simply a product of falling educational standards since the days when I was taught properly.

Any riffing you attempt with the language of your forbears (that's me) is simply ultra vires.

But don't say "riffing".

And I will slip Latin in there when I want, even though I didn't study it, just to emphasise my superiority.

Perfect storm

You'll realise by now that something must have set me off.

And on this particular occasion the epicentre of my swirling storm cloud of annoyance is the increasing use of the word "So" to begin the reply to a question.

You hear this a lot nowadays on the Today programme. Especially from academics for some reason.

Don't worry if you've not heard of the Today programme. Or Radio 4. It will come.

The typical scenario sounds like this:

Interviewer: "Can you explain how the Large Hadron Collider works?"

Expert: "So we have a large circular tube in the ground…"

This annoys me. It annoys me a great deal. And it does this at the very start of my day, which seems particularly unfair.

You see, the lovely little word "So" has more than one valid use in English.

It can be used to amplify a description.

Boyfriend: "Your hair smells so lovely tonight."

Rival: "You are so going to regret that."

It can stand for something that has previously been demonstrated.

Doctor: "Hold your arms up so."

But the real workhorse function of "so" is to operate as a conjunction.

Conjunctions are words that join two parts of speech that are logically related.

Child: "The jar fell off the table and broke into tiny pieces."

Teacher: "You got a low mark but I'm still going to pass you."

Resistance fighter: "Listen carefully for I shall say zis only once."

Shop assistant: "Please say if you would like it in red or in blue."

Narrator: "It was 10pm yet there was still light in the sky."

Marie Curie: "I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy."

And finally, to get to the point:

Me: "You have annoyed me dear speaker so I am going to write a long ranting blog."

What can be confusing is that "So" can sometimes start a sentence, as in this easily visualised spy story scene:

Bad man: "So, Mister Bond, will you tell me everything or must I demonstrate a devilishly clever way of making you talk?"

This is allowable, because the bad man is alluding to an unspoken phrase which doesn't need stating. Insert the missing phrase and "so" is revealed as a conjunction:

Bad man: "The directors have just spent a million dollars showing how you've come to be strapped to this absurd laser device so, Mr Bond, will you tell me everything…"

The conjunction is back with its precursor phrase. Order is restored. No ranty granny.

But (and, yes, that is yet another conjunction wickedly beginning a sentence), the cognitive jolt caused by starting a fresh idea with "So" just doesn't cut the mustard for me.

That is making "So" the equivalent of an unmarried conjunction, bringing up a child phrase all on its own without assistance (and probably sponging off grammar's equivalent of the state if you're a right winger).

Force majeure

None of this rant is going to make any difference, of course.

The linguistic die is already cast. Others are clearly copying this usage because they've heard it and think it is therefore normal.

I blame the people who run media skills courses in fact. It is the kind of thing they teach people to say instead of beginning their reply on-air with a less sophisticated verbal tic, like "Errrr…" or even an old fashioned "Well,…."

There's no point in trying to stop this. It will happen.

However, because I've pointed it out you will now notice it too.

In fact you won't be able to miss it. It's like buying a new car and suddenly seeing that model everywhere you look.

Only this one's really going to annoy you.

Which is good, because now I won't be alone.

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