Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Without a Prayer

[posted by Callimachus]

And yet when it comes to giving our children a taste of Shakespeare and English at its most beautiful, then suddenly we're all terrified. Might, like turn off the kids… know wha' I mean. Instead they are offered alternative texts, issued by educational publishing houses, that supposedly make our greatest writer more palatable.

Here's a taste. Take a few original lines from Macbeth:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
the handle toward my hand?

Compare them to the guide version:

Oooh! Would you look at that.

Yes, I know it sounds as if I'm making it up, but you can check it for yourself.

I sure do hope he's making it up. That's John Humphrys writing on the state of English in England. Lots in there to moan about if you're one of us lonely sentinels guarding the ruins of grammar and punctuation.

Humphrys also notes "an erosion of formality" as an adjunct of the dumbing-down of language.

When, for example, did you last hear a public figure "send their condolences" to someone who'd been bereaved? Not recently, I suspect. Nowadays, if there has been a disaster of some sort, it tends to be: "Our thoughts go out to the loved ones…" Or even: "All our thoughts are with the families of those…"

It may be well meant, but it has the smack of insincerity, for the obvious reason that it's not true. "All" our thoughts do not "go out" to anyone. Of course all of us will feel a degree of sympathy, and it can actually be insensitive to the bereaved. It is the equivalent of that ghastly and much parodied "I feel your pain".

Hmmm. He's right, of course, and I always get a bad taste in my mouth when I hear or read "our thoughts are with ..." or "our thoughts go out to ...." Most recently I heard it in relation to the Amish school shooting.

But to me it's a secularist version of "Our prayers go out to ..." I can understand a secular person floundering around, groping for the right term in such a situation when you're blocked off from the word "prayer." I agree it's flabby and borderline insensitive. But what are you gonna do?

One business around here, after the shooting, came up with a sign: "Our hearts are breaking for our Amish neighbors." Which, if possible, is even worse.