Sometimes it seems as if the world we now live in at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a particularly awful one. There are so many things going on that are simply wrong and make you see red. But don't worry - if you're feeling this at all it means that you're alive and furthermore do have a sense of morality. At least you're not giving up and at least you care.

Of course having discovered that you do care, the problem can be where to start. To which of these causes - all of which are valid - do you offer your support? There are so many of them. OK, so you pick the one that means the most to you, the one whose underlying injustice brings your blood to boiling point the quickest. You do what you can for it whether this means donating your own money or your own time. You do what you can to raise awareness.

But most important of all, you always remember that you are not doing this to feel better about yourself. You are doing this to fight injustice and if you can do it anonymously, all the better. Of course sometimes anonymity is counter productive - if people take notice of you, if you have some form of celebrity, then of course you lend your name to the cause if it's going to help it.

But it is not about you. It is not about proving your credentials.

One of the many problems of today's society alluded to in the first paragraph is that people are all out to get whatever they can out of the world, get something for nothing, buy low sell high, cheat, swindle and bamboozle their way to the top. Consider spam - and just how much effort and money is expended just to make using email manageable. The issue here is that email is free and that sending out millions of messages costs next to nothing and even if only 0.01% of the audience fall for it then the spammer has made a profit on the deal.

Consider how much more money and resource would be in the global economy if people just didn't send spam, if people simply decided to stop.  OK so the anti-virus companies would be out of a job but aside from that it would make the experience of using the internet - which is, let us not forget, one of the most important inventions in human history since the printing press - an infinitely more pleasant and natural one.

But it's never going to happen. The majority of people are fundamentally selfish when it comes down to it. A lot of the time you show a human being something new and the first thing that comes into their head is "how can I exploit that?"

This is even true of causes.  Sometimes people don't get involved in causes because they are infuriated by the underlying injustice.  They get involved in causes because it makes them look good.  Such people are poison to a cause. Whilst their involvement might help in the short term, in the long term their true nature will out. Morality begins at home and whilst posturing in public about their swollen public duty organ might make a lot of noise it means nothing if they treat people like shit in private.

If someone tries to bully or exploit you, call them on it. If you can help someone, do. If we all start practicing this on a small scale in our interpersonal relationships then it will become all the easier to put in to practice out there and slowly but surely we will start overcoming prejudice and discrimination in the wider world.

And perhaps then it will start being a bit less awful.

Disclaimer: given that this blog entry is about the correct use of English there will no doubt be a large number of typos and incidences of misuse.
One thing you hear a lot about these days is the so-called bastardisation of the English language. These complaints take many forms but seem to boil down to a couple of main griping areas:
  • The old complaining about the way the young use language (thinly veiled youth envy)
  • The British complaining about the way Americans use language (thinly veiled xenophobia).
Language is a constantly evolving system. Two key ingredients of evolution are vast numbers and swiftly changing environments in which those numbers exist. The population explosion of the past fifty years combined with the way information and communications technology has enabled an exponential growth of the number of channels via which language can be used and transmitted mean that English is probably evolving far faster now than it ever has before. However the existence of media recording over the same period - something which previous generations simply didn't have access to - results in the way English used to be spoken also being preserved.

What does this mean for the development of the language?

In the past people becoming geographically isolated from each other usually resulted in the development of dialects and eventually new languages altogether. This is of course what's responsible for the differences between American English and British English - although some of the British complainants may be dismayed to realise that the American form of certain usages, spellings and pronunciations is actually the original, the differences having arisen on this side of the Atlantic in the interim. The reverse is also true of other usages, spellings and pronunciations, so when it comes down to it who is bastardising whom? Both forms are in fact equally valid descendants of the kind of English spoken 500 years ago, a kind of English that no longer exists.

However, the digital preservation of forms of English from up to sixty or seventy years ago means that from now on these older forms of language will continue to exist and this, combined with an accelerated change, means that dialect may start to develop not just due to a lack of spatial proximity but also due to a temporal distance. Language changes and language evolves. Just because some people don't like the idea of LOL or WTF entering into common spoken usage, it doesn't mean that it's wrong any more than either one of "color" or "colour" are wrong.

Chill out.

Multiple infractionsMisuse of apostrophes is another matter of course. An apostrophe is used to indicate missing letters due to an abbreviation or contraction of a longer word or phrase. Sometimes they fall out of use as part of normal language evolution - no-one says lunch' any more (short for luncheon) - but where apostrophes are (or aren't) used now is still important and probably always will be. Some claim to hate apostrophe pedantry as much as the apostrophe pedants hate the rogue punctuation marks themselves, but I suspect some of that is a deliberately contrary stance, perhaps adopted by former pedants who found that the obsession was beginning to take over their lives...

I will now stand up and confess that I am a confirmed apostrophe pedant. Years of having to copy out Section 13 of the Modern English Usage rules book at school whenever I made a mistake saw to that. Whilst I can understand how they might fall out of use in some instances due to the evolution of language (see lunch' above), I can't fathom why people add them where they're not needed. It's as if people have heard that there are these things called apostrophes and know that they're something to do with adding the letter S on the end of words but beyond that have no clue.

According to a piece in the Guardian today, a Devon district council have had enough and decided to abandon the apostrophe altogether. Whilst this may solve half the problems - never again will people have to wonder about how a root vegetable can own money when they see a sign reading Carrot's 30p - it probably creates just as many new ones and seems to be being done out of laziness more than anything else.

The odd thing is that the rules aren't that difficult. Section 13 of Modern English Usage was relatively short, so copying it out wasn't actually that onerous a task.

So come on everyone.  It's easy and would make a lot of pedants very happy.