I’VE told you before that I was blessed in my early years by a succession of very good Hartlepool schoolteachers who gave me a love of words – and a pride in using them properly, most of the time.
I don’t know what those excellent mentors are doing these days but I suspect that they are either causing riots in retirement homes or spinning in their graves.
Sadly, the standard of English usage is sinking like a stone in every sphere, from Government departments to the BBC, both once proud guardians of one of the most beautiful languages on the planet.
Of course, one of the strengths of our language is that it does evolve and has a magical ability to pick up and assimilate useful words from just about every other language in the world.
Listening to the words of Shakespeare is one of the best examples of how much has changed in a few hundred years, and a few bigger steps back to the likes of Chaucer removes us to an almost alien tongue.
The photograph shows the comic effect of what happens when you don’t check your spelling.
I won’t embarrass anyone by naming the London hotel where I took the picture, and it almost certainly happened because the chap in charge of the buffet made a brave stab at a language which is not his own first choice.
We do have a certain arrogance as native English speakers and you have probably seen several similar examples while on foreign holidays.
Like a sweaty sauce, a seafood restaurant in Spain offering crap sandwiches hardly tickles the appetite.
You don’t have to travel too far to see spelling and grammatical howlers, and I’m sure that your Hartlepool Mail could fill a regular page with examples from around the town.
The curse of “greengrocer’s apostrophitis” is still common, and many people unsure of the use of the apostrophe lob one in for luck. I can understand it when someone mistakenly announces potato’s for sale in chalk or whitewash, but it throws me completely when it’s done by a professional signwriter who is just too lazy to check.
The foody examples of mis-spelling tend to come from someone who makes a guess or fails to check with a person who is competent in English.
Translations don’t always work out the way you expect.
The best example came from an airline in the Far East some years ago.
Their very good slogan in their own language proclaimed that they had the best safety record in the business.
Translated to English without checking, it came out in hundreds of advertisements as “we don’t kill many.”
It’s a reasonable literal translation, but hardly an inspirer of confidence.
I had my best revenge recently just after I’d received a letter offering to look after pensions and annuities – you get a lot of those once you are over forty.
The company had committed one of the biggest sins in being unable to spell the word “its” – not that difficult you would think, but it had used “it’s” when it didn’t fit.
The salesman rang me with a follow up enquiry a few days later and I told him that I wasn’t interested because they couldn’t do apostrophes.
“Does it matter?” he enquired.
“Yes,” I said, “I presume it means you can’t do decimal points either.”
Just off for a crab sandwich with sweet chilly sauce – doesn’t that sound better?