The English language is under attack from tone-deaf activists

In Australia, there is some outfit going by the name of the Productivity Commission that calls books "cultural externalities".

Speaking as someone who, when well, writes cultural externalities for a living, I think it might be more efficient, from the productivity angle, if we could go on calling them books.

But I admit that this is merely my opinion, not settled science. If I were advancing this opinion in the form of a tweet or comment, I could insert the acronym IMO, so proving that the standard dead white male language of Jane Austen is now being assailed not only by expansive phrases from institutions that wish to sound more important, but also by piddling abbreviations from individuals who wish to sound pressed for time.

Admittedly, some of those individuals wish to sound humble, too, and might even be so; but saying IMO is a counterproductive way of conveying that impression, because we already assume that your opinion is only your opinion. And saying IMHO is an even more counterproductive way of conveying it, because nobody who says "in my humble opinion" is any more humble than Saddam Hussein and Imelda Marcos dancing the tango.

Long ago , I floated the idea that people wishing to cut down the time they spend reading below-the-line comments should simply not finish any entry that included the word "methinks" , which is a sure sign of pomposity and idiocy recklessly compounded.


Since then, the English language, writhing and groaning in its hand-basket, has gone even farther towards hell, and perhaps now is the right moment to upgrade my campaign by observing that people who write as if they have no time for such useless stuff as grammar and punctuation are inviting you to treat them as if you have no time for such useless stuff as listening to a bore mangle our beautiful language while he declares himself important.

Still spending most of my day out cold after recent hospital pit stops, I would like to feel useful and can't think of a better way than to help guard the language as it crumbles under siege from tone-deaf activists.

I care too much about the language to say that I care passionately because those who care passionately about, say, the environment have already infested the blogosphere with scuttling proof of their unawareness that the expression is a tautology: There can be no real caring that is not done from a passion. Really, they are saying that they are full of themselves. Emma, in Austen's cultural externality of that name, is the same way, until her mistakes teach her better.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'The English language is under attack from tone-deaf activists'. Print Edition | Subscribe