Today is Sunday, November 23, 2014

Change (with notable quotes) in the air, breathe carefully

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By ANNE DONNELL

There’s so much change in English; people say, even on TV, and write things I was taught (years ago) to be incorrect usage. Why all the change? Is it all right to continue with what I was taught?-“Old Biddy” Well, I’m going to change the order here; ONLINE DEPARTMENT goes first (unless I change my mind). “Random Thoughts for the Day” (Thanks, MW) • I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die. • Nothing is worse than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong. • I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger. • There is great need for a sarcasm font. • How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet? •  Map Quest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood. • Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died and their last words. • Bad decisions make good stories. • You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day. • Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want t o have to restart my collection - again. • I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to. • "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this -- ever. • I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello?), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away? • I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste. • I think the freezer deserves a light as well. • What a relief to rip tags off pillows after all those years of fearing arrest and leaving them on. • Why do so many women have chemically treated hair?  That one on naps resonates with me. Five-year-old I with my mother encountered my kindergarten teacher shopping in our small town. I seized the moment to complain to Miss Kelling that that very afternoon my mother planned a nap for me. And what did that in-league-with-all-other-adults-and-only-pretending-to-see-the-child’s-view turncoat say, and say in that “kindergarten voice,” the big rat, “I wish I could take a nap.” Sold out!

Frost says (not the kind on the pumpkin, either), “Most of the change we think we see in life/ Is due to truths being in and out of favour.” From “Black Cottage”  [Robert Lee Frost (1875-1963, American poet) was famous for his poems of rural New England, rich with symbolism. Awarded Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1924, 1931, 1947, 1943. Among the most familiar of his poems: “Mending Wall” (“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”); “The Road Not Taken,” (“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - /I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”)  “Fire and Ice” (“Some say the world will end in fire…”); “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” (“….But I have promises to keep,/and miles to go before I sleep…”)]

But are the changes we see in our language the result of “truths being in and out of favour”?  Or is it change from one practice to another? Are the rules carefully and thoroughly taught throughout the first half of the twentieth century still the rules?  Are they written in stone, eternal verities? No, it seems.  It doesn’t matter (much) anymore about whether one says who or whom.  

We still must speak and write with sufficient recognizable form and vocabulary to communicate. A failing found in celebrity interviews. 

Some of the changes seem gradual, but the noise boxes of the last century (radio, movie projector, television, telephone) have sped things along right prettily. For example, the Watergate hearings (May 1973 – June 1974) featured dissemblers (OK, some didn’t) rather windy in their manner. Listening, we absorbed AND BEGAN SAYING at this point in time to replace now.  Not an assault on the rules, but a wearisome addition to ordinary speech. 

The assaults were going on elsewhere, and hastened by a strong anti intellectual bent, found throughout much of American history and its frontier struggles, coupled with the attitude promoted by rebels of the sixties, “throw the bums out,” bums being traditional values of the first half of the twentieth century.

Guiseppe di Lampedusa said (in Italian no less), “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” He died the year his novel The Leopard was published (1957) so he didn’t wait around to see if his maxim worked. His point is valid, though, because nothing, even the effort to keep things exactly as they are, escapes change. Each moment brings experience, new babies, wind, rain, snow, sun, dogs barking, and dark. Even in language!

Robert Browning said (in Paracelsus), “I detest change.” That doesn’t stop it. [Robert Browning (1812-1889, British poet) inspired Elizabeth Barrett to write a sonnet beginning “How do I love thee…” and to marry him.]

Marcus Aurelius noted, “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”  [(AD 121-180, Roman. Emperor, 161-180) Marcus Aurelius is best known for his philosophical work, Meditations.]

Alfred, Lord Tennyson in “Passing of Arthur” wrote, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new;/And God fulfils himself in many ways,/Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” [1809-1892, English Poet Laureate.  Famous works include Idylls of the King, “In Memoriam,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” “Crossing the Bar.”]

Oh, if we could only agree on what “good custom” would be. So, “Old Biddy,” (your words, not mine) stick to your guns. Speak and write as you were taught. You’ll be understood, perhaps not emulated, though. 

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