Top positive review
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Does It Matter? Yes.
on 13 May 2014
This is a follow up to the author's previous book on English. It has been written in response to the public's request for an easy reference work. This result is a kind of 'dictionary-style reference book.Like the earlier book it is very clear and students and others ought to find it easy to use.It complements'Strictly English', a book that was bitterly attacked by certain academic linguists who are hardly representative of writers or the public. This book again aims to reveal many if not all of the 'acts of violence done to the English language'.
There is no doubt the standard of written and spoken English has sharply declined in the past 30 years or so. One has only to listen to politicians, media people, soccer players and coaches, and people in general to hear proof of this. In educational circles at ALL levels standards of spoken and written English range from acceptable to dire. In exams like GCSE and A level if significant marks were deducted for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, grades would take a sharp tumble. Sadly, many, including teachers, argue they don't matter. They represent the 'anything goes' brigade. They should speak to employers! Ask to see a sample of the cvs and application letters received when a job is advertised. But are they entirely to blame? This reviewer has seen, for example, many examples of marked A level English homework where numerous errors have been missed by the teacher, and where the teacher's corrections have been incorrect.
In a recent test 85 newly qualified teachers of English, all English by birth, were asked to correct 50 basic grammatical errors (spellings, punctuation, and so on) in a passage. Only 7 scored 100%. 36 scored 30% or less!
At undergraduate and postgraduate level errors such as: 'of' for 'have', 'return to', 'owing' instead of 'due',the wrong use of 'infer','imply' and 'deduce', 'less' and 'fewer', and many, many more, including double negatives, are commonplace . Many students show surprise when errors are pointed out, understandable perhaps when those errors have not been corrected over the past 10 or more years. In particular, adverbs and verbs are, for many, a closed book. 'Beat' instead of 'beaten' is firm favourite in this respect.
The recent update of the OEDs new words and definitions reflects how our language is changing arguably faster than ever. New words include shortened ones so they can be fitted in texts and tweets. Examples include: 'ship' as a verb, 'crazy' as an adverb, 'thing' meaning surprise, and 'cryptocurrency' meaning bit coins. Not I suspect to everyone's taste.
I do not, however, believe we should be too puristic-in my opinion, Heffer at times, goes too far in this respect. English is a living language. Changes occur and should in many cases be embraced. You can have too many rules. Some of his stylistic preferences are a little eccentric. It has,for example, been pointed out many times that Standard English is not, as Heffer argues, correct English. It is in fact a dialect. The key purpose of language is to communicate, if it does not do so then it is failing. Orwell said break all the rules rather than say something barbarous. Sloppy writing can only be avoided if some basic conventions are observed. These encourage precision and clarity. If we permit rules and conventions to be swept aside we invite ambiguity and confusion.
On the other hand, multiple subordinate clauses offend as do the constant use of words like: incredibly, unbelievable, and fantastic. Some people appear incapable of avoiding these from sentence to sentence. E-mailisms are another pain and a killer of sound English. Cliches and platitudes are in the same category. Concision and simplicity, on the other hand, is a great virtue of expression.
No doubt this book will also be savaged in certain academic quarters. For my part, like many colleagues, I would gladly settle for written work that uses capitals, commas and full stops properly, and demonstrates knowledge of the correct structure of a simple sentence.The occasional correct use of a semi-colon would, of course, be most welcome.
This book will do no harm at all. However, I shall still recommend students read the writings of Churchill if they wish to write simple, lucid, unambiguous English.