Posted on February 20, 2019
by Steve Janowick
Any American man worth his salt has some understanding of our country’s history.
Of all the past eras in our rear-view mirror, none (at least in my opinion) incite intrigue like the years we were at war-with each other! The Civil War era was a very dark and unprecedented time in our history. It was the first, and last, time Americans were pitted against their fellow countrymen. Neighbor against neighbor. Brother against brother.
I loved Ken Burns’ awesome documentary a couple decades ago about it. It was a masterful, sweeping homage that put the viewer directly into the hearts and minds of all the participants. One of the coolest parts of the series was the narration of the letters that the soldiers and their loved ones sent back and forth to each other. The actual words acted out in authentic 19th century dialect and inflection. Cool stuff. But the thing that stuck with me was the sheer beauty and eloquence of the letters themselves.
These salt-of-the-earth men and women took great care to properly express themselves. Through the written word they conveyed on paper the depth and scope of the horrors they experienced. They described in great detail the carnage and articulated the corresponding thoughts. They passionately proclaimed their broken hearts and longings. And they did it all with a mastery of the English language.
I don’t know when (or how) it all went to hell, but that once adoration and reverence for our native tongue is long gone. Sure, there are still a few of us out there that care deeply about the written word. About expressing ourselves through the beauty of language. About adhering to, and respecting, the rules of proper prose and grammar long ago established. About how we’re perceived through our writing.
But not many of us.
I’m simply amazed at the stuff I see that’s passed off as proper, effective, expressive writing these days. I would expect that from my 17-year old who’s grown up abbreviating her entire life through the characters of texts and tweets (which is in of itself a sad sign of the times). But from PhD’s, professionals and even some folks in print media? That’s unbelievable to me. Run on sentences, misspelled words, screwy punctuation: you get the point. But worse is the lack of creativity and beauty and voice. All replaced by the latest hip abbreviation, cool acronym and lazy slang.
And that’s really what it all boils down to. Laziness! It’s too hard to write properly. Too time consuming. Why take the time or make the effort? My bosses or my teachers or my friends…they won’t care. Everyone writes horribly. It’s acceptable in 2019. As a matter of fact, I actually up my street cred if I don’t write well. It shows I’m not bowing to past generations and their lame, outdated standards. My generation? We communicate our own way, man! We’re about the technology. We don’t need to learn cursive. Hell, we don’t even need to know how to use a pen. Our phone is our pen! Just leave us alone!
I know-it’s a little over the top. But I’m not that far off. The reality is-the traditional beauty of the pen and paper, of eloquent and proper writing, will be nothing but a niche very soon. A hobby for enthusiasts and admirers of the past. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still respect our English language and put some meaningful effort into our digital scribes. A well-written email these days will definitely set you apart. A text with actual punctuation will set you apart. A tweet devoid of any emojis will set you apart.
You may never get mistaken for Shakespeare or Hemingway…or a poetic soldier from a bygone era…
But you may get something like…uhhh… gainful employment.
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