Can Grandparents Save the Language? Calling English 911!

Now that your grandchildren are back in school—much to the rejoicing of their parents—it’s time to ponder everything you soaked up this summer under the kids’ expert tutelage. Like how many games of Go Fish you can play in a row, where to find the best corn dogs or shave ice, and why One Direction is the coolest British export since The Beatles.

The more time you spend with your progeny’s progeny, however, the more concerned you become about the state of our language. What with all the verbal mayhem they’re creating, to say nothing about the damage some other generations have inflicted, the situation is getting out of hand.

It’s up to you to teach your grandkids how to use the language well. The experts tell us that English is in transition, but that’s just a polite way of saying it’s going to hell in a handbasket. For example:

WE USED TO HEAR:

NOW PEOPLE SAY:

Hello.

Dude.

Is everything all right?

Dude?

Oh, that’s terrible.

Duuude!

And that’s only the tip of the linguistic iceberg. Let’s assess the overall damage, which seems to get worse by the minute:

Grammar: A lot of folks don’t talk so good.
Subject and verb agreement: Those nouns and verbs is frequently out of sync.
Spelling errors: Rampunt.
Syntax: Huh?
Word usage: Bad. Except when bad sometimes means good. But you never know when that applies. Which makes it bad. Or is that good?

In fairness to today’s kids, part of the problem is the ever-increasing body of knowledge we’re now asking the human brain to accommodate. Your grandchildren are soaking up information about a million times faster than we ever did, but they must have a zillion times more to learn.

These youngsters are under tremendous pressure to be on the road to success at an early age, but nobody expected us to start planning for AP classes while we were still watching Romper Room or Ding Dong School. Our parents thought we were doing fine as long as we could write our names and read “See Spot run” in first grade.

Imagine what oh-so-clever we could’ve accomplished by that age if Mom and Dad had motivated us as much as parents do today. Or if one of those mammoth UNIVACs hadn’t weighed in at something like 29,000 pounds. That was nobody’s personal computer and not even close to being user-friendly.

Today, little Caleb and Sophia are beginning to read, write and find their way around cyberspace at the unbelievably early age of three or four. This raises the question: Are they amazing because they’re our grandkids or are they our grandkids because they’re amazing? Either way, these apples of our eye don’t fall far from the family tree.

Long before technology took its place as both subject matter and teaching method, we studied what American kids had been learning right along: your basic English, history, geography, science and math. Add a dash of art and music, a foreign language, home ec for the girls and shop class for the boys, and that was everything we needed to know.

Of course there were those unexpected blips on the curriculum radar. Like when they rolled out New Math. What was up with that? Some odd thing about base-7, where 10 came right after 6, leaving 7, 8 and 9 out in the cold. Fortunately, it didn’t stick. So now it’s history.

We thought geography was a piece of cake until we grew up and started noticing all these countries rearranging themselves and taking on new names. Eventually we figured out that the map of the world is a work in progress, but when we were kids we never dreamed what they taught us in school might one day stop being true.

Then

Now

Learn how to type

Learn how to input

The Emerald City

Hogwarts

Memorize your multiplication tables

Grab your calculator

My Friend Flicka

Photos of my friends on Flickr

The USSR

Russia, some other countries and a bunch of Stans

Welcome Back, Kotter

Glee

“Look it up.”

“Google it.”

Pass a note in study hall

Text message during history

Put on some clothes and go to the library

Stay in your jammies and go to Wikipedia

When it comes to our beloved language and all those other things we bemoan as not being quite what they used to be, it’s your grandparently duty to do whatever you can to help.

So the next time young Amber tells you, “Me and Megan are setting up a lemonade stand,” encourage her ever so sweetly to substitute Megan and I—and tell her you’ll buy two glasses.

Or if that adorable Landon mentions that he’s expecting a visit from the tooth fairy, saying “I’ll bet they leave me a whole dollar,” toss in a little pronoun lesson with an emphatic “I hope she does.”

Maybe the kids will get the message. Maybe not. But at least you’ll have given it your best English 911 effort.

 

Diana J. Ewing is the author of The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Grandparenting

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