Tuesday, 20 July 2010

From William Shakespeare to Sarah Palin

One of my instinctive objections to Twitter is that it will destroy the English language as we know it - just a minor gripe then. Distilling thoughts into a mere 140 characters offers very little scope for beautiful prose or wonderful soliloquies that help the imagination and the soul to soar.

Actually, I'm not sure whether all of that really matters in the greater scheme of things. Twitter is a fact of life - I use it very frequently, yet I still seem to be capable of writing proper sentences, that linked together create real paragraphs, that one by one deliver a narrative thread, that when read in sequence make some degree of sense and tell a story. At least, I think that I'm still capable of all of that - others can judge for themselves.

In fact, much more likely to destroy the English language as we know it are people who don't know how to use it properly. I'm by no means making a bid to be the next Lynne Truss. Although I think that I just about get by (and get away with getting by), for now I defer to the inestimably excellent Mr Stephen Fry, who is to front a new BBC series about language.

In sharp contrast, there are some people in the public eye who do a very good job of persistently persuading us all of their ignorance. They bite into the English language, masticate a bit and then spit out their own mangled version of it. Step forward Sarah Palin. In the grand style of George Bush Jnr, whom I must say I never misunderestimated, Mrs Palin appears to have invented a new word. I'm sure that she will repudiate that claim, or maybe she will refute it. In truth, she is more likely to 'refudiate' it, while at the same time pointing out that English is a living language and that Shakespeare invented new words.

That comparison of herself with the Bard of Avon is impressive and as modest as we've come to expect from Mrs Palin. She does seem to be impervious to the approbrium that she brings down upon herself. Clearly, she is well prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, though I'm not convinced that she has the conscience that does make cowards of us all.

This whole amusing development seems to have 'gone global' thanks to a tweet by Sarah Palin. So, perhaps Twitter can actually help us defend and preserve the English language by highlighting its abuse. My fears were unfounded. I can relax. To sleep, perchance to dream.