“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” (Joni Mitchell) by Trevor Plumbly
“There ain’t half been some clever bastards” (Ian Dury)
I listened to a British talk show recently and, like NZ and Oz, they’ve got loads of folk waffling about the mundane things of life. The target for these media crusaders (let’s call them ‘progressives’) was language; this particular bunch decided, after some deliberation, that certain descriptive terms are no longer acceptable. They focussed on name-calling: describing someone as ‘skinny’, ‘tubby’ and the like is ‘body shaming’ and must now be considered emotionally damaging. I was shocked by the attack on British schoolboy tradition: nicknames were an integral part of school life, some historical such as ‘Chalky’ White, ‘Dusty’ Miller etc. Others were more personal, based on physical appearance or defects. Spot Simpson’s complexion was in constant eruption, you couldn’t leave Piggy Edwards alone near your lunch box and I was Toothpick to all and sundry. There was nothing spiteful about it; quite the reverse really – having a nickname was rather like a club membership card.
“No particular place to go” (Chuck Berry)
For some reason, people love buggering around with language, “It’s the way of the future,” my progressive blog mates keep telling me, but I reckon it’s responsible for most of the crap today. The problems go back years: look at God, first up he was the only game in town, responsible for creation, weather and all sorts of stuff. Everyone believed it and, left alone, they would have coped OK, but the progressives jumped in with their candidates, net result, uncertainty, argument, wars and lots of dead bodies. At the time, Satan was the sole counter weight to crossing the old boy, but the others came up with, ‘The Devil, ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Old Nick’, so goodbye terror, hello curiosity; net result? stacks of people struggling to decide whether sin was worth a punt. It’s the same today: there’s no such thing as solid ground; according to the progressives, we can’t reach conclusions because things are always evolving, even if we get close they give us the ‘big picture’ sidestep and it’s induced uncertainty all over again.
“Send in the clowns” (Stephen Sondheim)
Beware the Greeks and the Romans, they were both progressives, and I reckon that’s what did them in: neither realised the benefits of keeping things simple. First up they busied themselves building ruins for future generations to gawk at, and fought a few wars, this kept them occupied till they started losing. To compensate, the clever sods among them fiddled around with mental stuff and came up with Philosophy, this allowed a select few to avoid work, twist reality to suit themselves and confuse the peasants. To drive it home, they topped it up with ‘drama’ and ‘allegory’, the ancient equivalent of subliminal advertising; words like ‘con job’ and ‘bullshit’ didn’t exist back then so the population sucked up the rubbish. Encouraged by that success, they started writing it down and the rest of us have been stuck with it ever since. These days they sell it as an art form or academic pursuit, but for those of us still clinging to plain language, crap is still crap (see also political manifesto, rap music and parliamentary question time).
“She called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy” (Lennon/McCartney)
There ought to be a law against people trying to infect daily language by labelling themselves with wheelbarrow weight titles. Covid’s got a lot to answer for that: virologist I can live with, even epidemiologist on a rainy day, but ‘vaccinologist’? For Christ’s sake, how can you get a doctorate for sticking needles into people’s arms? Spare me please! We’re just about hitting rock bottom when it comes to obfuscation (see! now I’m doing it), maybe I need to ‘upskill’? Nobody’s safe from today’s progressives, they’re dedicated to ennobling the norm. Secretaries are PAs, the unemployed are Job Seekers, Executives and Facilitators are birthing like rabbits, even us Blindies are getting re-branded to appease the sensitive. Bugger reality, let’s go for the image! On the radio gab fest, all agreed that the current literacy skills among our children leave a lot to be desired. It’ll get a heck of a lot worse till they realise that building on a weak foundation isn’t a great idea.
“We note our place with bookmarkers that measure what we’ve lost” (Paul Simon)
A good education is founded on hard work and language skills are a major component. We were force-fed Dickens, Melville, Byron and Tennyson, none of whom invoked a love of language at the time but they did open our minds to the music poets. Simon, Dylan, Kristofferson, Cohen, Young and Co painted word pictures of the day in much the same way as the classic poets. I doubt my grandsons’ mental energy will be directed to understanding the influence of either group. Thanks to the gospel of the progressives, a machine will do that for them and more; it’s a modern age after all. So as Crosbie, Stills and Nash would have it, “Teach Your Children Well”, why not give ‘em an iPad, they could even become ‘Geeks’ (whoops!).