The Language of Pop Culture – Should You Use Proper English Only?

Should we use street lingo in our writing or not? Is our use of fashionable vernacular simply lazy English or a case of reflecting reality and freeing expression from the constraints of grammar Nazi’s?

There are as ever, two sides to the argument for and against the use of improper English; slang, street words, internet chat and text speak abbreviations; r u mad 4 it? G8!

Here is a comment reproduced from JTony on Lorelle Van Fossen’s WordPress blogging blog:

“The tyrrany of language academicians is a constant thorn in the side of those who wish to communicate. Language is fluid, changing and evolving faster than any virus. Trying to keep language still is like trying to hold on to a single spot on a river… it cannot be done.The rule should be that if your intended audience can understand what you are writing, then you have accomplished what you need to. The only time you should avoid any form of “everyday speech” or “jargon” or anything else is if it is something your intended audience will not understand. It is all about the context of your readers, and nothing else applies.

As far as writing intended for a “general audience” how can it be that a general audience won’t understand “everyday speech”. It seems to me that the language that speaks to people is the language that they speak.”

JTony certainly seems to hit the nail on the head; language has, is and will continue to evolve over time but the comparison with a virus fails. A virus spreads uncontrollably with no thought or conscious whereas language evolves and spreads as directed by human need to communicate thoughts and desires to others.

The rule that what is written can be understood by your intended audience then you have succeeded, is a play on the lowest common denominator of an intended audience and an abdication of the ideal that our writing can in fact inspire and motivate readers to rise above that lowest common denominator. The rule can apply to sales copy and marketing work – I would agree that the lowest common denominator may apply in such cases but little else.

JTony’s admonition that we should avoid jargon and everyday speech only when the intended audience will not understand is weak. I agree that you can use language when it suits a purpose in delivering your message to a target readership, but it doesn’t follow that you should use it all the time.

I remember reading Kes at school, a novel filled with vernacular that had a proper place in the writing, but because we all know the f-word doesn’t mean I need you, as a writer, to use it in your work you’re preparing for me. I love fast cars and own several, but if you are tasked with writing sales copy for a new sportscar that was going to set me back£30k I wouldn’t be impressed with “It goes like shit off a shovel!”though that is how I may describe the beast to my friends.

JTony is correct when he writes that it is all about “context” but does nothing else apply?

That leaves me asking myself if my children are going to grow up to speak fluent toddler language because that was all they did understand at one point in their lives; they have improved their ability by learning to read and write beyond the confines of their context as young children. If you read this blog, are you reading it to stay within your context or are you looking to improve your skills as a writer of whatever description? Is my argument correct that when we seek to improve we are taking ourselves out of our normal context and shifting to a new one, so does it not follow that context is not the writing end in itself but inspiration, motivation, education and communication?

There is a place for using the vernacular whatever that may be at the time. I don’t agree it should be used all the time, irrespective of the intended audience or target market’s language use; that’s just anarchaic laziness. Over two years my writing has significantly improved, my target audience for my work has not changed particularly but my ability has. I deliver clearer copy, transmit my message with greater precision and clarity and have learned various writing techniques to help me with creating work but none of it has been without the cost of learning some rules.

This is my personal view; th rule shld b tht u shld tak sum time 2 lern wht th rules r b4 u break thm.