Mysterious Case of Vanishing Words
My middle school English teacher – may God rest her anguished spirit – tried to teach me how to diagram a sentence, but I wasn’t drawn to such endeavors during the warm spring of my adolescence.
To be sure, the futility of Miss Applebee’s efforts was a source of consternation for both of us, but I’m afraid it was she who suffered most. I was content to sit quietly at my desk, pencil in hand, eyes drawn to the flight of a Mockingbird building a nest in the Live Oak trees beyond the school window. Furthermore, I felt no need for her instruction, as my parents insisted on using the ‘King’s English’ in our home. I had learned it early, and I had learned it well.
My sole intention in suffering Miss Applebee’s arduous class was to pass the time until I could once again ride my bicycle to the beautiful creek that lay within a short distance. Other boys – and on the best of days – girls could be found in that glorious childhood retreat, all of us searching for the adjectives of our lives and pedaling bicycles fast enough over its hills and dales to find an ample supply of adverbs.
Both common and proper nouns were used often, as Billy told Kathy he loved her more than frogs. Verbs were abundant, and we learned as many as our youthful spirits and diverse religions allowed.
But out of breath – and with a dwindling supply of conjunctions – we returned to our homes for supper, followed by the nemesis of our public education: homework. There were historical dates and names to remember, civics lessons, and of course the task I most neglected.
The diagraming of sentences and the identification of the antecedents and the conjugation of my verbs left me sleepy. My homework folder lay empty, as usual.
During one of the many times I was held after class, I saw the tears of Miss Applebee’s frustration. Final exams were less than two weeks away, and I was failing ninth-grade English.
“Do you like to write?” she asked during one of our anxious meetings.
“Yes, I replied. It’s what I do when your back is turned to the chalkboard.”
“If you’ll complete one of your stories before the end of the semester, I’ll give you a passing grade,” she told me while reaching for another Kleenex.
It was an easy assignment. I’d already finished the story between stolen glances at Suzie – the girl of my dreams who sat in the seat to my left. A thousand new stories had begun to swirl within my young head.
In the world of my childhood – not so long ago – the knowledge of words, their meanings, spellings and proper use in complete sentences was of great importance. As they say, ‘words mean things’, so it follows that the more of them we learn, the more we can mean. Furthermore, words are plentiful. There’s an ample supply of them in Webster’s, and we’ve not learned more than a fraction of them.
These days, we just make them-up – no diagraming required! We ‘Tweet’, ‘Google’ and ‘Blog’ our thoughts and wisdom to our ‘Peeps’ and ‘BFF’s’. In our busy days, we LOL, ROF, and LMAO, and with cartoonish emoticons and neologisms, we express our deepest thoughts.
WTHIGOH? (what the heck is going on here?)
What’s happened to our beautiful language? Is this what English ‘be like’ today? Have we become so rhetorically lazy that we’re now willing to exchange centuries of linguistic evolution for the convenience of using our thumbs? Good Heavens! Orangutans and Chimpanzees can push a button using only their thumbs!
If Miss Applebee were alive today, there would be tears in her eyes upon seeing the beauty of our native tongue so casually discarded, its wisdom, history and depth of expression lost – perhaps forever.
Words mean things, and when they’re lost, their meanings are lost, and when the meanings are lost, we’re lost.
As always, your comments are welcome.
Dave from Texas