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Put English on it

BY BEAU ELLIOT | OCTOBER 27, 2009 7:20 AM

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This just in: BBC Radio reports that Dallas police have issued approximately 40 citations to people for not speaking English.

Yeah, I know — I didn’t realize anyone in Dallas spoke English, either.

We’re not targeting Spanish speakers here — I mean, if George W. Bush is any example, the normal Texas approach to the English language is to take a baseball bat to its knees. Brings a whole new meaning to walking the talk.

And, if truth be told (it sometimes is, at least if we have enough of those mouths of babes on hand), it’s not just Texans; Americans as a whole have a rather hands-off approach to speaking and writing English. Except, of course, when they have a baseball bat around. Then, it’s look out noun; I’m going to mash you into a verb.

As a former English teacher, I’m continually amused by my fellow citizens’ attempts to express themselves. Especially those attempts by those who champion English-only.

Take Steve King, the congressional representative for western Iowa (which is more accurately known as eastern Nebraska). King is an anti-immigrant, English-only sort of good old boy — on the floor on Congress one time, he spoke out in favor of an electrified fence on the border with Mexico, noting that in Iowa, electric fences worked really well with cattle.

King also, in a press release some months back trumpeting his successful effort to get funding to turn a two-lane western Iowa highway into a four-lane western Iowa highway, used “four-lane” as a verb — as in, we’re going to “four-lane” this highway.

What’s the big deal? you say. Well, the big deal is “four-lane” is not a verb; you can’t “four-lane” anything, even a highway, which, you have to admit, is beginning to sound more like a low way. And if you’re a guy who runs around the country wailing about English-only, you really shouldn’t be taking a baseball bat to “four-lane” and mashing it into a verb. It makes it sound as though you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Or you’re the type of hypocrite who wants Spanish speakers to speak only English while you speak American gibberish.

Why do you worry about this? you ask. There’s so much more in the world to get exercised about: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the state of the economy (by the looks of things, the state of the economy is not named Iowa), the health-care debate, the ranking of the Hawkeye football team.

You’re right. Why worry about the state of American English when the English stoutly (even those who are thin) believe we don’t speak English anyway?

Especially why worry about English when things are suddenly looking up (if things can look, which I have to admit I’m not all that sure about) for the public option in the health debate. The top two Democratic leaders in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, have seemingly grown spines almost overnight, and they both promise that the public option is alive and well.

Which is good, given that the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 57 percent of Americans approve of the public option.

But on the other hand, probably 97 percent of Americans would approve of using “their” in the sentence Each student has to buy their textbooks.

Oh, well.

One thing’s for sure about the health-care bill — when we finally get one, public option or no, it won’t be written in anything approaching English.

Or as Groucho Marx once said, A new boom sweeps clean.


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