A Capital Omission

At the cafe in one of our local supermarkets, we came across signs reading something like: “We cannot except card payments because of a computer error.” I was about to look for any old red pen I might still have about my person to correct ‘except’ to ‘accept’ when I noticed that, this being leafy Hampshire, two of the three notices had already been amended by customers.

POOur local Post Office has its opening hours dsplayed on the door. All the text is in lower case, even the days of the week. I harrumphed about this, then realised I now have time to complain….. so I did, to the amusement of some of my friends, who think I have too much time on my hands. 28 days later there has been no reply. I speculate that the Post Office think this format looks ‘striking’ or ‘modern’.

This is just a very blatant example of the frequent ‘incorrect’ use of language in the public domain, which often used to concern me as a teacher. What a bad example this is for children learning to punctuate. As a teacher, your eye gets super-sensitive; which at another level can be amusing. I spotted a hospital sign saying ‘Visitor’s Parking’. Presumably they only have one visitor at a time.

How important is the ‘correct’use of language? What do we mean by ‘correct’ anyway? At times, I am reminded of an old adage about driving. Anybody driving slower than me is over-cautious. Anybody faster than me is dangerous. Similarly, anybody more ‘precise’ about language is fussy. Anybody more careless is sloppy.

Certainly I do not always use language accurately, even by my own criteria. You just have to look at this blog to see that, both technically and in terms of style. My argument is that I am so proficient that I can break the rules for effect. Hmmm.

Language is always changing. From Chaucer to Shakespeare to Austen to Rosen we can see the development. Spoken language, I believe, tends to lead written language, which is also changed by changing technology, from the printing press to text-speak. But language is a tool for communication, and a medium for communication. For it to be effective, there have to be shared, agreed and accepted forms, however transient they are. (For an example, look at the confusion experienced by one of our politicians over whether LOL was to do with love or laughter.)

So, once more, we come to the question: what does this all mean for us, children? Tentatively I would suggest that we need to stick to the rules or forms that are widely accepted. Without them, we usually make communication more difficult. Sticking slavishly to them, especially where there is a mass movement to change, is probably counter-productive. Perhaps the key questions should be: Is the meaning clear? Are we communicating clearly?

I’m glad I no longer have to wrestle with this one in the classroom context. In the wider world in which I now find myself, pedantry and pernicketiness over punctuation is possibly not well accepted. I don’t think I’ll be challenging market traders over the greengrocers’ apostrophe. However, I’m still not happy about that Post Office notice, as I feel it makes the sign less clear if the days of the week are not clearly identified, in the widely accepted common format. I’ll let you know if they eventually respond.

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