May 31, 2006

The elegance of English

I think that we've probably lost something in terms of the elegance of expression as English has grown to include alternate forms of the language. As Rap has crossed over from sub-culture to main stream, as the language of the street is heard practically everywhere.

We were listening a lot to Kiss me Kate this weekend. One line from one song has been repeating itself over and over again. First, remember, Cole Porter wrote this in the 1940's. Let me give it to you here to illustrate my point.

"He may have hair upon his chest but, sister, so ___ Lassie."

What do you think goes in the blank?

I suspect you would put "does". Am I right?

Cole wrote it as "has". Sister, so has Lassie.

Do you see? The have takes has later in the sentence, not does. The two verbs repeat, correctly. And the effect is rather elegant. More so than if we slotted "does" in that blank.

When did we lose that elegance of expression? When did we start dumbing down the language?

How do we get it back?

Posted by Random Penseur at May 31, 2006 10:24 AM | TrackBack

i aint got no idea what u talkin bout

Posted by: TeaFizz at May 31, 2006 10:58 PM

Interesting post. The progress of any language has always been fluid throughout history. It wasn't until the first "lexicon" (by Noah Webster?) that the English language sought to be static.

I also expected the word to be "does". But, obviously, "has" is correct. Does that mean that I am wrong, or might it simply mean that I am "illiterate"? Does the "illiteracy" of "proper" language make one illiterate? Or does the ignorance of a lexicon make one illiterate>

So long as the meaning is understood, there is no right or wrong way to speak a language. Granted, in your Porter example, "has" is much more correct than "does". But, as long as the meaning is understood, the language hasn't failed. The meaning is still communicated.

Is this a "dumbing down" of English? Prolly it is. But, in this ever more complicated world we live in, maybe agonizing over usage is the least of the concerns of displaced 40-plus former press operaters who know how to string a sentence together but don't know how to re-train in another field on $200 a week.


Sorry...? :D

Posted by: Tuning Spork at June 1, 2006 08:26 PM

Hmm. I would use "does" automatically, and would still tend to do so, given the option of "has."

"Has Lassie hair on his chest?"
"Has Lassie got hair on his chest?"
"Does Lassie have hair on his chest?"

Time to look at some old grammar books.

Posted by: owlish at June 6, 2006 05:31 PM

And does anybody know whey there are two nn's in questionnaire and only one in millionaire?

Posted by: Sharon Hayles at August 3, 2006 10:06 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?