AMGLISH IN, LIKE, TEN EASY LESSONS
A Celebration of the New World Lingo
By Arthur E. Rowse
Rowman & Littlefield. 239 pp. Paperback, $16.95
It may be unforgivable to mistake “lay” for “lie,” confuse “that” with “which,” or use the serial comma. Or to deploy too many semicolons; usually, periods can take their place. Or to wanna use informal contractions and write run-on sentences and — OMG! — publish new-fangled abbreviations in a newspaper.
Perpetrators of these common grammatical slip-ups should pray that they don’t run into Arthur E. Rowse wielding a red-tipped felt pen. In what must be the most passive-aggressive grammar manifesto ever written by a nonagenarian former Washington Post copy editor, he takes imprecise writing and speaking to task by sarcastically embracing them.
“Life is too short to worry about making errors in language,” Rowse writes sarcastically in his withering book about “Amglish,” the still-evolving “informal mixture of American English and other languages.” “Unlike the rules of formal English, the rules of Amglish are unwritten and as fluid as society itself. . . . The resulting mishmash is being embraced enthusiastically almost everywhere.”
If Rowse sounds like a fussbudget, it’s because he is. The author disapproves of profane hip-hop and “its rapid-fire lyrics set to the sound of heavy drums”; “freaked-out valley girls” whose “greatest single contribution to today’s lingo . . . is the word ‘like’ ”; Jon Stewart (“By uttering the f-word so often while knowing it will be bleeped, he spares the millions outside the studio audience from hearing the word and, of course, laughing at his jokes”); and Apple’s ungrammatical “think different” campaign, which sought to “capitalize on the informal language trend.”
Though his discussion of novel English variants such as “Arablish, Chinglish, Konglish, Spanglish, and dozens of other international mixtures” is fascinating, Rowse’s gripes may resonate only with fellow graybeards whose sometimes justified complaints about declining linguistic standards frequently appear on the Free For All page of this newspaper. As Rowse explains, “Language errors have become an integral part of the current linguistic upheaval. . . . The whole exercise is either a delight or a continuing disaster.”