...My grade schools of the Fifties still taught grammar and required the diagramming of sentences, now regarded with horror as a sort of linguistic water-boarding. We learned tense, mood, voice, subjunctives and parallelism and appositives. Equally important, we learned to listen to the language as well as its content, without which decent writing is nigh impossible.Read the rest here.
With us, the written language was primary, the spoken derived from the written. In Spanish, if I know how “ajolote” is spelled, the word is mine. Otherwise it never quite is. Today among the literarily unwashed, the spoken language becomes primary. Note how “iced tea” becomes “ice tea,” ”boxed set” becomes “box set,“ presumably a set of boxes. The people who use these confusions don’t read, perhaps barely can, and do not know how the words are spelled. Participles? Huh? Wha’?
English once had its equivalents of Lecciones de Castellana. There were Fowler’s The King’s English and American English Usage, and of course Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. These today are as well known to our gilded peasantry as the Gilgamesh Epic.
An attention to meaning existed. We knew that “sensuous” does not mean “sensual,” nor bellicose, belligerent; nor alternate, alternative; nor uninterested, disinterested; nor envious, jealous; nor historic, historical; nor philosophic, philosophical; nor it’s, its.
From The Elements of Style we learned the all-important “Omit needless words”, from Fowler:
Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.
But that was then. Today usage nose-dives from the merely infelicitous to the downright annoying. Note the increasing penetration of language by that form of mispronunciation, once the marker of the lower middle class and below, in which emphasis falls on the first syllable of words. HOtel, INsurance, DEEfense, REEsources, DEEtail. It is the linguistic parallel of a facial tattoo.