Brummagem (more thoughts about language policing)

 

 

This post relates to comments I received recently in response to two of my previous posts:

 

 

“her” instead of “him”; Ms.; and what else?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/12/20/her-instead-of-him-ms-and-what-else/

 

 

an exchange about political correctness, pedagogy, and LANGUAGE

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/20/an-exchange-about-political-correctness-pedagogy-and-language/

 

 

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Here are some of the comments made by one of my critics:

 

My sense is the people you’re calling the “language police” are people who want to change the language for various reasons, including but not exclusively politically correct types. They are not government officials as in Orwell’s Thought Police. There are no “language police,” just individuals who feel that certain things should change, and there are enough of them to make this a matter of material debate. Why isn’t this just another form of evolution?

 

Languages do change over time — don’t they? And they change for many reasons. If language can’t change, shouldn’t we all be speaking the English of Beowulf?

 

I know that you’re using the language police in a figurative sense, but there is a huge difference between a New York Transit official changing a recorded announcement, or changing “Christmas Party” to “Holiday Party,” and Orwell’s organized and government-sponsored thought police. What’s happening now (and what has happened throughout recorded history) is that individuals are deciding on their own to change their language in ways they believe is important, and therefore English everywhere is growing and evolving, just like a tree. No tree endures forever. You of course don’t have to agree with changing “him” to “he/she.” People who do like this change aren’t necessarily busybodies — they are just using language that is important to them, for whatever reasons. Your desire to keep old trees standing is no different from their desire to lop off a branch here and there.

 

 

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A random sampling of my responses to his comments includes the following remarks of mine:

 

Your point that languages do change is a good one. It’s enriching when it happens. Think about all the words English has absorbed from other languages. And, yes, we used to have “thou” and “thee.” Now it’s “you.” So, grammar does evolve. Let it evolve naturally, from the ground up, as it is spoken by living, breathing people, not as we are told to speak or write it by the “language police.” What you call “evolution” of language is not evolution, it’s a form of social engineering, so to speak, except in this case it’s not social policy, it’s language rules being imposed upon us.

I don’t see the concern about sexism in language as an “evolutionary factor.” I do see the change to “holiday party” as something the language police implemented. But, if it’s an office party or such an occasion attended by people of different faiths, yes, holiday party seems right. (Although I hate bloodless Orwellian locutions.)

What I care about, solely, and object strongly to is what I perceive to be attempts to sanitize, defang, and reconfigure the language in accord with some ideological agenda. I love my native tongue. I know that it is continually evolving and changing, but I am strongly opposed to busybodies trying to orchestrate this and to tell us, ordain, what is or is not permissible. That’s what I mean when I say I don’t like change. Let our precious language grow, develop, evolve, and endure like a tree. (The simile is apt.)

Of course, languages change — I would use the word evolve (as do species). It can be seen in English, including changes in usage. But, this is something that happens naturally, without the intervention of language police.

 

 

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Today, in my reading, I came across a word that perfectly illustrates what I mean by languages evolving — NATURALLY.

 

Brummagem

meaning something cheap, showy, or counterfeit (“a vile Brummagem substitute for the genuine article”)

 

Brummagem (and historically also Bromichan, Bremicham and many similar variants, all essentially “Bromwich-ham”) is the local name for the city of Birmingham, England, and the dialect associated with it. It gave rise to the terms Brum (a shortened version of Brummagem) and Brummie (applied to inhabitants of the city, their accent and dialect, and frequently West Midlanders and their accents in general).

Brummagem and Brummagem are also terms for cheap and shoddy imitations, in particular when referring to mass-produced goods.

 

This is true, organic language growth. Arising from variations in pronunciation, and cleverness and serendipity. Not from mandates from language czars.

Such words are rich in associations and fun to contemplate.

 

I used to love the word spokesman — it had an Anglo Saxon ring to it. (I am probably wrong about its actual derivation.) Now, it’s the bloodless locution spokesperson.

 

At the university where I worked, we had a department “chair.” Was he there to be sat upon? What’s wrong with chairman? (He was a man.)

 

We have servers now. What is wrong with waiter and waitress? The problem (I should say the issue), as see it, is that we all know what waiter and waitress refer to. Server is a much more vague term. We have a server in tennis and all sorts of people who serve, such as military personnel, civil servants, people in service oriented businesses, etc. What’s wrong with saying waiter or waitress? Oh, I forgot! Our language is supposed to be “gender neutral” now. Why? People can’t be differentiated in terms of their sex?

 

What’s next? I wonder if at some point man and woman won’t be abolished, and we will be required to say person. To say, in politically correct parlance, “I met a person yesterday,” with the listener being left to wonder — impertinently? — in the privacy of his or her poor, befogged brain: Was it (an acceptable gender neutral pronoun) what used to be called a man (a heretofore prohibited word) or (dare one be so impertinent to think that it should matter) that other banned term, a woman?

Language abuse — the destruction of our native tongue — has a life and a momentum of its own. It’s like the destruction of forests to make way for the advance of “civilization.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017

 

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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3 Responses to Brummagem (more thoughts about language policing)

  1. Pete Smith says:

    Just who are these language police? Seems to be that you are usurping this role, if you decide that “spokesman” is acceptable but “spokesperson” isn’t.

  2. “Spokesperson” is bloodless. The word “pettifoggery” is not, and it fits here.

  3. Pete Smith says:

    You’re absolutely correct. Pettifoggery, which Webster’s defines as “bickering or quibbling over trifles or unimportant matters,” is an apt description of this post.

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