Linguistically Correct: In Favour of Correct English, Contra Noah Webster
“In our time more than ever before, the chief strength of the wicked lies in the cowardice and weakness of good men… All the strength of Satan’s reign is due to the easy-going weakness of Catholics.” —Pope St Pius X
The patron saint of the Society that bears his name was, as usual, correct in his assessment of the times.
And though he uttered those famous words more than a century ago, St Pius’s wisdom is just as true to-day and perhaps nowhere more applicable than with regard to the hideous damage and forced change compelled upon the English language in recent years by the lunatic Left.
Language is a tool. God has given us this tool to use wisely. But rather like the tools in our workshop, if we abuse our language, just as if we overstress a screwdriver or a saw, it will break.
Orthodox Roman Catholics are, of their very nature, contra mundum. But in to-day’s ever-shifting moral and cultural quicksands, the Traditional Catholic is called, now more than ever before, to be different in order to be correct—to buck the trends and go against the grain of some very warped and worldly wood indeed. As GK Chesterton, the man who was orthodoxy, writes in The Everlasting Man:
“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
The true Catholic has no choice but to swim against the poisonous tides that often come with modernity. Taking a page straight out of Orwell, those in opposition to Church social teaching on marriage and the family realise that to control language is to control thought. They now seek to change the very dictionary definition of marriage as a divinely ordained institution between a man and a woman, the purpose of which is the propagation of the species.
But however hard they try, they cannot make it so. I might stand on my head and call myself “Peter Pan.” It would not make it true.
One particularly annoying neologism, used by the descendants of the 1960’s hippie “free love” ethos, is the complete misuse of the word “partner.” With more and more people in the West cohabiting and fewer and fewer getting married, this misapplied word has gained much traction within the past 20 years.
“Oh,” says Mr. Hippie-Dippie, “I’d like you to meet my partner.”
Nonsense. If you’re in business to-gether, then you’re partners. If you’re in bed to-gether, you’re paramours. But such is the completely casual attitude toward fornication for which moderns are infamous, combined as usual with their fatuous attempts to legitimise the illegitimate. And if they can wrap it up in some euphonious (accent on the “phoney”) new term, so much the better.
Popular language has been changed by said lobby to such a great extent that to criticise homosexuality at all is now labelled “hate speech,” yet another curiously Orwellian term. In the homosexualist propaganda piece, After the Ball, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen called this part of “a planned psychological attack, in the form of propaganda fed to the nation via the media.” And it has succeeded stupendously. The two state explicitly that their purpose is to “overhaul” and change Christian America.
Catholics and conservative Protestants are now called “homo-haters” or “homophobic.” Such silly neologisms have been particularly effective in America, where an infatuation with all things new has been one of this unfortunate country’s perennial, singular hallmarks. But two can play at the game of neologisms. To be precise, it is not that we are “homophobic,” but that they are Christophobic—afraid of Christ, all He is and everything He means.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a movement afoot to strip the Bible of its Pauline and Old Testament condemnations of homosexuality. And the enemies of Christ will not stop there. Their long-term goal is not only the marginalisation of Christ and Christians within Western society but also their eventual extinction.
And it all starts with language.
Zounds, what nouns!
The deliberate misplacement of “actor” and “actress” is a potential minefield of confusion. Imagine some foreign exchange student who comes to America and has perhaps never heard of—say, Glenn Close and Robin Williams. By the illogic of universally applying the word “actor,” said student might be forgiven for thinking Close a man and Williams a woman!
As EB White always used to emphasise: “Clarity, clarity, clarity!”
If I execute my mother’s estate, I’m her executor. If she executes mine, she’s my executrix. The first woman in the Senate, back in the 1930’s, was correctly called a senatrix. But feminazis should take note: there is nothing inherently “sexist” in my airtight, irrefutable argument. This is simply how language works.
I’m very sorry to say that what I call “American Disease” has even spilled over into the rest of the Anglophone world. The latest UK newspapers (most of them a sorry waste of trees, often even worse than their American counterparts) blare endlessly about women who are “authors,” not authoresses, “directors,” not directrices and so on. “Poetess” hasn’t been used in years (save by right-thinking people).
Continental Europeans are kinder to their nouns, Latinate and otherwise (though that, too, may soon change, according to the latest rumblings from the Left). But for now, in France, if a man drives your car, he is your chauffeur. If a woman does it, she is a chauffeuse. In Germany, a male teacher is a Lehrer; a woman, a Lehrerin (Germans also always capitalise their nouns) and so on. I am always vexed whenever I hear of some woman being called an “entrepreneur.” No, no, no! The word is “entrepreneuse.” Good grief.
There is no such word as “chairperson,” nor indeed any of its miserable ilk. Nor can a “chair” lead a meeting or head a company. It is a piece of furniture, pure and simple. The word is “chairman,” and it refers to a sexless position—that’s all. Hence a woman may be a chairman as easily as a man. Such words come to us from the ancient Anglo-Saxon, when “man” actually meant “person,” not “an adult male human being.” Indeed, this formation still survives in modern German, as in “Wie sagt Man das?” Or literally, “How says one that?”
Heavily implicit amidst all of this mad push for “gender neutrality” is, of course, the feminazis’ wish to “unsex” themselves, as Shakespeare, our greatest Catholic writer, put it, placing this expression of such a contra natura desire into the foul mouth of the original proto-feminist, Lady Macbeth, in the Scottish Play. This is a pandemic societal madness, unique in our history, and it has everything to do with the collapse of the traditional family.
No discussion of the problems facing our mother tongue would be complete without a word on spelling.
You will of course have noted by now that throughout this piece, I have used correct spelling—not the incorrect “American” spelling foisted on to us by that arch-liberal, Noah Webster. As an unreconstructed Southerner, I have for many years used what is known in this country as Southern spelling. It just happens to co-incide, more or less, with UK English, to which I have my computer set. It can be done, but it’s not easy when your computer is a Mac, which has erroneous American English as its default language—a thing that irritates everyone else in the Anglophone world, from the United Kingdom to Canada, New Zealand, Australia and other British Commonwealth nations.
It’s worth noting that Southern spelling is favoured by most Christian-based home-schooling organisations throughout the American South, and this certainly includes Traditional Catholic home-schooling moms. Why? Because its adherents know that what Webster dumped upon us not 200 years ago is manifestly incorrect and foreign—a form of spelling that finally caught on in New England and elsewhere but which the South always rightly resisted (I can even show you black-and-white photographs, taken as recently as the 1950’s, featuring sandwich boards in Southern cities that displayed an adherence to proper spelling: “Baseball game to-day!” “We have ice cream in 40 flavours!”). Webster’s English is philologically inaccurate and laughably linguistically unsound.
Webster was ridiculed and thought mad by most people during his day. How right they were. This dunce wanted us to spell “surprise” as “surprize,” to cite just one hideous example that was, thank God, never implemented. But we still say “advertise,” not “advertize.” Yet he himself used “lustre,” not “luster” and “clamour,” not “clamor.” Thomas Jefferson, my fellow Southerner, put down Webster as a name-dropping, brown-nosing, self-aggrandising bounder, “a New England pedagogue of very little learning, who will never amount to anything.”
Webster often contradicted himself and could never seem to agree on his own attempts at “reforming” that which needed no reform: the English language. His bowdlerised English is woefully inconsistent. Why do Americans write “center,” not “centre” these days, yet we usually write “theatre,” not “theater”? Both come to us from the Latin—centrum and theatrum—hence the “r” before the “e” is correct and linguistically consistent. We have countless amateur theatrical groups calling themselves “theatre guilds” in this country, so there you are.
I could go on. Why do most American magazines spell “glamour” the correct way, with a “u,” as this word comes to us from the French? Why are lakeside neighbourhoods invariably called “Misty Harbour” and such, not “harbor”? Because deep down, Americans realise they’ve been sold a bill of goods by Webster and his dimwitted disciples, and they’re rightly rebelling against that which they know in their guts to be wrong.
Why do we write “traveled,” not “travelled,” yet nine out of 10 times, it’s “cancelled,” the British way, and not “canceled”? Then there’s “judgment,” not “judgement.” “Jug of mint”? That one really makes no sense. Clearly it should be “judgement,” as our cousins across the Pond still spell it and as we see in the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible and in its linguistic cousin, the King James Bible (a thing written by Catholic scholars, by the by, and one that Webster, in his unending hubris, also tried to “reform”).
Then there’s what to do with double-vowels. “Reenactment”? What, are you reen-acting something? I doubt it, dullard. You mean “re-enact.” “Reelection”? Are you talking about fly-fishing? No, you mean “re-election.”
Worst of all is “cooperation.” We’re not talking about making barrels. The word is “co-operation,” with a hyphen, a formation seen as recently as the 1980’s in this country. During the Depression, a form was used that implemented an umlaut, like this: “coöperation.” One or the other, please, but never “cooperation.” We’re talking about things or people working to-gether—co-operating—not some mediaeval guild of coopers.
And the use of “target,” “access” and other such nouns as verbs has simply got to stop. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong, and it comes to us (as does a stunning array of both the very bad and the very good) from California. Blame the math-heads of Silicon Valley.
One highly unfortunate trend being used by newspapers and Internet news sources these days is the avoidance of adjectival forms referring to countries. Remember that Norwegian who killed all those kids, some time ago? One “news” source after another referred to him not as a “Norwegian killer” but as the “Norway killer.”
What? Did the AP mean some giant, threatening to destroy an entire Scandinavian nation? Where’s Thor when you need him?
More recently (and I’ll never forget this one), there was a headline blaring about “Turkey car bombings.” Couldn’t help laughing at that one! Conjured up images of cars being pelted with turkeys, live or frozen. Either way, it sounded like a bad Monty Python sketch.
I feel like addressing the AP (Awful Press?) directly:
“Good grief, children. The adjective ‘Turkish’ will do nicely, thank you very much. It also avoids so much confusion. Now go read GK Chesterton for the next year and promise to do better. Off you go!”
Such things mattered deeply to the late James Kilpatrick, the famous editorialist and grammarian. Kilpatrick mourned the passing of such fine words as “poetess” and “authoress,” words I still stubbornly use, by the way, because, by Godfrey, they’re correct, no matter what the fad-chasing purveyors of a “fluid” English language want you to believe to-day. And to-morrow, they’ll ask you to believe some other bunch of nonsense. Just you wait and see. This is the tactic of Marxists. Go back and study Orwell, and you’ll realise this sinister truth.
What to do
The hippies and feminist extremists have tried for over 40 years in the worst Orwellian fashion to change our language, believing foolishly that there is something sinister and “patriarchal” in gender-specific formations. Nonsense. Again, this is simply how language works.
Now lest you think that, in advocating the use of Chestertonian language, I also advocate writing “pavement” when I mean “sidewalk” or “lorry” when I mean “transfer truck,” fear not. Those words are British idioms merely, and for the sake of clarity, I eschew them. But the spellings of “cheque,” not “check,” when it comes to money; “tyre,” not “tire,” when we’re talking about those rubber things that go over a car’s wheels; “programme,” not “program” when we’re talking about theatre playbills and such; “gaol,” not “jail,” as in the place Webster and his cronies should be; and certainly “honour,” “neighbour,” “favour” and so on, not Webster’s ersatz substitutions without the “u”—these are things I wholeheartedly and passionately embrace.
Mind you, my love of Southern (or UK) spelling should not be misunderstood somehow as some sort of implicit putdown of the North and Northerners. Not for a moment. For the record, I love that part of the country, and my father-in-law is from New York City. I have a good friend from Indiana (and he agrees with me, having co-incidentally refused all his adult life to use Webster’s wacky warping of our noble mother tongue).
Don’t feel bad. If you learned these things in school, it’s only because your teachers were unwittingly enforcing an entrenched misconception of eight generations’ standing. The teaching of Webster’s English is rather like the “teaching” doled out in communist China or in the former Soviet Union. It’s a kind of agitprop, selling you on a myth (in this case, that English somehow needed to be “reformed”).
But a falsehood, no matter how widely believed, has the nasty habit of remaining false nonetheless. And as St Augustine put it, “Wrong is still wrong, even if everyone does it, and right is still right, even if no one does it.”
This is my defence of the Queen’s English and the Oxford English Dictionary (our language’s definitive record, laboured upon by such scholars as Tolkien himself). This is a big part of my artistic apostolate, and I’m passionate about it. I have written an entire novel in this manner and offered a lengthy, cogent explanation within its pages for doing so, putting these words upon the lips of my heroine, a 17-year-old Traditional Catholic girl.
And if Shaw could get away with writing things as he did (“shant,” not “shan’t”? Really, Shorrie!), why not me?
The heritage of our language is a proud one, and it should be cherished. English is the most beautiful language in all the world (perhaps after Latin). It is a magnificent mongrel, Germanic in origin, with a heaping helping of Latin, Greek and French (and fragments of other tongues) thrown into the stew later. It is the language of Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson and so many others. It is definitely not the language of Webster, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem.
Join me. Help me reclaim the language of poets and kings. One man molested and warped our precious mother tongue. One man—and one movement—can save it.
Make a difference.
By Thomas Lark