Monday, September 13, 2010

My Personal English Renaissance

The fuel that fired the Renaissance was the rediscovery of ancient text long forgotten to Western Civilization. As scholars began reading the original Roman texts in Latin, they realized that the Latin of their common usage (both spoken and written) was flawed. Or, as in the words of Professor Burton, they said, "Oh man, were using really bad Latin!"


I thought it would be interesting to share an experience I had over the Summer almost analogous to this:


This Summer, I decided  that I should read some Jane Austen. I had long since been  a big fan of movies based on Jane Austen books, so I figured that I would like her books. So I went to the local Barnes & Noble and used my Christmas gift card and purchased Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I could say a lot about those two books, but it is sufficient to say that I loved them. However, like the Renaissance scholars of old, it did not take me long to have my own epiphany--"Oh man, I use really bad English!" In fact, we all do... Consider some examples of common day vernacular in contrast to
the prose from Jane Austen's books:


Today: "I just can't find me a man."      


Jane Austen's Time: "The more I know of the world the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!"


Today: "I'm so good!"


Jane Austen's Time:"I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but no one with such justice . I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh."


Today: "He's cool"


Jane Austen's Time: "He is just what a young man ought to be, sensible, good-humored, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!"


Today: "Hey, chill out"


Jane Austen's Time: "I admire your benevolence, but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required."


Now obviously, this is a bit of an exaggeration and some of these quotes are not directly comparable, but it is quite obvious that there is a correlation-- and I would argue causation-- between digital media (in all forms) and what appear to be a trend towards the course and casual in spoken and written language.


This being said, there are, however, many opportunities provided by new digital media to improve our prose. Consider a few of the following suggestions:
-Take advantage of the many easy to access online dictionaries and thesauruses to help improve your word precision
-Google any grammar questions you have to improve your grammar
-Sign up for dictionary.com's word of the day to expand your vocabulary
-Add a grammar and/or word widget to your iGoogle or smartphone
-Use Project Gutenberg or any other online book database to familiarize yourself with classic English works


These are just a few of the many possibilities. Let us all consider using technology to improve, not debase, our  speech and writing.