Monday 28 October 2013

Verbal Hygiene

(October 2013)

…grammar drills present pupils with an apparently trivial and pointless task which must nevertheless be performed precisely on command. The point is not to teach the task in and for itself, but to teach discipline – obedience and punctiliousness – in all tasks.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Excellent. Simply excellent. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Cameron offers the obvious but apparently not observation that disputes about language (falling standards, political correctness, ‘women’s language’) are almost always disputes about something else (i.e. ideology and politics), and then works through a number of examples with impressive depth and clarity of focus.

This is what my copy looks like now, and it’s only like that because I ran out of post-its. I realize that a highlight isn’t a highlight if it covers the entire work, but this whole book impacts upon everything I’m interested in right now: professionally, academically, and personally. I’ll stick some less slaveringly fanboyish thoughts up in the usual manner as and when, but there’s almost too much here to unpack in a couple of days and I’m on a schedule here.

In the meantime though I’ll just point out that, in amongst everything else, it also includes a substantial section on translating the bible into Klingon. Can’t really go wrong with that, can you?


  1. A lot if times, when I've worked with teachers, I've witnessed an obsession with 'getting it right' to the point that the meaning of the message is missed. Grammar focal-freaks are hard to hang out with.

    There's an interview in a Japanese magazine that caters to folks interested in English where Guy Laliberte makes a number of simple mistakes. Still, it doesn't make him unintelligible.

    But you'd think Japanese English teachers could still learn something from the interview other than thinking the man is somehow dumb because his English is less than perfect.


    Verbal Hygeine sounds like an interesting read from a safe distance.

    1. It's got to the point now where I can't get past the 'n' of 'context' before people's faces drop.

      In fairness I'm working with a pretty good bunch right now and they all get what I'm trying to say (usually), but they clearly wish I had some sort of magic 'explaining' wand they could wave over their students. 'Context' doesn't really cut it to kids so embedded in The System. Ironically.

      I think this book might be right up your alley, in as far as I have any idea where your alley is at all...