‘Vernacular’ refers to language commonly used in regions or countries. It seems that such a loose parameter allows for the use of words or expressions which, at times, can test the patience of lexophiles.
George Carlin, probably the best stand-up comedian ever, certainly the most observant about the foibles of language, spent much of his career pointing out glaring issues in our lexicon, often involving clever observations about human behaviour.
For instance, when airplanes nearly collide, it’s not a near miss (vernacular) – it’s a near hit! Or, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?
What’s also important about such commentators on humanity is their stoically pushing the envelope of fence-riding correctness. As Carlin stated more than once, the duty of a comedian is to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.
The challenge when finding such lines is their seeming to be increasingly pervasive, yet amorphous, thanks largely to the short attention span, short-cut communication manner of too many in our culture.
Does anyone who says something akin to “I’ll be back in two seconds” ever consider how irrational a time estimation that is, until it’s pointed out to them? Do they really think the situation would be negatively impacted if a more realistic response of “I’ll be back in a minute or two” was substituted”?
Does every second service transaction really qualify, as it seems to clerks, as ‘perfect’?
Inattention to verbal accuracy should not be assumed as innocuous.
In addition to a lackadaisical attitude of many about clarity, there is a growing assault on commonly accepted descriptions, now extending to the use of pronouns.
A University of Toronto professor currently is under attack for fighting back against, presumably well-meaning, attempts from politically correct extremists to replace the pronouns he and she with ‘xe’. How do you even pronounce this? Why would the majority of people want to?
Happily, some attempts to expand political correctness in language are tongue-in-cheek. For instance, last Monday on Halloween I heard a radio announcer suggest that we should no longer use the apparently derogatory term of ‘monsters’ – instead we should consider them ‘humanly challenged’.
Considering the mindset of some to stretch what is correct, i.e. supposedly non-discriminatory, language, we should make a collective effort to consider the gradients of what constitutes challenge. Maybe then we can all be on more equal footing in trying to be vernacular accurate.
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