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A recovering grammar snob reflects on Todd Palin

"So, what should we call you?   The First Dude? The First Gentleman?"

Greta Van Susteren was doing an in-depth profile of Todd Palin.  Possibly the next vice presidential spouse.  Which means: a heartbeat away from presidential spousedom. 

The affable dude thought about it.  "Todd.  That works good."    Just to drive the point home, he repeated it.  "That works good."

He also began a description of his leisure time activities this way:

"Me and my friends....."

Is this some kind of bad movie?   Slacker Dudes Take the White House?  Todd Palin's Excellent Adventure?

Here's a confession:  I have worked hard to overcome my early training as a grammar snob.  I know where it came from. I was raised by parents who grew up in immigrant families during the depression.  In my mother's family, they didn't even speak English at home, at least when she was young.  But my parents saw education as a way out.  They got college scholarships, advanced degrees. They created a different kind of life together.  

Education became my family's religion.

I grew up surrounded by books--and by that that kind of hyper-correct English that leads you to say ridiculous things sometimes.   You over-enunciate.  When you pick up the phone and someone asks, "Is this Blair?"  you say brightly:  "Yes, this is she."  

It's a tough thing to overcome.  But I have.  I talk like a normal person.  I end sentences with prepositions.  Beyond that, I've come to see beyond the too-rigid views of my adolesence and young adulthood, when I valued academic achievement to the exclusion of all else. Thanks to my passion for the Cajun accordion and my travels in Louisiana and Texas, I've come to look beyond the things that so often divide people.  I have cherished friendships with people who don't necessarily have a lot of formal education. Some of them even hunt and fish.  Their political views sometimes differ from mine.   And some of them say things like "me and my friends."  

 But they are not running for public office.  Or married to someone who is.

When did it become acceptable to celebrate poor English in formal situations? To elevate dude-dom?  To make a fetish of being anti-intellectual?  

Can you imagine the same scenario with the family of an African American or Latino presidential candidate?  They wouldn't get away with it.  And they wouldn't want to.  That's the point.






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Anti-heroes and 'First Dudes'

This is a very curious phenomenon that certainly chimes with my English experience. There is something about our national character which seeks to play everything down. Achievers are rarely popular and are often regarded as a threat. News of success strongly arouses a competitive instinct which our schools have been at great pains to stamp out over the last two or three decades. Competition is held to be unhealthy when it might cripple those who don't make the grade.Yet education, the workplace and society in general, have never been more competitive. How does this ethic prepare the rising generation for the real world?

My own son, who spoke perfectly good English when he started a well-known prep school began to practise a Cockney-type accent in front of his wardrobe mirror with all the colourful grammatical errors thrown in. I discouraged him but didn't correct him because I assumed it was only a game and he knew what he was doing! However, he did receive elocution training where he gained a LAMDA distinction for poetry-reading, but the accent stuck. It's still there to some extent, twenty-odd years later. He's OK on paper, but now that he's an MA and wants to penetrate even further into academe, he's having a hard job reversing these habits of speech which, arguably, aren't really him.

I don't know if the post-war cult of the anti-hero has anything to do with it, or the prevalence of soaps set in unaspirational communities. Is it the fear of being disliked or made somehow suspect when it eventually becomes apparent that you have sights beyond your immediate environment and you don't share the pre-occupations of your peers? Is it a kind of primitive knowledge that, actually, when it all sifts out, the mob really does rule and this is a way of appeasing it. The upshot is a plethora of celebrities without substance whose devotees can rejoice in their own reflection.

I can't pretend to be sufficiently au fait with American politics, but as to 'The First Dude', I figure there might be something expedient at work in exposing him to the spotlight. Mightn't it rake in a heap of votes from those who wouldn't normally venture beyond their thresholds on Election Day?