Illiteracy ain’t nothin to be proud of

BBC sports presenter Alex Scott is the quintessential modern woman. She is illiterate and proud of her illiteracy.

Alex Scott, speakin on camera for the Bay-Bay-Say

That unfortunate situation was highlighted by the exchange between the former footballer and Lord Digby Jones, the former minister in Gordon Brown’s government.

Lord Jones took exception to Miss Scott’s inability to pronounce her g sounds at the end of words like ‘runnin’ and ‘playin’. “Competitors,” he tweeted, “are NOT taking part, Alex, in the fencin, rowin, boxin, kayakin, weightliftin & swimmin.”

Kaboom! The skies opened, thunder roared and a million tweeted lightnings smote Lord Jones for what another ball-kicker turned presenter, Gary Linaker, identified as his snobbery.

Not that Miss Scott needed much help – she’s perfectly capable of looking after herself. She fired back by saying: “I’m from a working class family in East London, Poplar, Tower Hamlets & I am PROUD.”

I wonder what the object of her pride is. The neighbourhood she mentioned isn’t especially nice even now, after millions have been pumped into redevelopment over the past couple of decades. And 36 years ago, when Miss Scott was born, it was a regular hellhole.

Still, we aren’t responsible for where we start in life. However, we are definitely responsible for where we end up. One would think that the distance separating runnin from running could be covered in 35 years even from such an inauspicious start. And failure to do so is cause for shame, not pride.

It’s just that neither Miss Scott nor her defenders think that trip is worth making. They see nothing wrong in butchering what T.S. Eliot called “the dialect of the tribe” with their barbaric phonetics, grammar and lexicon. On the contrary, functional illiteracy is something they proudly wear on their sleeve as a badge of belonging.

In my younger days, BBC presenters, including those who presented sports, used to speak in educated accents gravitating towards the upper end of the social spectrum. They were then replaced by a new breed enunciating their vowels in a flat middle-class manner.

Now some BBC correspondents and sports presenters are increasingly and proudly communicating in the patois of the urban underclass. And I don’t mean, say, former footballers offering their insights as expert commentators.

I may have a laugh at the solecisms with which, say, Glenn Hoddle liberally peppers his speech, but I don’t really mind it. One doesn’t expect the same elocution and syntax from retired midfielders as one does from TV journalists fronting BBC shows.

Miss Scott also used to be an expert commentator, although, unlike Mr Hoddle, she didn’t offer any penetrating insights into the men’s game she never played. Yet the god of diversity, Multi-Culti Almighty, demands that women enjoy equal time with men in the commentary booth.

Since then, Lord Jones’s sensitive ear has been sacrificed at the totem pole of that deity. For Miss Scott has been promoted to the ranks of full-time presenters, professional BBC journalists who used to set the standards of spoken English.

Now no standards exist, and those few that still hang on are being expunged. Whole generations of young people, whose language is shaped by television and Twitter, grow up as little Mowglis, communicating in grunts and interjections not resembling English even remotely.

To his Lordship’s credit, he didn’t take his public flogging lying down. “This has got nothing to do with her upbringing. This is not about accents,” he said. 

“It is about the fact that she is wrong. You do not pronounce the English language ending in a ‘g’ without the ‘g’ and I don’t want her as a role model…”

Lord Jones then somewhat spoiled the impression by establishing his impeccable credentials (he is a Labour Lord after all): “I came from very modest beginnings in Birmingham… I am not someone who was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and is standing here as a snob.”

Fine, he’s qualified to defend proper English. But God forbid someone like Rees-Mogg offered similar criticism. Good luck to him trying to plead that he too is common as muck.

P.S. Speaking of footballers, it’s not only how they speak, but also what they say that bears the approval stamp of modernity.

In the runup to the European championship, many fans didn’t think defender Tyrone Mings was good enough to play for England. As a result, he says his “mental health plummeted”.

If you aren’t fluent in modern, that means he was upset, or ‘gutted’, as he’d probably describe it if he weren’t such a sensitive soul. But not to worry: help was on its way.

“So I did a lot of work on that with my psychologist. I was given a lot of coping mechanisms – whether it was breathing, meditation, or just learning how to bring yourself into the present moment. To stop letting your subconscious take over.”

Tyrone, never mind the psychobabble bollocks. Let your subconscious take over and go on breaking strikers’ legs for England. Do what comes naturally.

8 thoughts on “Illiteracy ain’t nothin to be proud of”

  1. No Tory would have made a Tweet like that, well done that man!
    Complaining about each others accents is an English tradition. Alas nowadays it’s only socially acceptable to mock the ‘toff’ style of speaking. To be fair, some of them do have an awful drawl, but nothing so egregious as the vowels of Cumbria.

  2. “I’m from a working class family in East London, Poplar, Tower Hamlets & I am PROUD.”

    During the last few years I have compiled a list of words I now hate. One of those words is PRIDE or PROUD. Sure enough.

    And YES, misspellings, childish scrawl, grammatical errors are now a source of PRIDE.

  3. Watching U.S. coverage of the Olympics last night I heard at least four misuses of the word, “both”. Such misuse is very common these days. I cannot help but comment on it, even though every time my wife looks at me with that, “Oh, no, not the language police again!” face.

    The one example I can remember is from the men’s kayak single 1000 meters competition, where competitors from Hungary finished first and second: “Both the Hungarian boats finished 1 and 2.” Never in Olympic history has a singe competitor finished in two places, but now, in one race TWO competitors finished in two places. Incredible!

    There was another blow for modernity during the climbing competition, something along the lines, “Both of these men are two of the smallest in this event.” Can you imagine being so small that one is actually two small people? I cannot.

    I understand that if one has to speak about a competition for an hour or more, one is likely to say something silly or just wrong, but I do not believe that these mistakes fall into that category. I think these people just don’t know how to use many words that they insist on using. Correcting them would land one in, as eloquently stated above, a Twitter lightning storm. Modern society has taken the view that compassion means never pointing out others’ mistakes, even with the best of intentions (e.g., correcting speech or avoiding sin).

    During an interview of the women’s gymnastics all-around gold-medalist, we were informed that the U.S. women wanted to prove that “they belonged to be here.” That phrase was repeated multiple times. We could chalk up that ridiculous phrase to nerves, after all, she is a young woman now thrust into worldwide attention, but again, I do not think that is the case. She just has no idea that she is misquoting that tired old cliché of disrespect from competitors and fans: “We deserve to be here (on merit).” I am always surprised that athletes at the highest level of competition can only be motivated by perceived lack of respect. Let us leave that discussion for another time.

      1. A late reply, but I waited intentionally until the end of the games. While the commentators and athletes would have given you plenty of material, the ads were not to be discounted. I made use of modern technology to digitally record the broadcasts, then fast-forward (at speeds up to 100 times!) through the commercials and any events I did not want to watch (I could write my own blog entry on such). Even at such an accelerated rate, I could not help but notice that most commercial breaks included a nod to (promotion of?) sodomy and/or Sapphic love and a host of crippled athletes (amputees, the wheelchair bound, etc.). I do not know what they were promoting, but it drove me to reread your entries on the paralympics. Wonderful stuff.

        Tests administered in high school pointed towards a career in advertising (I sometimes wonder if I would have succeeded had I gone that route) and computer programming (where I ended up, but indirectly). I do believe I would have enjoyed working with you and laughing at any success.

  4. I’d pay to watch sodomy and/or Sapphic love involving amputees, wouldn’t you? On seconds thought, maybe I wouldn’t. As to advertising, I think you made the right career choice. The more honest choice.

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