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