Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Idiotic English Language

The inspiration for this post comes from two personal experiences. First, the nightmarish adventure of trying to teach students how to correctly punctuate dialogue. They often do quite well, but . . .

How many times must one repeat “No, the punctuation comes before the final quotes!?”

Or “You need a comma to introduce the quote.”

Or “You can’t have a period in the middle of a sentence.”

Or “It is OK to have an exclamation point in the middle of a sentence.”

Or “Just because the quote is an exclamation doesn’t mean you need an exclamation point at the end of the sentence.”


You get the picture.

Meanwhile, this week, I am reading Girl in the Arena by Lisa Haines.

Which has no quotation marks in any of the dialogue.

Nope, not one set!

Each quote is started off with a dash. And that’s it.

What a concept! Do you know how much easier it would be to teach writing dialogue with this system? As a reader, it was distracting at first, since I wasn’t used to it.

But after half the book, I’m fine.

As a teacher, I am in awe. Absolutely, one hundred percent in favor of simple.

While we’re at it, let’s “simplify” a few of the other time-sucking annoyances within the English language.

I hereby announce that there should only be one spelling of "there.”

Think of all the hours which could be saved from a. teaching the difference, b. reteaching the difference, and c. fixing the errors for people who can’t catch themselves even though they know the difference between there, their, and

And let’s make up our mind about its and it’s; to, too, and two; and threw and

Even more valuable, how about a whole different way to spell the words though, through, and

To quote the sovereign of the English language:

“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste."

Any language beautiful enough to create that is surely powerful enough to withstand a few small simplifications. So . . . what would you like to change?


  1. Don't forget the wily, not only/but also combination! In each sentence, there must not only be the words "not only," but they must also be followed by some combination of "but also." :)

  2. Semicolons. I hate them.

    And, the rule that says you shouldn't start a sentence with "And".

  3. Sorry Sarah, but I must say I love a good semicolon! Wierd, I know. What I do not like is spelling in general. Why must there be an "i" in the word friend, or a "b" in debt? Really, English would have been a whole lot easier if the Latin loving Renaissance humanists would have left well-enough alone. If only phonetic spelling was possible for English. Sigh.

  4. You forgot "Your/You're!" BTW, I would LOVE to put that last quotation mark BEFORE the exclamation point. It seems to make so much more sense there. :) Anyway, I agree it gets confusing and frustrating - especially for children and ESL students, but it would drive me crazy to see all the variations of these words spelled the same. I AM driven a bit crazy by all the exceptions in our language; mostly by words that SHOULD sound one way, but don't. I don't know how kindergarteners, first and second graders don't go crazy.

  5. I personally, have an unending vendetta against the whole "affect/effect," "though/through" thing. I mean, really. What is up with that? And words that aren't pronounced the way you think they are and when you say them wrong, everyone looks at you like you're an idiot. Or the rule that says you can't end a sentence with a preposition and the stupid spell-check has to go and make note of it, like Bill Gates knows more than Shakespeare (never happening).

  6. i am Spanish, and every quote in Spanish starts with a dash and in a new paragraph (I read Girl in the arena too, and they weren't used quite right). When I started reading in English too, it felt weird to read with quote marks. Actually, if you compare English and Spanish books, the English text feels a lot more compact. Actually, it's really curious!

    (And then, there are the French... I have read some books in french, and quoting there seemed a little random, not always using the same method...)