It's not pedantry, it's an awareness of English usage, and without it a great deal of written and spoken communication is simply shit.

It’s not pedantry, it’s an awareness of English usage, and without it a great deal of written and spoken communication is simply shit.

Regular readers of my blog (Facebook page, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn posts) know how I make a living. The contemporary writer faces a number of obstacles that are greater and fewer in number than many professionals in these interesting times, but chief among these for me (today, at least) is the dilemma of meeting demand with supply. Nowadays, people read shit; if you’re not in the business of writing shit, then you take your chances.

That is not to say I claim to be any kind of Tolstoy, Hunter S Thompson or James Harding – because my friends are far too canny and cynical to let the ever-grounded me get away with that – but without a by-line or publishing deal you either stick to your principles or play the media slut.

It is days like today that make me glad I chose to be a principled pauper rather than a moneyed whore, after reading about the University of Westminster academic (sic.) who has found the time to accuse the Radio 4 institution Gardeners’ Question Time of racism. His grounds for this: allegedly that a recent discussion about “native” and “non-native” plants was nationalist.

Now, my followers and I are mostly a genial community, and amid the banter I’m often accused of being a pedant, anal-retentive or even a boring old fart. My insistence on respect for (and correct usage of) the English mother tongue is often aggregated with my avowedly right-of-centre political instincts and Christian beliefs frequently make me the cause of ribald comment and enthusiastic piss-taking, and fair enough too.

But this story about Ben Pitcher (“Doctor Ben Pitcher” soi disant) precisely illustrates the danger of tearing up the rulebook / following the trendy-lefty line / getting too far from the truth / believing the liberal media, and other fraught activities so favourerd by the hard-of-thinking.

It is the understanding of language and nuance historically taught in better schools that was designed to prevent just this sort of intellectual poverty or even a plain old sense of reality. And it’s not just my view…

Chief executive of independent charity Race Equality First Aliya Mohammed comments: “We deal with a vast amount of overt and covert racism to know when a racist slur, comment or terminology is being used, and the words ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ species or soil in the context of gardening are not racist terms”. The absurdity of Pitcher’s thinking is further undermined by horticulturalist Stefan Buczacki, Alex Raikes of Stand Against Racism, and James Kingett of Show Racism the Red Card.

The dangers here might not be immediately obvious, but just in case you’re hungover, speed-reading this, or considering voting Labour next May here they are:
1. Mainstream media are covering this – for now as a story about the silliness of it, but how long before it counts as genuine news;
2. this man is charged with the responsibility of educating future generations;
3. his tenure adds credibility to the proposition that this constitutes maturity and clarity of thought;
4. anything as witless as this going unchallenged is the thin end of the wedge that implies this is normal, healthy or in any way intellectually valid.

Had Ben Pitcher been correctly taught proper English usage, comprehension etc., he would never have had the paucity of intellect to make such an idiot of himself in public, nor indeed to risk the capacity-for-thought of any undergraduates unfortunate enough to have dealings with him.

If this stance seems implausible, I would refer you to another article in The Times (Computing graduates deemed unemployable, by Nicola Woolcock. According to an industry expert Dr Adrian Davis (and backed by figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency Hesa) the geek-like graduates are virtually incapable of communicating with other humans. Too few [graduates] had the softer skills that allowed them to communicate, unlike other more articulate graduates, who could put problems into a business context, which made them appear more credible to executives, Dr Davis said.

This underlines the point that once the practice of knowing how to use written and spoken English falls into disuse, it is gone! As this second article goes on to underline how the IT industry (e.g.) has an obligation to ensure that universities have within their degree courses the actual skills that are wanted by industry and the qualifications that can realistically win employment for their students – now paying £9000 per year for the letters after their names.

So the next time anybody feels inclined to remark on your pedantry over traditional English values or conservative (with a small ‘c’ to imply love and care for traditional proven values), tell them to fuck off.

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