"talking American" program; slang as a valuable part of language

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Jan 11 02:44:11 UTC 2005

        Original message from Karen (Educational CyberPlayGround), Jan. 10, 2005):----------
> Hi Gerald,
> Worthy words are the legitimate words used by society,
> found in the dictionary and on the SAT. These are the words getting you into or keeping you out of college.
> Only real and worthy words are valued by educated, cultured people.
> I imagine Mr. Simon is saying that legitimizing slang will erode culture because no matter what this isn't going to be found on the SAT and used by a cultured class of people.
> I think he feels that folks who
> try to give slang some kind of legitimacy
> aren't helping society strive toward being
> educated but instead promote ignorance
> which means erosion of culture.
 Dear Karen,

     Mr. Simon falls down by overstating the need to avoid slang. There's a time and place for everything, and if by some magic stroke words/expressions like "vamoose," "gung ho," "Eureka!", "pull it off" (succeed), "shyster," "don't give a hoot in a rainbarrel," "turkey" (abject failure), "have a screw loose," "amscray"
could suddenly be removed from our language, English would be the poorer for it.
And certainly, people who record or study where our language comes from deserve better than to be labeled the curse of our race.

      I have a doctorate, am a full professor, and have written extensively on etymology. And yet, when leaving my office for the day, if I say (as I sometimes do), "I'm gonna vamoose the ranch," no one has yet reacted as if the cultural level of my department has just declined. I suppose it's a bit like adding spice to one's cooking. Overdo it, and the dinner is spoiled. Do it in moderation, and the dinner is enhanced.

With best wishes,
P.S. William Buckley--certainly as cultured an individual as one could hope to find-- once wrote a column with the title "Ixnay." (I believe it was in the 1970s; I have a copy somewhere in my notes.) "Ixnay," of course, is pig Latin for "nix," itself slang.

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