There is a thing in the U.S. termed a ‘primmer.’ I don’t know where it got that pronunciation, since it is spelled with one m, as in ‘primer,’ in which case, it should be pronounced as ‘prymer.’ But, it is pronounced ‘primmer.’ Can someone enlighten me? Why was it necessary to avoid a perfectly sensible, consensus rule of spelling and pronunciation which says that, before one consonant, any vowel is soft; and before two consonants, the vowel is hard? Hence, bitter, biter, primmer (as in more prim) and primer (as in, an introductory, elementary book on some subject or other). Have the Americans always been such a perverse combination of inferiority phobia and jingoistic orneriness that they simply had to tamper with words, spellings and pronunciations simply to have it so; and having it so, to say that this, then, becomes “American.”? This, to my mind, is the same kind of misinformed jingoism that would have an American schoolteacher (and this is absolutely true) insist that she was teaching American: not “American English,” which it actually is, just as truly as there is Canadian English and Australian English and New Zealand English, but “American,” as though it were a distinct language. American is not yet a distinct language, despite the wilful crippling, bastardization and pointless mangling and reshaping of the elements of the English language that it practices continually, and has done since its beginnings.We can thank modern America for such linguistic gems as zany, wacky, kwik, and bling…
I believe that American linguists and intellectuals (such as Webster) deliberately set out to re-shape the language of the English oppressor, so that their language became a revolt against the past, and an articulation of ‘difference.’ In this revolt, they did a lot of pointless, rather sophomoric things to the English language, simply due to an overweening desperation for self-assertion, for cobbling together and ‘celebrating’ a unique American identity.
(Please don’t confuse what I am saying with a commentary on the very natural development of unique idioms, pronunciations arising out of ethnicity, and the natural creation of absolutely new vocabulary: All of these are dynamic functions within a culture and language, and they grow organically.) What these Americans did to the English language as a result of insecurity on the one hand, and stubborn, ultimately pointless resistance to its assumed (and fictitious) tyranny, is well-nigh unnatural and perverse: Continually reinventing the linguistic wheel, in a micromanaging, paranoid kind of fashion. New ‘American’ spellings of words were ‘institutionalized’ in Noah Webster’s dictionaries, and those dictionaries became as much vehicles of propaganda as any political tract or manifesto. Thus, Americans, in fiddling with the language they already spoke – albeit in different dialects and accents – knitted together a type of English with its own ‘bias,’ if you will. Their mistake, which is an odd kind of hubris, is that they think they have actually created this distinct language called American, which they teach their children from kindergarten (German word) up. If you think saying zee rather than zed, writing color or pronouncing buoy ‘boo-eee” is a necessary evolution into Amurrican rugged individualism, all power to you. But a new language, it ain’t, and never was, notwithstanding American (mostly white, English) pioneer egoism.
Perhaps when the language has morphed into some cretinous, deformed mating of what I call Webonics (a linguistic amalgamation of global dialects, foul English, ebonics and mainstream blather shared on the Internet), political non-speak and media gibberish, then there will be a true, distinct language its speakers can proudly call Amurrican. It won’t be fit as a foundation for complex or even elegant discourse: “STFU!” will be considered intelligent repartee, in the same way that Bill O’Reilly’s continually bellowed “SHUT UP!” to guests on his show is celebrated as a mark of honour, of victory. Discussion must be black and white; solutions and conclusions simplistic; and debate monosyllabic when at all possible. This is mainstream America, the home of “give me half an hour and I’ll save the planet.”
This evolving Amurrican, developing in tandem with an infantile media lexicon and reading level, and with a culture which (often violently) celebrates winning at all costs, will result in the New Prehistoria, the total triumph of bovine, aggressive stupidity at all levels of public and private discourse. Tellingly, I predict, the very word discourse will no longer be applied to this exercise in civilized communication and debate, simply because this new, anti-intellectual fascism (and anti-intellectualism is one of the foundations of fascism) will long before have shamed away any use of words longer than two syllables, or reminiscent of a more intellectual culture. ‘Discourse,’ and other words like redolent, notwithstanding, or, say xenophobia, will be anathema. They will wither and die from misuse, or be attacked, chopped from the vine by the contemporary cultural Cro-Magnons who prefer the down-home charm of “Yo, bitch!” or the witty repartee of “Y’all go fuck y’all,” or the romantic “I goes ‘man’! It was like, you know, wow!”
Today, in America, a person with an extensive vocabulary and the ability to carry on complicated discourse, with self or others, is already a freak. Some, like Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens, Janice Stein or Naomi Klein, are celebrities, but freakish ones, who inhabit rarefied climes. They are herded up, so much intellectual cattle, to chew the cud and ruminate on PBS and Canada’s TVO. They are neither trusted nor liked – if even known – by the mainstream. They, like myself, are a dying breed.
I have just ruminated. I wonder if any single person will read right through this musing, and care to make a thoughtful comment. I’m betting not.