Lest I sound like Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” decrying how the English should teach their children how to speak, I must say that I have noticed kids, tweens, teens and young adults with sloppy speech for as long as I can remember. I confess to a bit of ‘mush mouth’ as a teen, myself until a high school debate class finally cured it. I think lazy speech can be part of the maturing process. But there was always someone there, knocking me on the noggin and telling me to slow down and “ee-nun-cee-ate”.
I don’t know exactly when our national public dialog began degenerating but it’s become increasingly evident most recently in the media. Whether our kids are exposed to poor diction on reality TV shows (or even worse, sitcoms with paid professional actors who should know better), listening to candidates for office blithering on, unintelligible song lyrics or OMG'ing among themselves it’s…like….so gruesome.
There has always been street appeal to being slightly disheveled and spaced out within every generation – bed head, slurred speech, holey jeans, half-grown beards, exposed underwear. Heck, James Dean and Brando did it decades ago. What troubles me is an apparent lack of parenting. Our speech patterns and pronunciation have deteriorated to an alarming degree. If I can’t tell what two Real Housewives are saying to each other, how can I follow the story? How can you expect to communicate if the person to whom you’re speaking can’t understand you? Some kids sound like they have a mouth full of potato chips or have overdosed on triple Red Bulls. The most worrisome part is that parents are allowing their children to maintain sloppy speech from an early age. And the older they become, the more difficult the habit is to break. Demosthenes, an ancient Greek philosopher, used to practice speaking with a mouth full of rocks. All we have to do is google “clear speech” for tips. And the crazy thing is, speaking clearly costs not a penny. So parents, where are you?
Millions of people speak eloquently in all regional accents and dialects. Personally, I find accents and dialects fascinating. As a native Detroiter, I can clearly tell the difference between a Detroit (parrrrk the carrrr), a Chicago (pairk the cair), a Minnesota (paerk the caer), a Mississippi (pork the core) and a Boston accent (pahk the cah). Accents and dialects are charming. Sloppy speech is not. Next, will we be allowing students to apply the new American texting language, complete with shortcuts to term papers? ; > )
Stay tuned for the next tirade where I propose we take a lesson from the French and establish a committee of language vigilantes whose first task will be to eliminate “Oh my god” except in a religious context, to police …like…proper grammer, y’gnaw?