Mind your language or risk humiliation

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A SMALL, historical fact I would regularly recall when I was but a boy was how William Shakespeare spelled his name in half a dozen different ways.

When exasperated teachers would draw attention to my inability to get a word’s right letters in the right order, I in turn would draw their attention to this Elizabethan nugget.

Hot Dog stand in B & Q car park, Queens Road

Hot Dog stand in B & Q car park, Queens Road

If the world’s greatest ever writer wasn’t bothered about spelling correctly, I would ask, what right had a mere high school teacher to tell me it was important? Their strict grammatical rules were stifling my creativity, I insisted. I probably said ‘man’ somewhere or other.

I was certain back then I was a maverick. Just as I’m certain now that I was actually a massive pain in the (cl)ass.

You live. You learn. You grow to understand why some teachers think a life as a porn star called Johnny Anglais might be a more rewarding career option than one in secondary education.

In any case, I mention this because all these years on, I find myself each day walking past Sheffield’s recently reopened “Shakespeares” pub in Gibraltar Street. And each day that missing apostrophe makes me scratch at my eyeballs.

My laissez-faire attitude to grammar (“let that comma sit where it wants, dude, it’s not doing any harm”) has disappeared; replaced by a snapping, snarling inner-Evelyn Waugh who can barely stop himself from entering said boozer and demanding, unless the owner is called Mr Shakespeares, someone should shinny up to that there sign and stick a possessive in the middle.

Except I don’t.

Because as someone who throws 1,100 words of copy out into the world every day - 2,800 on Wednesday’s in case head of content is reading - complaining about someone else’s grammatical errors is a little like, well, a teacher starring in an adult movie. Almost certain to end in self-humiliation.

Because, even with 1,000 sub-editors, mistakes will slip through. The law of Sod says there’s probably one in this very sentence.

And yet I cannot stop myself wanting to complain. It seems, you see, I have officially turned into what Kingsley Amis eloquently described as ‘a w****r’.

His theory goes that the world is filled with just two kinds of people: berks and w*****s.

The former are the uncouth language yobs who cannot grasp basic grammar as well as yourself. The latter are those pedantic busybodies who get uptight because you cannot use it as well as them.

Except the problem is: I’m also a berk.

Because, while I hate to see poor language, that ‘meh’ attitude I had at school has left me with a legacy where I’m never quite sure what exactly constitutes poor.

Many are the hours I’ve whiled away wondering: did I use that colon in the right place? Should it have been a semi-colon? Will my blue plaque (ahem) one day read ‘He used too many dashes’?

And do Star readers - we’re all northern and, thus, an ill-educated bunch of oiks, anyway - even care?

That last question? It seems they do.

A reader Edward Bagshaw, of Gleadless, sent in the two pictures. They appear within 50 yards of each other on Queens Road.

“Makes you squirm, don’t it, Colin?” he asks.

It does. It really does.

And not least because, like with that Shakespeares sign, when I think about it, it’s exactly the kind of error I’d make myself. Eek.