Correct English is controversial
Correct English is a guise for class snobbery, according to some, and this is joining the culture wars about which I have written previously. Do some universities and employers use a requirement for correct grammar and/or pronunciation as a covert means of excluding candidates from poorer backgrounds? It is true that public schools and certain others place a lot of emphasis on this aspect of education. Is it their fault that many others do not? Are other schools right in thinking the content of your written or spoken work is more important than how you express it?
Correct English means different things to different people
Some people would like to exclude modern colloquial expressions and Americanisms from the language. Others say we need to allow English to continue to absorb new words and expressions as it always has. For some, all that matters is whether people can understand you.
Is Correct English the same as Standard English?
I have written about regional and foreign accents and expressions. Whilst I believe these can enrich the language, I do not want my words to communicate only to a certain class or group of people. For the same reason, I try to avoid jargon unless addressing a specialist audience. I also try to avoid cliches and fillers, such as ‘I mean’, ‘you know’, ‘basically’ or anything that adds nothing useful to a sentence. I have argued about what words we can use in another post.
Correct English is a Defence against Verbicide
I also object to the misuse of words. Literally is a very useful word. Let us not undermine it by using it too broadly. The Tories did not literally wipe the floor with the opposition in the last election. Let us also distinguish between the general and the specific. If you mean car you should say car, not vehicle. If you mean ‘car, lorry, bus, horse and cart etc’ say vehicle. Simple! There are many synonyms in English, but most convey slightly different nuances. I do not want to see these disappear.
Correct English keeps metaphors relevant
Some metaphors get so overused that we forget their origins. We then use them inappropriately. A target is a thing we shoot at with a gun. Metaphorically it can mean a specific thing you are trying to achieve in business or politics. When events make such a task more difficult, don’t say ‘our targets have been hit’ – hitting them is what we wanted to do. Find another metaphor. Or just say, ‘it will be harder to achieve this’.
Correct English can be inclusive
I do not think anything I have said here is snobbish, classist, racist or regionalist. All schools should aim at giving their students the tools to enable them to communicate effectively. That would help them to achieve almost anything. I do not intend, however, to condone any university or employer placing undue emphasis on language, especially if they apply an old-fashioned, pedantic, London-centric template. If they do, they will be depriving themselves of a lot of talent.