THIS ISLAND LIFE FORGIVE the lame pun, but how about this sign for a bit of funny bussiness (sic)?
The picture of the latest violation of the mother tongue was sent to me by Tony Knaggs (for which, many thanks) and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when it turned up in my e-mail.
In the end, I was forced to smile bravely through my tears, because these errors are now becoming so common they have ceased to be amusing.
There are so many of them sprinkled around the Island (they are particularly prevalent outside shops and on cafe menus) it’s like being forced to endure the same stale joke on loop.
What makes it particularly depressing is that these errors probably go through at least three 'quality’ checks before being paraded before the public — so they are a manifestation of ignorance compounded.
I suspect the depressing news that three Island schools are now in special measures is not unconnected to the woeful slump in literacy among so many kids.
This deterioration began in earnest about 40 years ago, when we entered the 'enlightened’ age of comprehensive education.
Suddenly, gifted pupils were not allowed to be treated as such, and the rounding-down of standards gathered momentum.
Slipshod work — especially when it came to the teaching of English — was excused on the basis it was most important for children to 'express themselves,’ while the manner in which they did so was considered to be of little consequence.
So grammar and punctuation — which are actually the building blocks upon which the complicated structure of the English language is based — eventually became treated as optional extras.
Is it any wonder, then, that the entire edifice began to crumble?
As editor of various local newspapers, I did my best to help clear up some of the mess this desperately flawed and discredited system left behind.
When interviewing young people who were hoping to be taken on as trainee reporters, I would sometimes end the conversation by asking them to complete a short written test. It was not particularly difficult, nor was it intended to catch them out or make them look foolish.
The idea was to give me some indication of their prowess (or otherwise) when it came to spelling, grammar and punctuation.
The results were usually disappointing, and foremost among their shortcomings was an abject lack of understanding when it came to the use of the apostrophe.
They tended to guess at its (most of them would have written 'it’s’ here) deployment and appeared to lose their nerve every 50 words and throw one in simply because they thought the sentence would look more balanced if they did.
I used to sit down and explain the dreaded little comma and its uses to them, and being intelligent people they grasped the concept within five minutes.
"Thank you," one of them once said, "because no-one has ever bothered to teach me that before."
She, like hundreds of thousands of other youngsters, had been betrayed by an education system that had lost its primary purpose and focus.
To make matters worse, many of these kids have been used as college fodder, persuaded to spend three years (and thousands of pounds) in pursuit of meaningless degrees which must provide precious little consolation as they slog away in dead-end jobs for which the only real qualification is a pulse.
Inkies recall a large portion of 'Mr Chips’
ONE group of people — now easing their way towards retirement — was spared the deficiences of the education system because they experienced it during the times when 'grammar school’ was not considered a dirty phrase.
A group of them, who were inkies (first-year pupils) at the old Sandown Grammar School in 1961, are getting together for a reunion at Smallbrook on May 4 between 7pm and midnight. It is being organised by Bob and Caroline Wakerley (nee Tigg) and attendance is limited to 120 so contact them quickly on email@example.com to be sure of your place.
One former teacher they should go out of their way to invite is the redoubtable Charlie Bawdon.
I once met him in Morrisons, and he came bustling up with that characteristic gusto which always belies his 80-odd years.
"My dear fellow," he boomed, "you used the word 'excoriate’ in your column last week. But do you know its literal meaning?"
He beamed as I provided it. "Excellent!" he declared, and I felt as if I had been whisked back 50 years and was about to be awarded a good work point.
On another occasion my son, Mark, and I — he taught us both — took him out for lunch, and the conversation turned to the subject of the split infinitive (yes, we have got lives, thank you for asking).
To Mark’s undisguised delight, he corrected me on a particular refinement of this grammatical construction, thereby proving you are never too old to learn — or teach.