If we keep on doing our thing and blowing our mind we’ll-uh-forget how to talk

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN September 1 1969

If we keep on doing our thing and blowing our mind we’ll-uh-forget how to talk

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN September 1 1969

If we keep on doing our thing and blowing our mind we’ll-uh-forget how to talk

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN

IN RECENT YEARS, due to the miracle of modern communications, TV personalities, disk jockeys, journalists and advertising men have started everyone talking like looters, users, delinquent teenagers and grade-eight dropouts in bare feet. If communications get any more miraculous, we’re all going to forget how to talk.

During John Lennon’s bed-in in Montreal, which was televised by CBC on The Way It Is, everybody kept saying “you know” instead of explaining what he meant. Mrs. Lennon could use it two or three times in one sentence. At one point she said, “We get letters, you know, saying something specific, you know.” Tom Smothers asked, “What about this short-haired cat doing his thing?” Dick Gregory said he had two “hang-ups about war,” and said, “Show them that cat gettin’ it,” and, “Then, baby, lay it on,” and something about “blowing a meal,” while I leaned forward on my chair, eyebrows contracted like a Neanderthal man, trying to make out whether he was talking about war, cats, capital punishment or TV dinners.

There’s a theory that these expressions are fresh and graphic. Professor Martin Joos, director of linguistics at the University of Toronto, says that jargon enriches the language. I say it’s the product of mentally lazy, disorganized fad followers with a tin ear for the sound of words and the cultural ideals of Mac the Knife. I don’t think they’re enriching the language; they’re just making it muddy.

When Johnny Carson and David Suss-

kind say, in one dialogue, as they did recently, that somebody or something got a bust from the cops, became a copout, was going to try to be cooler, put down religion, and was uptight about a program that was gangbusters, it just confuses an already confused world. These expressions lack precision, to say the least.

I asked eight people what I would mean if I said, “That’s my bag,” and got eight different answers, all worse than the question. A Maclean’s secretary said, “You’d mean you groove it,” and a friend of my wife’s said it would mean that was my racket. Professor Joos gave a ninth meaning, saying it would imply something that was in control of me rather than something I controlled, which nobody else mentioned.

The imagery alone gets in the way of the words. Anybody who says an art show will blow my mind, starts me thinking of a doctor peering into my ear, trying to see another doctor looking into the one on the other side.

The other day a TV announcer invited me to attend a Hamilton Philharmonic concert and watch “81 musicians do their thing,” conjuring ghastly visions I’m still trying to forget. Trying to fit the expression to the speaker is just as distracting, particularly when the speaker is middleaged.

Elwood Glover, who looks just like me in a small hat, said on Luncheon Date the other day that somebody was getting away from a bad scene. I suddenly saw him lying on a rug surrounded by marijuana smoke, still wearing his little hat, and I couldn’t think of anything else. Another time I forgot the whole Christian religion when a nun with a face as innocent as an apple asked a TV panelist, “Are you with it?” — an expression circus roustabouts yelled during a brawl so they wouldn’t brain the wrong person with a tent peg.

The young are usually blamed for this kind of English. Actually, a lot of them are appalled by it, and when they hear someone over 30 on an Arrid Extra Dry commercial say, “I told my husband like, wow, it works,” or read, “ETOBICOKE

STUDENT TELLS IT LIKE IT IS ABOUT DRUG

SCENE,” they feel just the way I used to when I saw an uncle of mine in a zoot suit.

I know one young woman, the news editor of a college paper, who refused to sell an article to an editor who said she’d found a “funway” to fry shrimp. But all the same, it’s affecting the kind

of youth who thinks, Why bother speaking English when everyone else has stopped? The quality of English turned in on school papers is now so bad that professors are bending backward to give passing grades to anyone who says anything clearly. Public-school youngsters who have been bombarded from birth by grown-ups on Toronto radio station CHUM shouting such things as, “It’s you-bet-your-sweet-bippy time on the Bob Laine Show,” are confusing adult language with real life.

In a school I visited, one little girl in a class that had been told to write an essay about a picture of a trainer with his head inside the mouth of a killer whale (which all the kids called a shark), wrote her piece around the theme that the whale had bad breath and needed Scope. The rest ignored the whale and wrote awful stories about dead men floating in swimming pools, and I got so depressed that I left and watched a ball game in which a kid at bat when the umpire called, “Strike two,” leered over at me and said, “Very eeeenteresting,” which made me feel worse.

I think we owe it to our children to get back to talking and writing English, but we’re not going to do it with lazy expressions, such as, “the whole bit,” which gives the feeling of someone dozing off; or filibustering with political speeches such as, “I’ll put it very briefly. I have no plans at the present time for the immediate future”; or writing of Fleischmann’s gin, “You sniff it like it’s right on this page”; having GoGo trains or using language as a writer did in the June 7-13 TV Guide. Describing a dancer named Debbie Macomber, the writer said she Jias a groovy mother, wears kicky, kooky clothes, thinks you should have your own thing inside you, yoks it up on phonefests and thinks Vanilla Fudge is hard to count.

And we haven’t much time. Three hundred and fifty years after Shakespeare wrote, “The moon, like a silver bow, new bent in heaven,” someone up around the moon, when asked if his crew tasted chlorine in the drinking water, said, “You bet your sweet bippy we did,” and I had a terrifying vision of a time, not far off, when we’ll be starting all over again drawing pictures in the sand with charred sticks while, 240,000 miles away, fragments of the English language silently orbit the moon, along with old torn pages of comic books, and Busch Bavarian beer tins. □