Main content

Thought for the Day - Anne Atkins - 03/05/2013

Thought for the Day

My English teacher had a bright red snazzy sports car, a delightful propensity to let us spend the lessons acting (usually Shakespeare) and an utter disregard for grammar. So though she inspired a love of English which led me to University, I never had a grammar lesson in my life - until I married an Irishman with a deep love of that language that was forcibly imposed on his forebears as a dominating tool of Empire. I feel the loss still.

Last night, the winner of the first Idler Academy Bad Grammar Award was given to a letter signed by a hundred academics, ironically criticising a proposed return to the more formal education they apparently need themselves. One judge described it as “simply illiterate.”
So what? if its intention (though perhaps not its precise meaning) was clear.

Some years ago our children received an invitation concluding, “Please tell us - if you’re able to come. “ Not, “whether you’re able to come.” So we, being unable to come, did nothing... until, somewhat disconcerted, the hosts rang us up.

That merely caused minor inconvenience. This road sign, “Adopt a highway litter control 2 miles,” could confuse to a point of peril.

Muddled language creates muddled thought. Orwell said of his novel 1984, “The purpose of Newspeak is to make all other modes of thought impossible.” One effect of suppressing the Irish language was to suppress its people. You can’t think clearly unless you can speak clearly; and without clear thought we are in thrall.

Lucid language, well used grammar, precise expression, are available to rich and poor. Good grammar, in the mouths and pens of the people, is arguably its most effective leveller; a tool for freedom. William Cobbett wrote his Grammar of the English Language in 1832 to, “lay the solid foundation of literary knowledge amongst the labouring classes.” He wanted to liberate ordinary men - and women - to think and understand, so they couldn’t be so easily manipulated by politicians. Clear language costs nothing.
Just as Luther and others fought - sometimes died - to give everyone access to the Scriptures, so we should recognise the power and importance of language, for those who would otherwise be disadvantaged.

In the beginning, both with God and God, is Logos.
Far more than mere “word,” it has many meanings. It is a right of speech. A legal representation or plea: He is our advocate in heaven. A history and an account: God’s story lived out on earth. Praise and honour: the visible glory of the invisible Divine. In Aristotelian argument, it’s the difference between man and beast. It is a promise, and a resolution: God’s intention towards us from the beginning. It’s the clarity of thought from which we derive our logic.
All these He was: God’s logos to us.
For everybody. Accessible to all. The means to make us free indeed.

Release date:


3 minutes