Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Okay, what happened to English?

No, this is a serious question. What happened to the English language? We all used to speak it. I know I'm still speaking. I thought the people I knew were still speaking it. Apparently, I thought wrong.

Today, in rehearsal for Arcadia, we ran across the line "Mr. Chater being engaged in closing the door." In the script it functions as a pun, because Mr. Chater is standing in a stable. But he's trying to close the door after the horse (his wife) has already run away (already slept with another character). Neither of the actors of stage knew that, because they were both, wait for it, unfamiliar with the idiom.
Unfamiliar with the idiom!?!


How does that even happen? Some idioms, such as this one, have achieved a certain level of usage in English writing that they are tantamount to cliches. Writers abandon using them in their traditional context, because they are so over-used. And yet, in a group of maybe ten people, only two knew the expression. Two!
And this isn't the first time I have experienced this. Not too long ago, I used to the expression "avoid something like the plague" -- a simile so cliche that it should be avoided like the plague -- and the person to whom I was speaking just stared at me blankly. He had never heard the expression before. All I could think was, 'My god, what is happening to English?'

Seriously, what is happening to it? Sure, not everyone reads idiom dictionaries when they're bored -- did I mention I really am a loser? -- but these are expressions that are ridiculously common. How did they fall out of peoples minds? How could they have dropped from the general lexicon? What language quake occurred that these once common expressions have slipped from use?

What happened?


  1. I am an idiomanic! Yes, I also make up words.

    I knew what you were talking about in both instances. But, I take this as good news. It just means that we can start incorporating idioms back into our speech and writing, and they probably won't be perceived as tired, like we thought they might.


  2. Yes! The glass is half full! Or, maybe, dare I say, two-thirds full.