Requiem for the English Language, Part Two: Let Them Eat Cake

Nobody doesn't like Mr. Baughman, but everybody hates Ms. Hellraisin.

Nobody doesn’t like Mr. Baughman, but everybody hates Ms. Hellraisin.

I blame myself for the death of the English language.  That’s an egotistical thing to say, since obviously I’m just one, one hundred and some-odd pound parcel of moving meat and noise.  What the hell do I know, let alone what the hell could I do about anything anyway, but my ego makes me feel important.  This feeling of importance is a cracker-jack survival mechanism that allows this and all parcels of meat to continue moving and making noise and, in my particular case, taking the rap for the death of  the English language.

Several career crises ago, I was an English teacher at a glorified trade school in Iowa.   I was fresh out of graduate school, every atom of my being pulsating with a dangerous amalgamation of guileless enthusiasm for teaching and geeklove for The Language.  Most disasterously of all: I’d long ago drunk the fatal Kool-Aid known as “Dead Poets’ Society”, a sanctimonious prick of a film starring Robin Williams as the Maverick English Teacher who Mork-from-(D)Orkishly champions The Language and Changes Lives.

As cruel fate would dictate, I was hired to teach Business English at this glorified trade school in Iowa.   Upon accepting the gig I was made to understand that the Business English course was somehow a rehabilitationary component of the state welfare program.  In exchange for the  luxury, priveledge, and leisure afforded to them for being single moms, or unemployed, or parolees, or, that trifecta of triumph– unemployed single moms on parole, this strangely all-female student population had to pay the piper by pretending to better themselves.  What better way to pretend to better oneself  is there than signing up in the Secretarial program at a glorified trade school?  What better payment to the piper is there than being beaten about the head and shoulders with a semi colon by a 25 year old hippie dyke wearing a John Lennon art tie?

They had black bottle-rocket launch streaks down the middle of their scalps.  It was 1995 and they still wore acid wash.  They had tattoos on their hands.  One of them couldn’t even be contained within just one desk.  They said “ain’t” a lot and I’m pretty sure they did it on purpose.  They were my Business English students and it was my job to teach them 4th grade grammar, a subject insultingly reconstituted into Business English thanks to the tacked-on inclusion of  business letter ettiquette.  On a good day, they nit-picked grammar rules with an anti-authoritarian savagery the likes of which can only be found in the pages of Lord of the Flies.   On a bad day, they would respond to my lectures with a blank wall of white noise and dead-eyed hatred.  One of them, a hardened young Polly Holliday lookalike, even toe-to-toed me over the lack of  sensitivity towards unemployed single moms on parole inherent in my late assignment policy.

So it’s safe to say I wasn’t an instructor teaching English as much as I was a defense attorney sweating shuck and jive bullets to rescue it from mob action.   At the time, I considered my adversary to be the two headed monster known as Class-Borne Ignorance And The Culture Of Hard Knocks.  Like anyone wearing a John Lennon art tie, I believed these angry, tattoo-fisted women were simply misguided footsoldiers in this war, unfortunate products of their disadvantaged upbringing.   And, just like anyone wearing a John Lennon art tie, I believed I could fight the two headed monster known as Class-Borne Ignorance And The Culture Of Hard Knocks and win.

I’ll never forget that cold, rainy November day when I realized the monster actually had three heads.  And it was unstoppable.

The topic that day: double negatives and their avoidance.  As with the dangling participle and the run-on-sentence, and just about every other damn thing I attempted to discourage, the double negative was defended as if it were a childhood friend unjustly accused of drunk driving and disorderly conduct (which I’d come to understand tended to happen with alarming frequency).  “So when I say my ex-husband don’t know nothing, I’m not right?”, my best student bristled.    “No”, I explained, “the negatives cancel one another, with the end result meaning exactly the opposite of your intentions.”   There was a pause that lived slightly longer than the death of one breath, and then it happened.  It was something beyond the usual bicker, beyond anything I’d experienced before or since.  A weird muttering rumble of voices, shifting desks, and something I can only classify as E Pluribus Screwyounum overtook the classroom’s usual white noise and thus began a Biblical-style stoning of unholy proportions.  While “I didn’t hear nothing”, whizzed past my ear, I was able to deflect “I didn’t get no homework done” off my Teacher’s edition with the lightning reflexes forged by the geek-beatings of my youth, with “nobody’s going nowhere” richocheting right behind it in a snazzy kung-fu display of cockiness.

Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee“, though, nailed me right in the left kidney.  To put it in the vernacular of the victor: neither me nor my teacher’s edition was no match for “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee“.  That “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee” was to be found on television commercials seemed to make it correct in a way that defied not only the laws of grammar, but the delicate confines of my logic.  It was on The TV, so it must be right: it was a rallying cry even the most apathetic, back-row,  unemployment collector could get behind.  The chaos that ensued can be encapsulated in the 4 following statements:

  1. Fuck the Teacher.
  2. Fuck the Teacher’s Edition.
  3. Fuck the English Language.
  4. The TV said so.

The third head on the monster was The TV and there was no fighting The TV.  The TV is the wellspring of entertainment (“Married With Children”), information (“20/20”), and guidance (“Oprah”).  What did I bring?  Words.  In a book.  Nobody reads books.  Why would they when there’s The TV?  In short: “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee, but everybody hates Ms. Raisin and the high horse she rode in on”.  (Dangling preposition intentional.)

I’m living proof that by Championing the Language, you can Change Lives–my own: I never taught again.  In the years that have passed since my glorified trade school days, my grasp of grammar has become as rusty as a burned-out hot rod on blocks.  (In fact, I’m quite sure that this blog alone contains so many crimes against the language as to earn me a one-semester-to-life sentence in Business English.  As a student.)  I threw away my chance to teach the true beauty of The Language to unemployed welfare moms and ex-convicts because The TV said so.

Sara Lee does not sell Teacher Appreciation cakes.  Think about it!

Sara Lee does not sell Teacher Appreciation cakes. Think about it!

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2 Responses to “Requiem for the English Language, Part Two: Let Them Eat Cake”

  1. Chef Chad Says:

    Don’t nobody rock like you do!

  2. hellraisin Says:

    Don’t nobody dare. Thank you, Chef!

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