Saturday, May 1, 2021

Horrid Speech Shakespeare Would Never Use

 It's May, and time for my latest list of horrible non-Shakespearean journalistic or advertising or other sorts of contemporary sayings, along with suggested Shakespearean substitutes. Here are ten.

1. Headlines like this: "Benedict Cumberbatch's Sweet Valentine's Day Wedding: Everything You Need To Know." Here's what I need to know about Benedict Cumberbatch's sweet Valentine's Day wedding: Nothing. NO THING. Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor. I like seeing him on the screen. I don't give a flying fig about his personal life. What would Shakespeare say about this headline? He'd have Ophelia sing, "Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day," and then thank Bonafide Cummerbund for helping keep Hamlet alive on stage (at least until act five, scene two) four hundred years after Shakespeare himself departed for the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler may return.

2. "Bespoke" and "hand-crafted." These are disgusting terms that should be eliminated from the English vocabulary. There's no space to list the ways in which

they nauseate readers and hearers, and no time to fashion substitutes. Nevertheless, I have some Shakespearean alternatives. Instead of buying a "bespoke" suit, why not do as The Taming of the Shrew's Petruchio does, and have a tailor come to thy house "to deck thy body with his ruffling treasure"? As for "hand-crafted," let's concede that this term was never meant to apply to beer or any other kind of food, and then we can also say with Petruchio that one has taken "pains" to "dress [the] meat [one]self." Or the crackers, or the pickles, or whatever kind of mundane food we're being overcharged for.

3. "To grow the economy." Hey, economist talking heads! We "grow" things that end up being "grown." That is, they reach a completion point, after which they rot. (Unfortunately, this also applies to ourselves.) Unless we want the economy, or the business, or whatever, to reach maturity and then immediately start disintegrating, let's stop "growing" it. What can we do with it instead? We could "nurture" it. "Nurture" goes with the natural "growth" metaphor. How many people know Shakespeare invented the paired terms "nature" and "nurture"? Fourteen (me, plus my Shakespeare seminar students of fall, 2019). In The Tempest, Prospero calls Caliban "a born devil, on whose nature, nurture can never stick." 

4. "I've been threa-ened by what was wri-en, and that's impor-ant." Leaving consonants out of the middles of words is a youthful habit I first noted in my stepson's speech over twenty years ago. As seen last fall in the example of Rudy Giuliani's disastrous "voting fraud" witness, Melissa Carone -- whose star-turn was parodied so perfectly by SNL's Cecily Strong -- the habit persists. It's annoying! Consonants are parts of words; say them! Shakespeare would probably not have been as critical of such omissions as I am, since by most accounts he was a kindly soul, but he certainly noticed them. He was especially amused by Welsh folks who, according to his observation, left "w"s off the beginnings of words, a fact of particular importance to a "William." Hence Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor -- or "The Merry 'ives of 'indsor" -- keeps talking about an old "'oman" he knows. Amazingly, once Evans is given some blank-verse poetry to recite, his diction becomes perfect. This may be the solution. Young people, recite Shakespeare!

5. "At the end of the day." How long is this day? Is it ever going to end? Or are we always at the end of the day, even if it's noon? Some phrases are instantly tiresome, and some only become so when repeated over and over. This is the latter kind. It's slightly more musical on my favorite Spanish language radio program, whose host loves to say, "Al fin del día." Still, bastante. What to say instead? "All told" is a Shakespearean substitute, which makes the situation a story instead of a day. But if we must have a sunset metaphor, we could adapt a line from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 and say, "In the twilight of such a day ..." for a little variation.

6. Stop. Using. Periods. For. Emphasis. Such a behavior bespeaks a true failure of imagination. We have words, words, words, which we can use instead. We could say, "O!," like Hamlet (or "O, o, o, o," if we like the dying "O-groans" of the infamous Folio passage). There's a place in rhetoric for repetition. Many Shakespeare characters can teach us, but we can't find a better one than Measure for Measure's Isabella, who knows how to make her point without fake punctuation. She presents her "true complaint" to her judge and demands "justice, justice, justice, justice, justice!" Commas, not periods, and then an exclamation point.

7. "Violent seize of the Capitol," "Capitol was sieged." I hate even occasionally to agree with our last president about the "failing New York Times." But I do agree that The New York Times is failing to perform reasonable editing. Unbelievable! I don't even know what to say about the above. I get that the writer didn't want to suggest that the Capitol building had a seizure, but were there no other options? How about "violent seizing of the Capitol"? The second monstrosity, "Capitol was sieged," actually came from The Washington Post. It leaves me aghast. These writers are getting jobs working for the nation's top newspapers? How about a little basic grammar? "Besieged," if you please. Of this, Shakespeare would say what Sir Toby Belch says about Sir Andrew Aguecheek's writing: "Excellently ignorant."

8. "Amazon is Booting Parler off of Its Web Hosting Service." I'm not sorry to hear that, but why the second preposition? This is not as bad as my students' insistence that some things are "based off of" other things, but it's still not good. Be sparing with prepositions. Know what they mean. Here's a good example, from Rosalind's and Celia's dialogue in As You Like It:

ROSALIND:     Not true in love?

CELIA:            Yes, when he is in, but I think he is not in.

Rosalind doesn't say Orlando is "not true in of love," or "off of love," and Celia doesn't say, "Yes, when he is in on." They know a little preposition goes a long way.

9. "This teaches well." This one's for "educators" (whom I like to call teachers). No. Hamlet (for instance) may be an easy play to teach, but it does not "teach well." On your own, you can read it. In a theater, you can see it. But it doesn't stand up in front of a classroom and teach itself. I watched. It did nothing. I had to open the text and ask questions about it. The Merchant of Venice's Portia has a lot to say about teaching. She (disingenuously) describes herself as an "unlessoned girl," "unschooled," "not bred so dull but she can learn." She's obviously much smarter than the person to whom she says this (Bassanio), and she later takes an opportunity to scold him for his bad "teaching": "You taught me first to beg, and now, methinks, you teach me how a beggar should be answered." What's my point? Pronouns. Portia's phrases and sentences include references to actual people who are either in need of learning, or are doing the teaching, even if they're doing it badly.

10. "Trump has been vocal about his disinterest in preserving any semblance of decency toward the man who will succeed him." This -- from CNN -- is a terrible sentence in a whole lot of ways, but I will only mention one of them. "Disinterest" means fair-mindedness. It's therefore particularly inapplicable to the situation described. "Uninterest" is the word the writer wanted. "Lack of interest" would also have worked. I have a feeling that "disinterest" wasn't even a word in Shakespeare's day, but I'm too lazy to go to the Oxford English Dictionary and look it up. As for "interest," it usually meant rates of usury, as in The Merchant of Venice. But I can supply a Shakespearean sentence which eloquently expresses a complete lack of interest in someone. Readers may apply it as they wish. It's from Julius Caesar:  "Away, slight man!"

Until next month.

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