Know Your Enemy: SIMON HEFFER

The Daily Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer writes, among other things, about dead languages.    As linguistic enthusiasts, we should be glad that somebody is calling attention to the fate of the minority tongues killed by large tongues, which reduces linguistic diversity around the world (UNESCO write that half of the 6,700 languages spoken today could die out this century – on our own shores, we see the example of Scottish Gaelic.   And is Cornish still alive?   That’ll be dead too).

The trouble is, Mr Heffer doesn’t write about this type of dead language.    He isn’t even aware that the languages he describes are dead: for they are variants of English!    Our language!    Oh, no!    Victorian English, 1950s-Grammar-Book English, Pedantic-Italian-Plural English – all are now near-dead tongues, for which Hectic Modern English solely is to blame.

Mr Heffer was the last remaining (simultaneous) speaker of these variants, but even he has been intimidated into abandoning the use of Slightly Older English in his columns, which is a great shame.

Of course, he would not have this problem if he were to accept that words’ meanings can change over time, which he rightly refuses to do.    We should, for example, say “Simon Heffer’s narrow definition of the word ‘viable’ is not viable”, but of course nobody does so.    Actually, many people do so.    Therein lies the problem.    We at the Proper English Foundation, however, fully understand his pain, and we support his right to believe whatever he wishes about the Latin meaning of “collide”, and to call himself an “inglesi”.
“Inglesi” means “Englishmen” rather than “Englishman”, but the Italian plural MUST be preserved in English!   If you do not understand these words, it is your problemi!

Back to school
We agree with Mr Heffer’s assertion that “We are judged by how we speak” and write.   I don’t think that a passive construction is the best way to say that; one could conclude that only he judges people on how they speak!  We do this as well, though I doubt that he goes as far as we, disliking Mussolini and Stalin primarily because of their poor grasps of grammar*, as we do.   Boo to them!    Even better, however, is Mr Heffer’s willingness actually to go to a school, in order to campaign for better grammar teaching and promote his book.    We have spent years demanding that schools teach good old-fashioned grammar and promote our book, but we were always too scared to visit an actual school and face the obese knife-wielding youngsters with their horrendous drug-induced slang.    But he had the courage to face these kids and tell them the value of Excellent Grammar, who they probably thought was a rap star perhaps.

Mr Heffer believes that school teaching neglects grammar, which was rarely taught in Britain between the 1960s and ’80s.  Since then, presumably, very little has changed.  We haven’t checked, and nor, apparently, had he, but it is completely reasonable to wade into the debate without checking!     Either neither of us is wrong or both of us are!
[Can one say “either neither”?   F***in’ h***!   Just rem-ayember to pron-ayence them corr-ayectly – Ed.]
Aside from his criticisms of the British 1980s education system, Mr Heffer makes a number of comments on English usage, all of which are obviously correct.    Every “correction” that he offers in this article is incorrect in Modern English, which must mean that it was right in older, better forms of English!    He says:

– “The Prime Minister has warned that spending cuts are necessary” is wrong.
This has nothing to do with cuts’ causing unemployment and misery!    No, Heffer claims the sentence is wrong because it does not make clear who is being warned!    “The PM has warned someone” would be a much better and more intriguing headline.  (“To warn” has actually been used as an intransitive verb since AD1590, but this evidence is really far too recent to be conclusive.)

For the same reason, Mr Heffer often walks along cliff edges on windy days, and drinks liquids that one would be better advised not to drink (e.g., paint), if the “Warning” signs do not make the object of their message clear.   “Warning you!” or “Warning Simon Heffer” is a much clearer way of writing it.

– “I shall” and “I will”
Somehow, he missed our memo on the difference between these phrases, “SHALL = good, WILL = horror”, and in the radio interview he appears to acknowledge that “will” could play a rôle in English in the future, which it of course shall not!    “Will” shall probably die out and be replaced entirely by “shall”.

– “The noun target has in recent years become a verb”
Here Mr Heffer, in an article about his visit to a school, makes a schoolboy error!    To really belittle the verb “to target” and discourage its use amongst the “humans” who use it, we must say, “‘Target’ has attempted unsuccessfully to become a verb”, or “I have ‘targeted’ this verb as part of my aimless war against words that I personally dislike”, to show how ridiculous it sounds.

– “Viable” can only mean “capable of living”
If you MUST use the word “viable” to describe a non-living thing, you should use it only if you are a complete twit!    Its metaphorical use is unsightly!

Actually, the word “metaphor” in Ancient Greek did not refer specifically to words:  “phorá” + “meta” means “carrying across”.    And yet those hedonistic Greeks decided that the only things that may be “carried across” be words!    The fools!    They have ruined civilisation forever.    Thank goodness that Mr Heffer is here to save us from unnecessary metaphors, by which I mean all metaphors.    After all, it’s not as though metaphors are an highly important part of linguistic development.   That would be bananas.

Why an Enemy?
Like everybody else, we believe schools must teach grammar that will be of use in the real world in this century, which I presume is still the 20th.    Commentators on the subject must accept these criteria and know about the current school curriculum before they speak.     Otherwise, we will read ever more reports like this one, in which people whose view of schools is 30 years out of date suggest remedies (and give grammatical “tips”) that are at least 50 years out of date.

But this is why we like Mr Heffer!    He is a throw-back to the age when schools, taught. Proper. Grammar, and we shall certainly be buying his book.   And, without meaning to, he has hit the nail on the head with regards to schoolteaching!  Of course schools should teach pupils strange grammatical rules and archaisms as though they are Modern English, so that the pupils will learn uncritical thinking and how to correct constantly others!    This is almost enough to propel him to the top of our “Heroes’” list.

But we must take exception to Mr Heffer (and dub him our Enemy) because he has usurped our opinions and terminology!    He calls Word Abuse “verbicide”, akin to murder: verbicide is like “genocide” or “homocide” but worse because it kills persons’ tongues!
Even we didn’t call Word Abuse murder.   By making comments even more extreme than those of the Proper English Foundation, he has proved himself to be a satirist who must be stopped, as his satirical articles are ruining the language for all of us.

Nonetheless, this can be remedied.    Mr Heffer should keep writing columns on politics, where opinions are always welcome as there are no statistics.  Sometimes he even brings his “traditional” political views into language, as in his article attacking the phrase “fall pregnant” because it implies that pregnancy can be accidental, when in fact woman only ever have children to get child benefit payments!   Of course it wasn’t an accident, you promiscuous harlots, it’s your fault for having a sex drive!   You should have kept your legs together!    But this article backfired when a new sex position with the legs together was designed, which just goes to show how derogatory an effect Heffer has had on our language and morals.   Grr!


It’s a “panino”! Er, no it isn’t.

*English grammar


They're a metaphor for madness, er, no they aren’t.

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