Lax Language, the Return of

A while back, I said something which I don’t entirely remember exactly what it was about not wanting to have the discussion about why writing the way people speak is not acceptable if the people doing the speaking are utter morons. Oh right. This is how I said it : save the ‘but that’s how people talk’ discussion for later, because you know my opinion on doing things a) simply because everyone else is doing them, and b) incorrectly. 

Someone commented to me recently that it drives her mad when people use “of” instead of “have”. I assumed (perhaps incorrectly, but I don’t think so) she meant in verb phrases/tenses like “should have” and “would have” and the like. I recognise that, in spoken language, because most people are lazy, they do not annunciate well. They use what, linguistically, is called “clipping”. It’s very much like the sort of clipping done during a vasectomy, but with phonemes rather than vas deferens. It’s when you shorten the pronunciation of a segment of a word, or when you truncate a word to …well… part of its parts.

So. To be clear, this is what we’re talking about:

“Should have” becomes the contraction “should’ve”. This is pronounced (and for all you cunning linguists out there, I have opted not to use proper phonemic notation, because not everyone is a cunning linguist): shud-uv. To the lazy listener, or to someone who has forgotten grade four English, this is heard as “should of”. Now, in *speech*, it often doesn’t make much of a difference if you say “should’ve” or “should of”, unless you put a huge break in between the should and the of, a break big enough to have a little sit-down picnic in. In recent times, “should’ve” has become further clipped to shud-a, which, if I were spelling it out rather than trying to write it phonetically, would probably be spelled: “shuddah”, and some poor, hapless student of English as a second language would think it was somehow related to the word “shudder”.

As I said, it shouldn’t make *too* much of a difference in spoken language if you say “should’ve” or “should of”; it’s when you write “should of” that you become a total dolt. In spoken language, I (because I am an elitist fanatic) usually don’t use the contraction. I usually say “should have” or “could have” or “would have” (and not, for the record: shuda cuda wuda). When I’m writing, I often hear the words in my head. And, for the record, I do pronounce “should’ve” differently than I pronounce “should of”…primarily because I do not say “should of”, because it is wrong. WRONG. Wrong.

Now, my good friend Smarty Pants often trots out the following : “but that’s how people TALK.” And that’s true. They’re still wrong, those people, but that is how they talk. They *shouldn’t* talk like this, but they do. If I could hit them with sticks every time they used lax language, I would. But then you all would have to pay more for medicare, and I’d probably get lynched, and then who’d write this bournal? No one, that’s who.

I heard an advertisement on the radio once…I listen to the radio a LOT. I listen to radio more than I watch television. I love radio. So I was listening to the radio once, and the announcer said something ridiculously idiotic like : “shoulda went to blah-de-blah”. I could, can, and may continue to forgive the use of ‘shoulda’. But what I could not, would not, and will not forgive, is the use of “should have went”, which is such a blatant abuse of tense that the pegs are all bent.

Oh look. Look what you’ve done. You have me all side tracked on tense, when that’s not what I set out to talk about. Geez, you.

So, anyway, back to “should of”. It happens because what we hear isn’t always what is said. You can extrapolate this (as some of the folks playing in the LARP know from talking to me) on a much grander scale, and talk about semantics. But this happens on a much smaller scale as well. What I’m getting at is that while it is incorrect to say “would of” or “should of”, it’s understandable why it happens – that’s the way people *hear* it. The missing link in all of this is the proper education of what it *ought* to be, and that is what many people don’t know, and worse, don’t care that they don’t know.

Let me tell you something – the most successful people in the world don’t talk like no-shirt-under-overalls-wearing jug band-playing porch-side hunters. (Yes. I’m making a comment here about poverty. Folks living in poverty aren’t stupid; they just don’t get as good (or even any of) an education as folks with means) And I don’t mean ‘most successful’ in terms of who has the most money, either. I mean most successful in the brief period of time between wailing and waning. Learn to speak properly, and people will listen to you.

Correction: people will listen to what you have to say, rather than just snickering because you talk big, but don’t understand that emanate and emulate are not the same word. Neither are exacerbate and exasperate.

cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.


  1. “because most people are lazy, they do not annunciate well.”

    To be fair, annunciating is a big job. It’s no wonder mere mortals can’t do it as well as an angel.

    And to support your other statements, the fact that a gentleman that I was interviewing persistently misused the word “simplistic” did not help his employment prospects.

  2. Oh, you’re thinking of the *classical* meaning of “annunciate”. I was going more with the *ghetto* meaning of the word.


    How can you misuse “simplistic”?

    1. He kept using “simplistic” as a two-dollar way to say “simple.” That word does not mean what he thinks it means.

      (or maybe he really did mean that UI designs should be simplistic, in which case I still don’t want to hire him.)

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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