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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Morrissey and the decline of grammar

I have no opinion on the rights and wrongs of the Morrissey/NME shemozzle, although I suspect that he's over-fond of the sound of his own voice and they're over-inclined to see themselves as the guardians of public virtue. However I do think it's an example of the way that the steady coarsening of language is detaching us from reality. It's also about how serious it can be to move from an adjective to a noun.
When I was a teenager they used to use the adjective "racially prejudiced", as if this was a tendency that most people had in smaller or greater measure. Everything in my experience suggests that this is the case. We all draw conclusions about people based on their appearance, ethnicity, accent and so on. (The British do it with class fifty times a day.) The measure of our civilisation is how well we manage to curb those tendencies. I have just come back from Africa, a continent where racial prejudice is a daily reality and you are aware that everyone is making unspoken judgements about people's background and personality based on the precise pigmentation of their skin. That's just the way people are. Certainly nobody would be stupid enough to deny it.
But then at some stage in the '70s people were accused of being a "racist". This move from an adjective to a noun rather suggested that this was something people did, as if their every waking moment was occupied by thoughts of how they could subjugate another ethnic group, as in Nazi Germany or Darfur. This doesn't apply to the overwhelming majority of people to whom the label is commonly attached and only a buffoon would attach it to Morrissey.
The tendency to prejudice, like the human tendency to envy, lust or greed, is old as time and is not something that is going to be excised from human behaviour as a result of any campaign, not even one called (it hurts to even type the words) "Love Music, Hate Racism". The pretence that it can does us no favours.