Authority and the Usage…

“Authority and American Usage” was to me, one of the funniest stories in Consider The Lobster. The snoot of a character that we are presented with was comical in the way he expressed his love for language. Statements such as his dislike for “people who use dialogue as a verb” made him look as a very nit-picky character who is obsessed with using language correctly. We get the sense that he is snobby, and even though he was funny, he was also an unlike able character because he made me feel like he was talking down to me. On the other hand, there was also a great respect for someone who cared so much about language, and using it properly.

The splurge David Foster Wallace gives in pages 108 and 109 about SWE (standard written/white language) was one of the best aspects of this essay. While giving a talk to students he states his purpose in his course and the need for good writing. Wallace says that “–it’s not that you’re a bad writers, it’s that you haven’t learned the special rules of the dialect they want you to write in.” Who is “they” though? Professors teaching English? Dictionary makers? The fact of the matter is that there is a Standard Written Way of writing, it’s why we have professors grade our papers and mark down it down for syntax, diction, etc. And if we do not follow the standards of swe then we fail (or at the very least get a 0 on a Spanish paper for 5 mistakes on accents).

I was outraged by some of the things he was saying, and I did think to myself how can he say that these are the way things are that we have to conform, especially when in past works we have read Wallace has said that in order to get out of the loop writers are in now they have to write about what they truly think, not what writers think the public will like. But right after that he says something that made me forgive Wallace.

“This reviewer’s own humble opinion is that some of the cultural and political realities of American life are themselves racially insensitive and elitist and offensive and unfair, and that pussyfooting around these realities with euphemistic doublespeak is not only hypocritical but toxic to the project of ever really changing them” (109).

This I think is his response to acknowledging the way English exists now a days. There is a standard way of writing and it may be bias and racist and whatever else you may choose to call it, but if we ever want to change the standard of writing then we first have to acknowledge it. Which does make sense, in order to solve a problem, you have to understand what is the problem before you can go about changing it. But what Wallace doesn’t answer is HOW exactly we are supposed to go about that change. Ideas?

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