A class act… or not?

Call me old-fashioned, but I like the word “classy,” even though I never gave it much thought before reading this blog last week.

Katy Waldman, in slate.com’s language blog, makes the case that there are more precise and less offensive alternatives. I’m still wrapping my head around the “offensive” part, but the other adjectives she suggests strike me as less precise, not more.

The great thing about the word “classy” is that it can combine meanings of proposed substitutes like “elegant” and “courteous.” When it’s used admiringly to describe someone’s behaviour, both style and intent are implicit.

But some people find the word classist and offensive, because its origin lies in a description of the upper class. I confess that – much as I dislike stereotyping – I have trouble seeing it. I believe that wealth and access to education aren’t necessarily correlated with class, and that lack of money and education don’t preclude it.

I don’t think “classic” means the same thing. But language evolves, and I may think differently in the future.

“Classy” has yet to fall into disuse. I’m sad to think that it might. What do you think?


Accents, and listening

Last night, a friend of mine posted a BBC Radio link on Facebook, called “A Tour of the British Isles in Accents.” We both found it interesting because of our  background as language students – plus, it’s less than a minute and a half, an added incentive for me to check it out.

I think I learned to listen – really listen – to the way people talk, when I was studying French as an undergraduate. Part of our “ear” training involved transcribing tapes of diverse speakers. Brigitte Bardot was one, and I believe there was also an elderly, toothless man from the south of France, as well as a hippodrome announcer.

The focus I honed in that classroom helped me years later as a reporter, when I interviewed people and covered events.

In the last couple of years, I’ve become a fan of Downton Abbey, and part of the appeal is just listening to the English accents. This morning, I found an interesting blog post about the accents in the show.

The BBC Radio link also brought to mind a scene from “Lucy Meets the Queen” – an episode of I Love Lucy – when Ethel explains to a British character that she and Lucy don’t understand English, because they’re American. I looked for the episode online, but couldn’t find one that would play in Canada. Sigh.



Punctuation evolves, and so do we

For a digital “immigrant” who learned to type on a typewriter before ever imagining using a computer, I think I’m doing reasonably well with technology and social media.

In addition to my blog, I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I’ve known for a long time that using all upper-case letters in emails or texts is a faux pas – the equivalent of shouting. I’m comfortable texting, and if my kids groan at any of my acronyms or emoticons, I don’t know about it.

But I had no idea that using a period at the end of a sentence could be considered aggressive. According to a recent article in the New Republic, ending a sentence with a period in a text message can have a negative connotation.

It’s funny, even before I read this article, there were times when I found myself not using punctuation at the end of a sentence – in text messages, not more formal writing. Sometimes, I pressed “send” before I meant to. Other times, for reasons I hadn’t yet figured out, it seemed right, as if I were just sharing a thought instead of making a declaration.

In a way, it goes against the grain to not use punctuation the way I’ve been using it for decades.

However, language evolves, and we do too.