What Happened (Man) To Your English (Oi)? SIDE A

In college, while I was flipping through architectural books for a paper I was writing, I came across Washington Roebling’s letter to his fiancée written in 1864 when he was supervising the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I remembered my reaction then – I sighed and wondered “how come men don’t write love letters like this anymore.”

Here is an excerpt of Roebling’s letter so you’ll have a better idea why I said that,

“My candle is certainly bewitched. Every five minutes it goes out, there must be something in the wick, unless it be the spirit of some man just made perfect, come to torment me while I am writing to my love. Are any of your old beaus dead? If I was not out of practice with spiritual writing I would soon find out…”

Maybe for others, the first impression will be—“Pffft! That’s too windy, too puffed up.” In fact, they might even doubt the sincerity of the letter; but that is just to some. To all folks who lived in Roebling’s time, this was considered typical and the crucial part is, one that we all need to take note of, neither the formal tone of Roebling’s letter nor the stiffness of the drawings in his era ought to mislead us into assuming that he used such language on a casual level while playing Bridge with his buddies. I can even imagine him passionately cussing and informally spatting out untailored comments every time he lost a game. The interesting thing is, the switch from everyday speech to the more composed tone when writing a letter came as a natural choice to him. Or rather, a required choice since this kind of language was essential to a respectable man such as himself as a condom is essential to a supposed responsible man today.


In Roebling’s time, it was assumed that a certain fraction in society required that English be dressed in it’s Sunday’s best. Hence, talking was for verbal conversations but in public affairs or thoughts on paper, one used a different kind of language just as we used spoon and fork instead of eating with our hands. You know how it is when you eat at a fancy restaurant and when you eat in a ‘pungko-pungko’ (makeshift sidewalk restaurant) stall? When you decide to dine in a classy place, of course, you’ll pay attention to the cutleries in front of you; but when you’re enjoying street food, cutleries are just ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the title of this article.

The concern – modern times has eliminated the kind of communication likened to Roebling’s time. The Sunday’s best, at most, has progressed to a button-down shirt. Most of us, perceived carefully thought-out phrases as corny and insincere. And from this lack of love or (to keep it neutral) appreciation, the space for high language started breaking down which later paved the way to the terminal decline of the grammatical structure of the English language. Because of this, a new linguistic landscape is formed which largely strayed from the original forms of English and compromised our collective intellect. The same collective intellect that made communication possible and easier to understand. The end result – standards were tainted to give way to the supposed ‘freedom of speech.’ Please don’t get me wrong but I support freedom of speech but when there’s too much exploration and consideration involved, I would have to say nay at some point.

This sense of this new English has overturned our relationship to articulateness, our approach to writing, as well as, our concept of communication. We have arrived at a stage where our preference for oral language has taken the lead. The balance between oral and written communication is no longer existent for most people; the same balance that I believe can be achieved by making that simple switch from casual to formal when the occasion calls for it and then back to casual, when it’s no longer necessary.

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