Friday, April 5, 2013

Mourning the Death of Beautiful Language

        I felt a pang when I read this sentence in my new recipe book: No one disputes the healthful properties of fish.  All those great omega thingies protecting our arteries and keeping strokes and heart attacks at bay.  But fish is also the hurried cook's BFF. (emphases mine)

        Last night I was leafing through a Scholastic Book catalog that arrived at our house.  I remembered how I used to read it as a child, carefully savoring each title and circling the many books I wanted.  But what a sad surprise to see a plethora of titles such as, Underpants Thunderpants!, Cinderalla's Bum, and Me Want Pet! (These may be wonderful books, but the titles would seem to belie that.) Further perusing led me to the book, Wind in the Wallows, a knockoff title from the great children's classic, which is, sad to say, a book about flatulent pigs. What a horrible literary legacy we are giving our young!

        I believe the Bible should be accessible to all people in all places and have no quarrel with recommending translations that are more understandable than the King James Version. At the same time, I deeply regret that many newer versions eradicate all the beauty and majesty of biblical language.

        Psalm 18:18-19 in the New American Standard version reads: They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my stay.  He brought me forth into a broad place; He rescued me, because he delighted in me.  A more modern version reads: They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me.  He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved - surprised to be loved!  Am I the only one who thinks that this is distressing? It makes God sound like my BFF, which is certainly belittling to His greatness, power and love.

        I know I will be accused of curmudgeonliness, but I can't help but think that when we translate phrases to their lowest possible difficulty of meaning that we are robbing our children (and ourselves) of one of life's exquisite beauties - words that take us beyond our daily reality and lift us to a higher plain.

        On a more positive note, a second grader was reading to me recently from a book called Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Most of the book is in simple, childlike language, but occasionally Henkes throws in a word to savor like: "Pish!" or "winsome" or "jaundiced." I loved it that he respected kids enough to trust them with big words.


Beth said...

Well said! I always feel depressed after looking at the Scholastic catalogs.

debbie bailey said...

I agree wholeheartedly! And the KJV is my favorite translation, although I do read others, too.

Heather said...

Hear, hear! I haven't seen a Scholastic catalog in ages, but I have been in the children's section of stores like Barnes & Noble(where I worked once upon a time) and Chapters Indigo(the Canadian version) and been very dismayed over the merchandise in recent years. And to think that a local educator and family friend stood in my doorway recently and praised the selection of books available to children now as opposed to years ago. It was all I could do to hold my tongue, which I felt was necessary since his ten year old daughter was present and reading one such title while we chatted. But oh how I loathe what our culture is offering to young people. Thank you, Hope, for standing up for truth, beauty and goodness in literature. We stand with you!

Rick said...

I agree wholeheartedly. This is just another example of how society has sunk to the lowest common denominator. I was fortunate to have been educated in a school district where "vocabulary" was a subject. (Yes, that was in the 60s.) While I was teaching school, my students occasionally complained because I used words they didn't know. I challenged my classes to stop me in my tracks and find out the meaning of any word I used that was unfamiliar to them. Many times we turned music class into "vocabulary" study, one word at a time!

Anonymous said...

Scholastic Book Fairs are the WORST. There is quality children's literature today, but you have to know your stuff. Look at any state list, like the Texas Bluebonnet Award, for good titles.