The Supposed Deterioration of English

“The common language is disappearing. It is slowly being crushed to death under the weight of verbal conglomerate, a pseudospeech at once both pretentious and feeble, that is created daily by millions of blunders and inaccuracies in grammar, syntax, idiom, metaphor, logic, and common sense …. In the history of modern English there is no period in which such victory over thought-in-speech has been so widespread. Nor in the past has the general idiom, on which we depend for our very understanding of vital matters, been so seriously distorted.”
—A. Tibbets and C. Tibbets, What’s Happening to American English?, 1978


“Recent graduates, including those with university degrees, seem to have no mastery of the language at all. They cannot construct a simple declarative sentence, either orally or in writing. They cannot spell common, everyday words. Punctuation is apparently no longer taught. Grammar is a complete mystery to almost all recent graduates.”
—J. Mersand, Attitudes toward English Teaching, 1961


“From every college in the country goes up the cry, ‘Our freshmen can’t spell, can’t punctuate.’ Every high school is in disrepair because its pupils are so ignorant of the merest rudiments.”
—C. H. Ward, 1917


“The vocabularies of the majority of high-school pupils are amazingly small. I always try to use simple English, and yet I have talked to classes when quite a minority of the pupils did not comprehend more than half of what I said.”
—M. W. Smith, “Methods of Study in English,” 1889


Unless the present progress of change [is] arrested … there can be no doubt that, in another century, the dialect of the Americans will become utterly unintelligible to an Englishman ….
—Captain Thomas Hamilton, 1833


Our language is degenerating very fast.
—James Beattie, 1785

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