Paris Goodnight: Hesh up and what, you say?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 28, 2022

One of the favorite sayings I remember my grandfather laying on us kids was “hesh up and eat them taters.”

Spellchecker and the grammar police wouldn’t appreciate that one — or know what to do with it. I’m not sure my English teachers would be able to easily diagram a sentence like that either.

My other grandpa had another one that stuck with me: “Ain’t done et yet.”

As a youngster, I may have chuckled at the old ways of saying things that my grandfathers used, but I knew exactly what both of them meant. I think my kids would be able to decipher the meanings. But I imagine it won’t be long before such phrases fall so far out of favor that someone would be left scratching their head at the sanity of a speaker uttering such words and wouldn’t be able to decipher any of the meaning.

If you’ve ever tried to recite or understand the meaning of the preamble to “The Canterbury Tales,” you know how far language can change over time.

At the Post, we always try to keep up with changes in how people say things, but it’s not always easy, being a family newspaper and trying to follow things like Associated Press style when writing stories and headlines. When people used to ask what I did as a copy editor, I often responded, “Just take out all the cuss words.”

Most writers do enough self editing that they don’t repeat those kinds of words or phrases like my grandfathers tossed around. It might not read like butter, as one of our old-time writers used to say when the words flowed as smoothly as they should, but that’s just the way it is.

We were taught to write like people speak, but I’m not sure any newspaper has ever quite met that lofty goal. If you read some of the phrasing in news stories out loud, you see what I mean. But sometimes we’re forced to write differently than we speak just to be clear.

Other things we also try to edit out are alphabet soup, cop-speak and PR chatter. All of those find their way into print sometimes, but we’d rather just use good old-fashioned plain English to tell our stories.

Nobody can keep up with all the changes that go on in how people speak, write or communicate. In the land of the internet and text messaging, it’s almost a lost battle to try to use anything close to the way I was taught English.

I don’t always understand all the new emojis or abbreviations that get tossed around, but most of the time a quick Google search provides the answer if I’m stumped. We try to shy away from acronyms and abbreviations as much as possible too because it’s easy enough to get confused by all the shortened words if it’s in territory you’re not completely familiar with. Think of the SEC — it’s fine if you’re reading a Wall Street story to know it’s probably the Securities and Exchange Commission, or if you’re reading about college football it’s the all-powerful Southeastern Conference. If we do use such, we try to spell it out on first reference and then use the abbreviation later on in the story.

Language is not the only thing that’s tough to keep up with as changes go on constantly. How about the best way to raise children, or what’s required or allowed in school these days? Or whoever heard of having insurance for pets back when we were coming along. I know the young boy in “Old Yeller” loved his dog as much as anybody ever loved a pet, but if you’re old enough, you know exactly what he had to do when his faithful companion got the hydrophobia.

I’m sure both of my grandfathers could understand that boy’s actions but would be left scratching their head at some of those other newfangled things we’ve come up with. I’d like to ask them what they thought about insurance for pets, but I wouldn’t do it with a mouthful of potatoes.

Paris Goodnight is editor of the Salisbury Post.