The epigraph to Davis Grubb’s disturbing novel Night of the Hunter begins with this quotation from Moby Dick:
Who’s to doom [decide on a sentence] when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?
Grubb’s novel is about a murderer posing as a Christian minister. Other characters in the story trust him, only to find danger or death at his hands.
Maybe it’s overdramatizing, but I sometimes think of this quotation when I hear a news announcer say
doctors told he and his wife to expect a big baby,
or see a printed news story with the line
She must have layed down on the seat where the witness couldn’t see her,
or read in a published mystery by a best-selling author,
I grabbed a washcloth and rung it out with cold water.
Journalists, authors, teachers, editors, and others for whom verbal communication is a professional staple have a moral responsibility to be in control of standard English, its grammar, pronunciation, and spelling.
Readers and listeners expect these workers in words to speak and write correct English in formal contexts.
I’m not talking about typos in ephemeral news copy written to meet a deadline measured in hours, or a usage error that might slip from the tongue of a reporter describing events in a war zone against a background of flying bullets. I mean the day-to-day use of English by professionals in a staid professional context: a teacher (of any subject) or school principal talking to students; a television journalist reading from a self-prepared prompt script; an editor checking a MS for a Penguin imprint, a government official making an announcement, and so forth.
Language is not only the vehicle of culture, it is the vehicle of learning. The further students progress in school, the more confident and capable they should become in the use of their native language.
An educational system that produces college graduates who have trouble with standard usage is itself inefficient and unprofessional.