12 January 2015

A Standard of Speech

Nicholas Murray Butler, The Meaning of Education (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1915), pp. 138-139:
As one goes about in crowded places, a very common expression to meet the ear is this: "I says to him, says I." This is an expression that no human being would ever use if his ears really heard it. It is only because the speaker does not really hear it, does not know when he is using it, that he departs so entirely from the ordinary standards observed in our daily speech. A great many persons seem to think that correctness of speech is a matter of individual temperament, and that it is apt to accompany certain lackadaisical characteristics of manner. The truth is quite the contrary to this. Few things so completely reveal the kind of person one is as the sort of speech he uses. One need not use the speech of the formal lecturer; one need not use the long, involved words and phrases which sometimes mark the writing even of reputable authors; but any one who listens and who understands what he says and hears, who thinks and speaks with simple correctness and dignity, without affectation, without straining for effect, and especially without imitating the newspapers — that person is applying a standard of speech which indicates an advanced stage of civilization.