Leading article: Chill, innit

Tuesday 28 September 2010 00:00
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Emma Thompson is working on a remake of My Fair Lady and has suddenly come over all Henry Higgins. "We have to reinvest in the idea of articulacy as a form of personal human freedom and power" the actor has told the Radio Times. "I went to give a talk at my old school and the girls were all doing their 'likes' and 'innits' and 'it ain'ts', which drives me insane. Just don't do it. Because it makes you sound stupid".

Whoa there! Everyone is in favour of articulacy. But Ms Thompson's mistake is to assume that modern slang frustrates the ability of all young people to express themselves. As linguists have pointed out, "innit" is a modern English version of the "invariant tag" found in several European languages (like the French "n'est-ce pas"). It can be seen as an addition to the language rather than a solecism. Ms Thompson also seems to forget that street slang is often seen as cool by the young because it tends to frustrate older people like her who don't have a grasp of it.

So, basically: don't be a hater, Emma. Chillax, blood. The Henry Higgins of George Bernard Shaw's imagination was a brilliant scholar. But don't forget that he was also a massive snob.

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