Worst Television Companion Ever

John McWhorter must not have a lot of friends. Not a lot that care to watch a television show or movie with him at any rate. In a recent blog article in The New Republic, McWhorter opines about Mad Men’s allegedly inaccurate speech patterns of the 1960s.

Is it anachronistic idioms at which McWhorter takes aim? Nope, it’s their diction. His examples: someone said “I want to” rather than “I wanna”. The characters apparently use too formal an elocution even in informal situations.

As if we needed to be convinced that people spoke just as “slovenly” in the ’60s as we do today, McWhorter offers this newspaper ad for a grammar book:

How many of these frequent errors in English do YOU make? Do YOU say KEW-pon for KOO-pon, ad-ver-TISE-ment for ad-VER-tise-ment, or AD-ult for ad-ULT? Almost everybody makes these blunders in English: between you and I, it’s me, those kind of books.

In which circles, I wonder, does McWhorter socialize where the predominant “blunders” of English are someone stressing the third syllable of advertisement rather than the second (for the record, the only people I’ve ever heard stress the second syllable were British). In the age of “where you at?” and “lemme axe you somefin'”, where one places the stress on a word, or whether they use “kew” or “koo” to pronounce coupon (note: both are listed as acceptable pronunciations at the Free Dictionary).

Perhaps McWhorter is correct that Mad Men’s characters speak with unnaturally formal speech patterns. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that. But lemme axe you this: who wants to have to hear him complain about it? How enjoyable can a person be to be around when he is dissecting the difference between “I want to” and “I wanna” on a television show? The same snobbish folks who decide such a discussion is important enough to include in The New Republic, I suppose.

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