When people aren’t deriding television as a “boob tube” and complaining about its deleterious effects on society, humanity, the environment, etc., they are standing around the water cooler discussing the most recent episode of Homeland or Orange is the New Black. Network executives seem to be of two minds (schizophremic?) as they veer in their program offerings from the sublime (House of Cards, Breaking Bad) to the ridiculous (Big Brother, Wipe Out), with America’s Got Talent and Shark Tank falling somewhere in between.
Recently, however, I discovered a secret. Somewhere, hidden deep in a Hollywood office, a language geek is surreptitiously laboring to teach us the correct way to speak English. In a recent episode of Blue Bloods, the Donnie Wahlberg character, hot-blooded Danny Reagan, gets into a dispute with his partner about the correct pronunciation of the word “forte.” She says “for-tay” and he demurs. They argue a bit, until Danny pulls out a Merriam-Webster to prove that the word is pronounced “fort.”
Now, this incident may have been an anomaly, a blip in the otherwise greatest-common-factor language of TV land, but it has got me thinking. What an idea! For those of us who have aged out of Sesame Street, learning can still be fun. Under-the-radar lessons could be just the ticket to raise the level of national conversation. Just think: A newscaster who actually knows when to use “me” and not “I” or “myself” as the object of a preposition would provide a terrific service. A meteorologist who knows when to use “less” and when “fewer.” A sports reporter who never, ever uses the word “hopefully” when (s)he is hopeful. The possibilities are endless.
Language lessons embedded into our favorite TV shows could be a remedial boost to those whose efforts in school may not have been as concerted as they could have been, or whose schools were below par. And for new immigrants who need to learn the language of their adopted country, this tool would be an invaluable gift to those who, like every greenhorn before them, come with the desire to achieve the American dream.
Hopefully, with the help of TV, less people will talk bad in the future.