She’s a Lady

Midway through Sunday afternoon many of us in the UK were tuning into BBC One to witness the majestic Roger Federer breeze to a record eighth Wimbledon tennis crown, with a merciless dismantling of the injury-stricken Marin Cilic. It was a moment of history that would be exceeded just minutes later during the very same broadcast, though for reasons totally unrelated to what they call the ‘Sport of Kings’.

We were suddenly transported to a wooded area containing more shrubbery than the exterior of Centre Court. A hooded figure stepped carefully between the trees, holding out a hand to reveal a glowing Yale key. Then came the big reveal, as the hood was withdrawn to uncover long fair hair and the unmistakable face of Jodie Whittaker. It was official – the first female Doctor Who had arrived.

The response was as immediate and wide-ranging as it was predictable, and the issue quickly dominated the murky world of social media. Some were aghast at the casting, stubborn in their belief that the Doctor has always, and should always be played by a male actor. Meanwhile, others felt that those in charge of the show had bowed to pressure from prominent equality campaigners, dubbed the ‘PC brigade’.

These views accounted for about half of the general reaction, for the rest rejoiced in the knowledge that Doctor Who was standing up for equality and diversity, and was willing to embrace the notion of a female Doctor. It was indeed a groundbreaking moment for British television, let alone the programme itself, as a giant stride was made towards the long overdue bid for women to receive equal status alongside men in the world of television drama (even in the week when BBC salaries were disclosed, revealing a significant gender pay gap).

So, is the role of the Doctor one that can only be played by a man? The character is so unique and so shrouded in complexity, so definitely not; and for those that are still doubtful, only time will tell. You see, it is extremely easy to judge Jodie Whittaker by virtue of her gender than her ability as an actress, and even more importantly the material she is given by new show-runner Chris Chibnall and his band of writers.

Indeed, every Doctor to date from William Hartnell in 1963 to Peter Capaldi in 2017 has had *his* own unique persona. They have behaved in different ways, spoken in contrasting manners, and faced antagonists with their own unique approach – while at the same time never allowing us to forget that it’s still the same character that is being portrayed.

Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation will be no different. She will still carry that air of power and mystique; she will exhibit the sharpest of minds and the unique thrill of travelling through time and space. The dynamic of the show will change accordingly to accommodate the nuances of a female doctor, and the likely prospect of a lone male companion.

But ultimately it will still be the same show. In recent times we have seen what a massive success Missy (Michelle Gomez) has been, as the first known female incarnation of the Doctor’s fellow Time Lord, the Master. It was initially a shock to see the Master resurface as a woman, but Missy was such an intriguing and excitable character that we all seemed to herald her as a worthy successor to previous actors Roger Delgado, Anthony Ainley, Eric Roberts and John Simm.

This – along with Ken Bones’ Time Lord General regenerating into T’Nia Miller in the series nine finale Hell Bent – was solid proof that gender is not a fixed status among the natives of Gallifrey, and it showed another way in which Doctor Who has broadened its horizons to reflect modern society and stand up for what is right.

And there is a valid argument to suggest that it has done so right throughout its history, both on-screen and behind the scenes, acting as a kind of trailblazer with regards to certain issues.

Rewind back to 1963, and the thought of a woman producing a new prime time drama serial was one to be scoffed at, but Verity Lambert defiantly made her colleagues take back their snide comments of scepticism. The first episodes were also overseen by an Asian director, Waris Hussein, something perhaps even more unheard of at the time.

Over the years, companions were chosen to appeal to a particular audience or more adequately reflect contemporary society. Sarah Jane Smith was a gutsy feminist; Peri Brown was a sporty American, and Ace was the tomboy who spoke out against the issue of racism.

More recently, we’ve had Captain Jack Harkness, the man who would flirt with just about anyone or anything. We’ve had the first BAME companion in the shape of Martha Jones in 2007, and the most recent series featured Bill Potts, the companion who was not only from an ethnic minority background; she was also openly gay.

That such a big deal continues to be made of the inclusion of such a character in an influential television drama shows that we are a long way off from achieving universal acceptance. Maybe such a thing is impossible, but the unwillingness of some to accept the rightful existence of diversity undeniably combines with historical attitudes in creating such a media furore.

Returning to Jodie Whittaker, she is now in possession of the role that will define her career as an actress, and certainly has the ability to thrive upon that and shrug off the inevitable scrutiny that will come her way. It should be an engrossing watch – just a shame that some will miss it due to the belief that the Doctor is role that should played exclusively by men.

Redemption

It was the evening of Saturday, 28 August, 2010, and those who call themselves The Barmy Army were raising their glasses and basking in the glory of witnessing a record eighth wicket partnership for the England cricket team.

A remarkable stand of 332 between the obdurate Jonathan Trott and the airy Stuart Broad had effectively secured a Test series victory over Pakistan at Lord’s, but that achievement would be shamefully overshadowed by harmful revelations that brought severe damage to the integrity of the match – and indeed the sport.

For the top news item across all the networks as that sunny day drew to a close depicted a sting by the now defunct News of the World newspaper. Secretly recorded footage showed undercover reporters from the tabloid – which would fold less than a year later due to the phone hacking scandal – being informed that deliberate no-balls would be bowled by the Pakistan team at specific points during England’s innings.

Receiving money for his troubles, bookmaker Mazher Majeed stated that Mohammad Amir would bowl a no-ball on the first ball of the third over, and that his colleague Mohammad Asif would do likewise for the sixth ball of the 10th over. And hey presto! Both illegal deliveries took place.

When the story broke and the footage from the News of the World and the two no-balls in question was released, the initial reaction among the cricketing community was shock and disbelief mingled with fury. Everybody, from the England team to the casual observer, felt cheated and deceived by greed, and an underhand spot-fixing operation.

There was a palpable sense of mistrust between the two sets of players when the on-field action resumed the following morning, as the match became secondary to the overriding issue. For their part, Pakistan fell apart as if the whole affair and its subsequent exposure had made them obliged to bow to submission, but England seldom celebrated an innings victory and 3-1 series success.

As more information of the sting became public knowledge, three of the Pakistan players were implicated. Amir and Asif were clearly at fault having bowled the two offending deliveries, while team captain Salman Butt seemed to carry the greatest degree of responsibility.

Of the three, Amir was the one who received the sharpest focus from the media microscope, largely due to his tender years. Aged just 18, the left-arm seamer had quickly developed a reputation as one of the most gifted young bowlers in world cricket, taking numerous wickets over the series through his precocious level of accuracy.

Many felt he had been roped into the operation by his more senior teammates, yet sympathy was scarce as his actions had helped bring his sport into serious disrepute. So instead of helping his country fight for major honours on the international stage, Amir joined Asif and Butt in receiving a prison sentence, and a lengthy ban from cricket.

He was released within a matter of months, but he was horribly tainted and given how notable the case had become, the whole affair never seemed to go away. But everyone knew there would come a time when Amir would be eligible to play professional cricket again; the question was whether he would be welcomed back into the fold.

That time finally came in September 2015. His ability was never in doubt; he was still only 23 years old, meaning that he still potentially had over a decade to forge a highly successful career. The wickets soon arrived, triggering calls for him to be reintegrated into the Pakistan national setup.

Once that inevitable call arrived in January 2016, he immediately found himself in desperate need of proving his integrity to the rest of the squad amid a backdrop of mistrust and suspicion. Senior figures such as Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez initially refused to train alongside Amir, threatening to render him an outcast.

The doubts were rife, but Amir’s reformed attitude shone through, as the youthful innocence that some felt had been taken away by Majeed’s scheme returned to mark a new beginning. He still had to prove himself on the world stage, taking part in the ICC World Twenty20 event and producing some standout performances for the Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League.

Fittingly, his return to Test cricket brought him back to the scene of those indiscretions some six years previously as Pakistan toured England for the first time since that fateful occasion.

Predictably cast as the pantomime villain, loud ironic cheers were audible from the stands whenever he bowled a no-ball. However, he handled his comeback in an impressively understated manner. His performances were decent if unspectacular, yet he approached the occasion with maturity and thus began his route back to the top of the game.

That was the springboard which has helped him go on to hit the headlines for all the right reasons, collecting a career-best 6-44 against the West Indies earlier this year, and extending that prowess to all three formats, playing a starring role as Pakistan upset the odds to win the ICC Champions Trophy just last Sunday.

Having lost hopelessly to India in their first match, Pakistan were widely written off as no-hopers, but quickly went about confounding such views as they won three matches in a row – including against hosts England – in order to reach the final, with Amir instrumental.

But it was in the final itself where he really showed his true class. It was a rematch with India, and after a terrific batting display from Fakhar Zaman helped his team set their arch rivals 339 runs to win, Amir ran through the Indian top order with a spell of unerring and deadly accuracy.

The first three Indian batsman – Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli – had been in imperious form throughout the tournament, but Amir removed them all in devastating style, and from then on a Pakistan victory was never in doubt.

As the scenes of jubilation began, the victory marked redemption for Amir. He cannot turn back time; the seriousness of his actions back in 2010 can never be refuted, but such naivety has been consigned somewhat to history as he grabs his second chance with both hands.

Writing Without Hands

As those old iPhone television adverts used to profess, there is an app for just about…anything. Each obscure subject or facet of our everyday lives now seems to be supplemented by an app, which is designed to remove the supposed stress and preserve many valuable seconds of our precious time.

In terms of writing, things are no different. Technology giants Google and Apple have developed their own voice dictation programmes which allow users to speak into their mobile devices, which transfer the words you utter into the written mode.

It does all the writing for you, without the need to type. Isn’t that ingenious!

Of course, this is very common now when it comes to submitting online searches. Just tap the amplifier icon on your mobile phone or tablet and say ‘Ok Google’ in your cheeriest voice, and you are away, although make sure you speak clearly, as the kind female voice that responds to your search could end up telling you about something completely different..

Which leads me on to the subject of accuracy. The ability of many applications to recognise one’s voice and pick up the full spectrum of words, phrases and sayings cannot be underestimated. These are very strong and capable resources, but mistakes can creep in, and sifting through the prose to make the necessary edits can be time consuming.

In my experience, speaking too fast can be an issue which throws the application off course, especially when uttering a word which sounds very much like another. And then we have homophones, which can leave the text sprinkled with absurd grammatical errors before the inevitable proofreading session ensues.

My other main concern here is punctuation. This is a vital part of my writing style, so how does the technology know when I would like to use a comma, or a dash, or indeed an exclamation mark? This reservation alone has me reaching for the keyboard, where the backspace key provides undying reassurance.

But in my case, the overriding fact of the matter is that I write better than I speak. When explaining a subject such as this orally, I have a tendency to hesitate and find myself searching for the correct term or ideal point of discussion, whereas when I’m writing it comes fairly easily.

To put it plainly, while I would love the thought of saving time and energy by using a voice dictation app, using the keyboard/keypad prevents my ramblings from becoming a disjointed, convoluted mess of tag questions, misplaced verbs and incomprehensible utterances.

The ability to write eloquently and interactively for various audiences is the biggest skill that I possess, and I’m reluctant to jeopardise that it favour of adopting these superb, resourceful, but ultimately non-foolproof applications.

Moreover, the thought processes that go into writing in the conventional manner cannot be underestimated. Using the written mode requires a unique method of brain stimulation, while the spoken mode is something different entirely.

How I became a confident writer

When I first began as a writer I had no confidence whatsoever, regardless of the faith that was being shown in me by others. At least part of the reason for this was the fact that my breakthrough coincided with the beginning of the most challenging period of my life to date; a time when the once sturdy walls of opportunity began to tumble down around me.

I was only 17 when I sent off two of my less senseless ramblings over to the editors of an established but relatively obscure website called A Different League, which I had discovered through browsing on a more obscure jobs website run by the same people.

I fully expected to be knocked back, and two weeks without a response seemed to confirm that view, but eventually they got back and to my surprise, I was accepted as the latest member of their writing team.

Full of motivation and determined to make an immediately positive impression, my early articles were promising and substantial, but contained more than a hint of using me using all the writing techniques I knew. I was on the brink of achieving my English Language A-Level, yet there was still plenty more I needed to learn.

I soon moved on to writing news articles, which followed a very basic structure, albeit a very rigid one. The subject matter dictated that there was a lot of repetition involved – particularly regarding football transfers – but I was plagued by doubt; constantly worrying about possibly being told that my writing was not good enough, and receiving negative feedback from the online audience.

But the new inroads just kept on coming. Three months down the line and I was asked to write analysis pieces because my writing was deemed to be of a reasonable standard. Another two months and I was given my own project: Feature articles, where I would consult with the website’s editors themselves, and then write a whole new section of content.

The final ‘promotion’ came soon after, where I was very kindly asked to write for the Soccer 360 magazine, only one of the most popular publications of its kind in North America. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, but one which filled me with terror.

I was so inexperienced and the demands were so high. I had to write a 1,750-word article along with two sidebars within a strict timeframe. I also had to conform to strict formatting rules, suggest images and captions, and meet the unfamiliar requirements of writing for a magazine which wasn’t due to be published for two months.

The pressure I felt was unbelievable, removing all sense of happiness and fulfillment at being asked to write an article of such relative prestige. As I wrote my piece I was inwardly cursing myself frequently over my perceived inability to write anything of reasonable quality. I feared the prospect of someone else reading my work and dismissing it as a pile of uninformed garbage.

When I sent my finished article to the magazine, the feedback I received was positive, but minimal. My article was fine, although there were a couple of areas where I needed to make sure the text was ‘timeless’ – in other words relevant at the time when the issue is published rather than only applicable at the time of writing.

Did the fact that I was now a published magazine writer help boost my confidence? Sadly not. I continued writing almost robotically for A Different League before the chance arose for the next Soccer 360 article, which I regrettably turned down due to my nerves.

But I was back soon enough, and this time I had no choice. The Soccer 360 articles were now assigned to its writers without prior consultation, so I was given one of the main feature articles, which I completed to a high standard, according to those who read it.

Over the course of the following year I began to turn my hand to blogs, writing about different subject matters and finding that moving out of my comfort zone resulted in rather disjointed prose. So I realised I needed a clear focus; an objective for every piece of writing I produced in the future.

Having long developed an individual style of writing, I decided to create a more personal, conversational relationship with the reader, and test the boundaries of the style guides to which I was forced to adhere.

The more informal tone of Soccer 360 allowed me to do that, but with A Different League it was a matter of fortune. With the site having been passed over to new administrators in May 2015, I was given total creative freedom on the articles I produced.

By this time my personal circumstances had dramatically improved as a result of taking up my role as a university administrator, and that certainly helped me develop a more positive approach to my writing. But the creative freedom acted as a new lease of life, providing the opportunity to manufacture higher quality content. Although I stuck to the style guide, I could now implement many more of my own personal touches.

With around 3,000 online articles as well as a handful of magazine articles under my belt, I had naturally made great strides and was now an accomplished writer, but for the first time I began to acknowledge it. I had reached a level where only the most important articles provoked a sense of nervous tension.

Nowadays, when I look back on the vast majority of my articles, I read them with pride rather than the urge to cringe with perceived notions of ineptitude. Some of my early writing was not of the greatest standard, but I now realise that it was acceptable enough, and merely just part of the journey to being the writer I am today.

Benched

Today I was sent the commission for the January 2017 edition of the Soccer 360 magazine, the print publication to which I have happily contributed to for three years with distinction. But there was a problem. For the first time since I began, except for occasions where I had made myself unavailable, I was not assigned an article.

Let me first begin by making it clear that this has nothing to do with my writing ability, but merely a reflection of the fact that putting this particular commission together proved to be massively problematic for the magazine editors. My writing has always received strong feedback and a prominent position within the finished product.

As the magazine is published every two months, one of its most important aspects is the need to be ‘timeless’ and not to refer to current issues at the time of writing. That, along with the fact that the January/February edition is the period of the football season where talking points are at their most scarce, made sure that ideas for feature articles didn’t present themselves easily.

The commission I received today is the shortest I’ve ever seen by a long chalk, and sadly there was no space for me to be included. There are of course, numerous other writers and several others have missed out too, while perhaps it was felt that not many of the articles assigned were suited to my style of writing.

While I am obviously disappointed to have been sidelined until the New Year, I am very understanding and always appreciative of being given the opportunity to write for a magazine with such outstanding production values. My latest article will be published later this week, which will allow me to take pride in my work.

And to be truthful, the absence of a feature article provides me with an opportunity to focus on other things, such as the book (non-fiction) that I’m currently in the process of writing, as well as this blog. There is also the small matter of trying to find a new administrative job – preferably at the university where I currently work, as my current fixed term contract comes to an end in mid-March.

Brexit: My War on a Word

It sounds like the kind of thing you would expect to see lying between the Weetabix and the Shredded Wheat at your local supermarket, but the word ‘Brexit’ has become synonymous with life in the United Kingdom during 2016; a triumph for those media personnel who just love to amalgamate two innocent words and create the next evil neologism.

I have written before about the concepts of prescriptivism and descriptivism, and while I will always stress the importance of language evolution, words like ‘Brexit’ should have no place in our everyday speech. But sadly, we have long since reached the point of no return.

The regrettable outcome of the EU referendum back in June, and the subsequent news that the UK’s process of leaving the so-called common market will be gradual and long-term, has only increased its usage. From now until the moment Theresa May triggers article 50, we’ll only be fed with constant speculation over when that moment might be, or the progress of the complex negotiations that seem to be ever ongoing.

Does the UK deserve the best possible deal after making such a catastrophic decision to leave? That is a different article altogether, but top of the news billing almost every single night without fail, is more ‘Brexit’ coverage. And even when the breakaway from the EU is complete, the official date of ‘Brexit’ will become a fixed reference point in the distant future.

Every time I hear the word ‘Brexit’ uttered by young and old; well respected television news anchors and reporters who frankly should know better, I have an urge to silence them. It is tabloid nonsense, which has filtered its way into prominence.

Back in the 1990’s the channel tunnel was sometimes referred to as the ‘chunnel’, which thankfully never caught on. But ‘Brexit’ only goes to show how much of a grip those ghastly, trouble-stirring red tops have on our society, almost to the extent that we can’t think for ourselves anymore.

‘Brexit’ is now a nationwide phenomenon, but its sheer ubiquity amounts to a betrayal of our linguistic customs. This truly is the mangling and manipulation of the English language.

Return of the Undercover Squad

Over the last 48 hours one story has dominated the news headlines in the UK – the departure of England football manager Sam Allardyce after just one match and 67 days in charge. This sensational series of events came following a series of revelations exposed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper, whose undercover journalists – posing as businessmen – filmed Allardyce making comments that brought the game into disrepute.

A salary of £3m per year was seemingly not enough for the 61-year-old, who was shown discussing the possibility of receiving £400,000 for representing the fictitious company that the journalists claimed to represent. Even worse, he openly claimed that it was easy to get around Football Association (FA) rules regarding player transfers, and made distasteful remarks about his predecessor Roy Hodgson and other senior figures within the English football setup.

Such comments were not in keeping with the moral and ethical code of the FA, who after all, were his employers. Their leading public face discussing that it was possible to flout rules that they uphold was what alone made his future as boss untenable, so he became England’s shortest reigning permanent manager, and his dream job was in tatters.

In spite of the remarks, there was inevitably a school of thought which felt that the undercover reporting was unethical, and full of malicious intent. Going undercover and employing secret filming are techniques which are now looked upon with suspicion, having gained something of a reputation for being sleazy or shady. I have to admit it was a little reminiscent of similar exposés by the defunct News of the World.

I am also dubious about such practices, the likes of which seemed to be becoming phased out, especially since the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics. However, the Daily Telegraph‘s work has been met with acclaim by their industry colleagues, among whom there was undoubtedly some envious glances with regards to a rival publication pulling off such a coup and bringing about the downfall of the England manager.

While I do have reservations about how the Daily Telegraph carried out their operation, there can be no excuses for Allardyce. His actions were grossly immoral and extremely foolish, and to even agree to meeting the so-called businessmen was a catastrophic error of judgment.

When interviewed yesterday by a crowd of reporters who gathered outside his home, Allardyce ruefully and wryly remarked that ‘entrapment has won’, while admitting his mistakes. Still, his behaviour and remarks were inexcusable and not befitting of his role.

And the revelations have only just begun. The Telegraph are beginning a 10-month campaign of stories surrounding corruption in English football. Allardyce may prove to be the highest profile casualty, but a number of other figures within the game may also be made to suffer the consequences in the not too distant future.

Talking about my work

Although very little of it has received the full SEO treatment, I have a very large body of work that exists on the internet. But only those who know me best are fully aware of this extensive portfolio, simply because I hide it from them. To most people in my professional life, I am simply the person who sits reassuringly behind a university reception desk.

Which, the more I think about it, is a mystery. Surely, having had over 3,500 articles published online for an established website, and being a regular contributor to a popular bi-monthly Canadian magazine is something to shout about?

What makes me so unwilling to discuss my writing is the subject matter. It is all about football, about which I have an encyclopedic knowledge, according to some. My problem is that I am just too self-conscious, and extremely fearful of the reactions I might get if I told friends who simply don’t like the sport.

When I tell somebody that I do lots of writing, I am often met with the inevitable question: ‘What do you write about?’. It is with a great amount of reluctance that I say football. This blog doesn’t get much coverage around friends either, again due to my self-conscious tendencies.

What I haven’t told anyone is that I am currently writing a book about football, too. For now it is a private project, but I’m over 40,000 words in and very pleased with what I’ve written. Whereas I used to have no self-confidence, I am now fully aware that I am an accomplished writer with great experience under my belt. Will others still view me the same if I told them it was about football?

Well, I guess there’s only one way of finding out. It is about time that I begin to trust others and appreciate how much I am valued. Anyway, it is only football.

The Perils of Print

I had barely six months of experience as an online writer when I was first asked about the possibility of writing for the Soccer 360 magazine back in November 2013. It was a time when I was severely lacking in self-confidence and so I questioned whether I was capable of making the step-up to print journalism at such a young age.

When I saw the email that pitched this opportunity to me, I was positively quaking with fear, as committing to this would also mean that my already considerable workload was to be increased by a near 2000-word piece that carried a strict deadline. There was to be no let-up, but eventually I decided that it was something I couldn’t refuse, so replied saying that I would be happy to give it a go.

While I was already well versed in terms of adhering to style guides and writing in an unbiased, well-reasoned manner, plenty of this was new to me. I had to follow a limited brief to create a feature article of 1,750 words, as well as two detailed sidebars. The tone of the article – though not really informal – was not what I was altogether used to, while the most difficult aspect was to keep it ‘timeless’ and therefore in context for the magazine’s publication date, so it was pretty daunting all-round.

The piece I eventually created was not the finest by any means, but it was acceptable enough and with a few tweaks it was published in January 2014. It didn’t do loads for my confidence as I shunned the chance to write for the following edition, but thankfully I saw the light and returned, and I have only missed one issue since the summer of 2014.

Over the course of that period the quality of my writing has increased immeasureably, and I have been able to come up with some very good declarative lines in my magazine articles, not to mention some impressive pun-adorned headlines which have seemingly been met with enthusiasm by the magazine’s editors.

I view my writing for Soccer 360 represents a little escapism from the online match previews that I tirelessly put together every week. Although I am required to stick within the limitations of a brief, I am able to communicate my ideas a lot better and commit fully to a footballing issue. While with my previews I have a lot of creative license, the context of the articles are almost invariably the same.

The biggest stumbling block when writing for Soccer 360 as I have previously hinted, is its date of publication. When contributors are allocated a piece and are given a brief, they sometimes cannot legislate for developments that take place in between the commission period, and when it goes to print.

It happened to one of my fellow writers back in December, when he was given a piece to do on Chelsea FC and how they struggled throughout the first half of the current English Premier League season. Just after the date of his deadline and with the piece already having been sent to editors, the club’s manager Jose Mourinho was sacked, meaning that the article had to be hastily revised.

And as luck would have it, the same happened to me for the following issue, which has just been released. My assigned piece was on the so-called ‘Price of Pep’ and what appointing Pep Guardiola (widely regarded as the world’s best football coach) would be worth to a Premier League club.

Now, on the date of the deadline and with my piece already safely with the editors, it was confirmed that Guardiola was to take charge of Manchester City FC in the summer of 2016. My reaction when I saw the news was priceless, as I knew exactly what it would mean – that I would have to re-write a sizeable chunk of my feature.

An email from the commissioner confirmed as much, and I got all the revisions done in one evening thanks to burst of determination. There was pressure on as I had a feeling my original wasn’t good enough anyway, but fortunately everything was done to a high standard and I was not asked to make any further changes. Nonetheless, it was a stressful couple of days.

I always feel some pressure when writing for Soccer 360, mainly because I don’t want to let the editors down for continually showing their faith in me to produce quality work.

But I’m also acutely aware that it gains a large audience – after all it’s not a cheap, smalltown magazine. It is the biggest selling magazine of its subject in North America, containing tremendous production values and styles. It is a privelage to be able to contribute towards it every two months, but I’d prefer it to be stress-free, unlike my most recent assignment.

The Art of Prescriptivism

Throughout my school years I was a reasonable student – naturally bright and full of knowledge, but not what you might call academically gifted. With no degree to speak of, the result I can look back on with the greatest sense of pride is my A-Level in English Language, achieved at the end of what was personally a tumultuous 2012-13 school year.

As part of that course we covered the rather broad area of language change, and how English has developed over the centuries into what it is today. In doing so we had to consider contextual factors such as technological advances and changes in social attitudes among other things.

Another key area of study was to become familiar with relevant research and theory on the subject, while at the centre of everything there were two groups of people who basically provided the definition of attitudes towards language change. The first of them are the descriptivists, who believe that language naturally evolves and remains prosperous for it. On the other side of the court are the prescriptivists, who feel that a language is sacred, should be governed by rules, and should not be tampered with in order conform to modern trends and social issues.

For that reason, a lot of our time was spent looking at worksheets littered with social media threads and examples of text messages, which were inevitably full of abbreviations and emoticons.

As teenagers ourselves we were able to appreciate these modern features, but saw no shortage of opposing views, while other bones of contention included the removal of hyphens from some words and the growing use of so-called ‘Americanisms’ in the English language. The latter led to some outspoken comments among my classmates, and is a surprisingly regular target for vitriol at my house.

Many of the texts we studied were written by a famous public figure in the shape of John Humphrys, presenter of Mastermind and BBC Radio Four’s Today programme. He has written books on the subject of language change and certainly does not hold back in airing his views, subtitling his 2004 work Lost For Words as ‘The mangling and manipulation of the English language’.

In one of his newspaper columns he accuses modern society and the advent of technology such as instant messaging and social media of contributing to the ‘pillaging of our punctuation’ and ‘the raping of our vocabulary’.

The use of the word ‘raping’ in this comparatively frivolous context aside, Humphrys makes a compelling case for a perceived laziness and lax attitude among society and even lexicographers, even going so far as to make a grovelling appeal to the Oxford English Dictionary not to give in to radical evolution.

I agreed with some – not all – of his sentiments, and certainly used them to my advantage in order to successfully complete my final piece of coursework, which was to write a 1,000 word piece in the style of a newspaper article. I chose to write a prescriptive piece as I felt it suited my writing style best, and so for this reason I found this assignment a fairly comfortable task and received good marks.

The key thing for me was not to sound too much like Humphrys et al, producing an original article while conveying a similar message. I pulled no punches, describing social media users as ‘vandals’, accusing them of showing ‘total disregard the rules’ and of ‘a lack of respect’. All tongue in cheek of course, for the purpose of gaining a qualification!

My personal favourite passage is this: ‘Before methods of electronic communication arrived, the needless, merciless shortening of words was very rare. That was because everything had to be written manually so others could understand it (sounds extremely tough, doesn’t it?) and none of those all too common acronyms (such as LOL) existed.’

As a passionate writer, it was a very fun piece to write and one where I could express my creative freedom by using powerful adjectives. Prescriptivism is an area which provides all manner of opportunity. Whether you believe their argument or not, those who defend what they feel to be the established rules are worth listening to, especially if you like a good debate. Prescriptivism is indeed an art.