Our Street Gangs Are Probably Using Bad LanguageCommentary • Opinion • ISSUE 34•05 • Sep 2, 1998 By Neil Rackhouse Jr. Grammarian Neil Rackhouse Jr. Grammarian While recently wandering the rotting underbelly of my favorite local urban wasteland at 3 a.m., I was accosted by a roughneck gang of thugs who demanded my wallet. With a grandfatherly sense of duty, I handed it over to them; then they clonked me over the noggin and ran off. Six hours later, after brushing off most of the garbage that came from the dumpster in which they had thrown me, I was overcome with a shock of rage. My face turned crimson with anger and revulsion. These thugs hadn't said please! Not only that, their grammar in general was atrocious! Here are just a few snippets of our evening's conversation as I recall it: "Hey, old man. You think you feelin' lucky tonight?" "Gimme your money, or I'll knife you dead." "I gots the cash, now smack the geezer and run!" My face reddens with pique at the thought of the colossal amount of wasted tax dollars that this shameless display of bad grammar represents. When I was a young man, my gang always chose a designated grammarian before we hit the streets. We looted, harassed and terrorized neighborhoods with impeccable speech. If someone was caught using "ain't" or a double negative during our looting and vandalizing, it was the designated grammarian's duty to point this out to the offender. First, he'd recite the proper usage from Strunk and White's The Elements Of Style, then he'd whap the ignoramus in the ribs with a pipe. Today, I see hardly any of this vigilance. After my ordeal, I decided to see if things are as bad with other alternative youth recreational organizations. I made it a point to follow around several of the most vicious, murderous, drug-shoving gangs to observe their grammar. At first, I felt rather nostalgic for the moonshine-running and fun-loving mob activity of my youth. I look back with the greatest fondness to my days as a thug with my trusty Unabridged Oxford Dictionary at my side. But these images were quickly dashed by my further observation of the sad state of today's gang language. I initially chose a group of personable young fellows who called themselves The 99th Street Death Machine. At first, their youthful antics charmed me, particularly a little drive-by shooting organized by their leader, a surly 18-year-old who went by the name of Attitude. But my charm soon turned to rock-bottom disgust as I heard their language: double negatives everywhere, a gut-wrenching penchant for the use of slang over the proper King's English. In one heated exchange alone, overheard during a shootout over a heroin deal gone bad, I heard 16 slang words, 10 swear words, five dangling participles, and a rambling subjunctive clause that just begged for placement in a more appropriate syntax. I went on to observe 26 more gangs, all with the same damning results. If today's teachers can't teach proper grammatical usage to our young people during the few classes they attend before dropping out, I say let's save ourselves some tax dollars and close down the schools altogether. No wonder our nation is lagging behind Japan: Our schools are failing our gangs! Also, a good vocabulary helps young people get things done more efficiently. If the gang members who mugged me had expressed their desires properly, they would have secured my wallet far more quickly, giving them extra time for other important criminal activities. I have another proposal that could kill two birds with one stone: Use some of the trillions of dollars that are wasted supporting shiftless welfare freeloaders by putting them to work teaching proper English to today's incoherent street gangs. There's a whole generation of felonious drug dealers out there looking to us to help them learn before they offend more delicate sensibilities. It's something to think about the next time you're running for your life at 3 a.m. through a park, pursued by a carload of frisky teenagers shouting threats in incomprehensible slang. Wouldn't it be a relief to understand what they are shouting at you, for once?