Our friendly neighbourhood bus shelter sprouted a new flyer the other morning. “We Teach Free English” it proclaimed, with the obligatory tear off strips featuring a telephone number underneath.
This set me musing about what “Free English” is. Could it be English freed from the restrictions of punctuation? That would be interesting. I never did master anything more challenging mathematically than simple addition and subtraction. Likewise, I still struggle with the correct use of punctuation more complicated than the comma, period, question mark or exclamation point! (Note a clever use of the last at the end of the sentence. (Have I used the parentheses correctly?) )
On the other hand, maybe Free English is the art of liberally inserting expletives and inactive words or phrases such as “like”, “whatever” or “basically” into everyday conversation. Given its prevalence on the street, in the malls and on TV, I suspect the market for teaching this form of the language is well and truly saturated.
Of course, Free English could be the version of the language consisting solely of impenetrable abbreviations, emoticons and short forms that predominates in social media and phone texts. I know I could have used some lessons when I first came across “lol” and “bff”. Perhaps it’s just a bit contradictory to call this Free English when it owes its existence to a restriction on the number of characters you can use on Twitter.
Another possibility is that Free English is the increasingly common practice of dropping key words out of written text when there are space limitations. For examples, read Canada’s national paper any day of the week. This version of the language also includes reducing what used to be “couple of” to the simple “couple” and encouraging expressions such as “jaw-dropping” or “save 50% off”. You know what they mean – but they sure ain’t Shakespeare!
There are many variations of liberated English out there and most do get the point across - once you’ve figured out the intended meaning.
For my part, I’ve now decided Free English really means adopting the principles of Clear Language:
- Free of jargon and clichés
- Free of long, convoluted sentences and paragraphs
- Free of illogical structure and conclusions
- Freely promoting clear, concise, coherent communications.