December 23, 2011
Once again I have heard someone refer to a speech pattern as "lazy." Of all the complaints about the way other people speak (and by golly, there are plenty), the one that makes the least sense to me is that people's speech is lazy. And yet:
... my pet peeves. They’re about pronunciation, rather than grammar and news people on television are doing this more every day:
1. Fill, instead of feel.
2. Pill, instead of peel.
To me, this “sims” just lazy. [source]
Plural forms are always going to be determined by what the majority is used to or comfortable with, with a tendency towards laziness. Very few people are going to bother with Priora when Priuses is perfectly functional. However, that doesn't mean that words adopted into English should use regular plural forms; it simply means that they are likely to. [source]
If I'm talking with friends or sending a text, I don't use "proper" English grammar, but I do recognize that my grammar is incorrect. I just don't care, and I know that my listener will understand me even if I'm lazy. [source]
A split infinitive can be a lazy way not to write a better sentence. [source]
When a speaker or writer uses incorrect subject/verb agreement, it tells the audience that he is either lazy or does not care. [source]
Using the singular 'they' means you're not trying, you don't know grammar rules, or you're lazy. [source]There's also a Facebook page titled Poor Grammar is the sign of a lazy mind.
What doesn't make sense to me is that lazy means unwilling to put forth some sort of effort. But for a native speaker, emitting correct sentences is literally effortless. People don't say aks instead of ask or I could care less instead of the nominally correct version because they've expended all the effort they're going to put forth and simply refuse to go that extra mile (or syllable, or consonant cluster). People don't say readin' and writin' because using a velar -n (-ng) is harder to use than a dental one. People don't say Priuses because it's so hard to emit some made-up plural like Priora.
Try this. If people were truly being lazy in their speech, what you'd expect is that they'd just use less speech — shorter words and shorter sentences. Or maybe they'd just stop talking.
Or try this. Compare a "lazy" speaker with someone who actually is having difficulty speaking: someone who's drunk. You can easily tell the difference, and even the "laziest" speaker sounds different when inebriated.
Or try this. Listen to other people who speak the same dialect. They all sound the same, right? So are they all lazy? That would seem to go against the observation that laziness, like ambition, smarts, and good looks, is spread around about the same everywhere.
There are of course alternative readings for "lazy." Perhaps someone is trying to say that a speaker is "too lazy" to learn the correct forms of words. I think you can parse this as "This speaker has a different dialect, but should also acquire a standard dialect." That's an interesting sociological discussion about the place of non-standard dialects in a given culture.
It also raises the question of whether the accusers feel that they themselves have made extra effort to acquire the speech patterns that are used by the non-lazy. Did they, for example, rise at dawn to practice their pronunciation drills and stay after school to master tricky verbal forms like ask? Or did they in fact acquire their dialect the way everyone else does, with the difference that theirs happens to conform more closely to standard written English?
"Lazy" is basically a moral judgment. But there is no moral calculus for dialects. Sure, there are social consequences to how you speak, just like there for how you dress. Is someone who shows up at a wedding in jeans "too lazy" to dress properly? Or are they maybe just clueless, or tactless, or "born in a barn," or even rebellious?
Probably what an accusation of "lazy" speech really means is that those "lazy" speakers should speak like me, because I speak correctly. That, of course, is a common human sentiment. But let's not confuse our conviction about the correctness of our speech with laziness on the part of those who don't share that conviction.