Monday, January 17, 2011

Ax Is A Noun

The term "ebonics" was first coined in 1973 as a way of identifying and even celebrating uniquely Black American speech patterns.

What. Were. They. Thinking?

If I might slide my soapbox out for just a sec (and I can since this is my blog), I think ebonics legitimizes poor and/or lazy speech and it needs to go away. Whatever it's initial intent, it does no one any good anymore. Regardless of our current president, the Black American community still struggles with overcoming racial stereotypes and preconceptions. Ebonics lets ignorant people try to sound smart while talking dumb. And that just pisses me off.

Axe is a noun. Ask is a verb. They are not synonymous. They are not interchangeable. Axing a question is not a mispronunciation; it's simply wrong. If I ax you, I'm about to chop or fire you. After reminding me of her Master's Degree in English for the umpteenth time, a neighbor once informed me (during an unfortunate dinner "date") that pronouncing ask as ax wasn't incorrect, it was just a cultural thing depending on what part of the country one was from. To which I replied, whether you're in Manhattan or Dallas, if you tell a prospective employer that you'd like to "ax a question", your interview's over. (I also secretly wondered in what alternate universe Master's Degrees in English were given to people who can barely read or write. Seemed tacky to mention it aloud though...)

So, ask me anything you like. But, please, leave the ax for lumberjacks and lunatics.


  1. I agree. Celebrating and encouraging ebonics is like someone from my home state of Texas encouraging and celebrating the backwards speak often used...”I’m fixin’ to go shopping.” “Ain’t y’all here yet?” “I’ma gonna do that real quick like.” It’s just wrong.

    Incorrect grammar and poor pronunciation shouldn’t be cultural identifiers of which we’re proud. They should be something we strive to eliminate.

  2. Good post. @Steven64: I like your blog, well written. As for this post, if people want to be treated as equals and intelligent, they must sound so. Stop with the ebonics, country slang, and improper word use, it just takes away from your message and I will be more likely to dismiss what you're saying. Speaking properly doesn't mean you're giving up who you are or where you come from. It just means you're educated. @Christy: Love the last two sentences in your comment! So true.

  3. @Timberly: Thanks for the kudos! It's been fun (and a little strange) to just "spout". :-)

    @Christy: I've been a Texas transplant so long, I'd almost forgotten how annoying "tebonics" are. "Where you at?" Just shoot me now! And I'm with Timberly - your last two sentences sum up what it took me a whole page to convey. Well put, m'dear. :-)

  4. @Steven64, I never understood the purpose of ebonics, and NEVER would have guessed it went all the way back to 1973. I thought it was created in late 90's early 2000's. At least that's my first memory of hearing the term. Very interesting. It does make one wonder what they were thinking.

    @Christy, I agree with the others about the last two sentences in your comment. Nice. You have a way with words. Do you blog?

  5. I guess I'm going to be the only one to disagree. I'm not saying that ax versus ask is what people SHOULD say, but you're asking people to turn away from their cultural and regional roots. Their language IS part of who they are. I'm from the south and yeah, I let slang slip now and then. It hasn't kept me from getting a job or a date or held me back in some way. I am who I am, and I'm not changing that just so I can make people happier with the words I used or the way I speak. Who said that the way they are talking is right? So I'm just going to have to speak up and disagree with everyone.

    Still, I like your blog man.

  6. @Andre: Thanks for the kudos AND your counterpoint of view.

    I'll concede there's sometimes a fine line between slang and just plain ol' wrong. And what my opinion decides is wrong ain't necessarily so.

    As much as ebonics (and the very concept of ebonics) bugs me, the opposite bugs me too. That snotty faux-New England blueblood-sounding accent that people try to affect when they want to sound sophisticated or educated. Or rather, more sophisticated or more educated than they actually are. That bugs the shit out of me too.

    Thanks again man.

  7. It's very difficult to make any comments on this subject without sounding either racist or patronizing, but it is SO strange -- only a few days ago I heard a TV reporter repeatedly using the word "ax" in her feature, and this on the BBC, which used to pioneer the Queen's English and even had its own pronounciation unit! Anyway, I Googled this term and found all kinds of politically correct reasons why no one should have to use the word "ask" any more, and this, I think, is a great shame. Language, when it's used properly, is a beautiful thing. But it's also a living thing, and is constantly evolving. My own view is that "ax" is just laziness and a reluctance to conform. It's also hard to justify it as a cultural thing -- the vast majority of users in the UK were actually born here and are to all intents and purposes British.

  8. This was a difficult post to comment on without sounding prejudiced and without contradicting myself. I suppose Ebonics in America is similar to Cockney English in London. It traditionally referred to lower working class people who lived within specific regions of the city. They dropped the "h" and "t" sounds, among other things, and made themselves sound uneducated. You could also compare it to many dialects across this nation. For instance in New Jersey, there are people who live in certain large cities that speak "Joisey Tawk" It's just an unusual regional mispronunciation of vowels. The difference is that no form of government in NJ (school boards, as in when Oakland Ca. recognized Ebonics as as a primary language for its African American population) voted to approve it as an approved language of use.
    I guess you could say that this is America, the land of the free. Free to speak Ebonics if you like. You could also say that this is America, the land of opportunity. Why wouldn't you use that opportunity to better yourself? I do realize that last statement can be a difficult one to see to fruition. If one lives, goes to school and works all in the same geographical area and everyone within that area all speak the same dialect or "language" than how exactly is that person supposed to learn the "correct" way?
    Every country across the world has it's regional dialects. I think what bugs Steven64 the most about Ebonics is what separates it from regional dialects. A form of government decided to recognize it as a "primary Language" of an ethnic group which in turn segregated this ethnic group once again. Didn't we aboliosh segregation?

  9. Love, love, love it Steve! One of my biggest pet peeves! Ax vs. ask - not a cultural thing- just careless laziness if you ASK me, with a touch of unwillingness to change.

  10. @woodysgirl64: Wow. Good points, all. But you nailed in the last two sentences: blacks in this country don't need any more "help" segregating themselves. sigh...

    @Carrie: Nice to see you here!!! And I'm right there with you - laziness!

  11. Holy cow! So much to read and think about in the comments folks!

    I agree with Carrie. Drives me crazy and seems like careless laziness and like they are unwilling to change. Benbridges said it too - laziness and reluctance to conform. Doesn't take much to say they word correctly. ASK.

    I also like what Benbridges said about language being a beautiful thing when used properly. He's right. I don't speak or write correctly all the time, but I sure do enjoy it when I read or hear someone who does.

    For example, I really like the way Christy worded her comment. It was a beautiful thing.

    Andre, it was good to read an opposing opinion. Too many times I read comments in blogs that just regurgitate what the writer said and don't do it as well. Nice to read the other side, man.

    Timberly, liked what you wrote too and agree.

    Thanks for making me think folks!

  12. @benbridges: Dude! Good to see you here! I like what you said about language being a beautiful, living thing (paraphrasing you). I just cringe when I see it used carelessly (though I admittedly have flubs from time to time).

  13. ...if it wasn't used carelessly too, we would not be able to appreciate it when it is used with awareness. I guess if everybody started using it with awareness (impossible, in my opinion) our ability to ENJOY that very fact would decrease.

  14. @sorei: Kind've a yin and yang thing, huh? No good without bad. Interesting point. If everyone spoke beautifully all the time, we eventually wouldn't even notice. Lucky for us THAT'S NEVER GONNA HAPPEN! lol!

  15. It's interesting that woodysgirl64 mentioned Cockney English. I was born and raised in the East End of London (Gor blimey mate!) but realised early on that if I didn't learn to speak clearly I was going to be judged by my accent. I didn't put on airs and graces, I certainly didn't try to make out that I was anything other than what I was, I just tried to be polite and well-spoken and above all, intelligible. If I speak to someone at a call centre, if I watch a news report on TV, if I ask questions of a sales rep in a store, I expect clean, correct English in return. There will never be an excuse for lazy tongues and sloppy speech--so I 'ax' all the guilty parties to just drop the attitude and toe the line--you'll be amazed at how many new and exciting possibilities it will open up for you!!

  16. @benbridges: Steven and I were just talking about this. I was raised in Texas where the accents and slang use are very strong. As with you, I also learned early on to speak clearly and properly, and know it opened doors for me that otherwise would have remained closed. I didn’t try to be anyone other than who I was; however, I found that others tried to label me as thinking I was better than they, simply because I spoke well and liked to read. Sadly, peer and family pressure to conform is part of the problem that keeps otherwise intelligent people from dropping their sloppy slang.

    One of my brothers still has a very strong Texas accent and uses slang to the point of being difficult to understand. He’s now raising my nephew to be proud of his Texas roots, which includes speaking with a thick accent. I wish he would realize that by embracing this lazy way of speaking and teaching it to his son, he’s limiting the child and his future possibilities.

    You said it so well in your earlier post, “Language, when it's used properly, is a beautiful thing.” When used properly, it’s also a very freeing thing.

  17. Christy my wife has kinfolk in West Texas. Sometimes I have to have her translate for me. It's really interesting to travel across the state and hear the different accents. One state, but you'd think you were in a different one depending on where you are. Anyway, they all have these really heavy accents where her folks live and I hate to say it, but I think it's held some of them back in life. One of her cousins is really smart and could do better in life, but when she interviews for jobs, she never gets them. I always wonder if it's the way she talks. This blog makes me wonder even more now.

  18. @Goose: I wonder the same thing sometimes. I have a neighbor who's black and has been stuck in a sort of dead-end job for a while. But as she's "looping" about it (she talks about it often), I'm listening to her and thinking, "Good grief, woman! No wonder no one's taking you seriously. You sound like you majored in Stupid at Ebonics U.!" I know that probably sounds judgmental, but sometimes I think how you seem overrides how you are. So if you seem uneducated... (I also think I'm starting to rant. Again. lol!)

  19. LMAO about majoring in Stupid at Ebonics U! You're right. How you seem does override who you are. Some folks just don't get it though. Benbridges said it...if he didn't change his accent, he was going to be judged by it. But some people take offense to having to make that change. We're not ASKing you to change who you are folks. We're ASKing you to speak like the intelligent person we know you are, in a way that the world can understand you. Is that too much to ASK?

  20. @Grey Goose: I have relatives in West Texas too. My grandma who now lives in Washington State is from West Texas and her accent is still very strong. I think of all the various Texas accents, that region is the worst and probably the toughest to ditch, but it's possible.

    Good luck to your wife's cousin in her job search. I'll bet you're right about the accent holding her back a bit, depending on what kind of job she wants.

    @Steven: It's the world we live in. Perception trumps reality. That's why we try to dig deep when we interview people people for jobs where I work, and don't ask the standard superficial questions.