Grammar, medical consultants, and yes, crinolines (well why not?) by Enid Richemont

Apologies for the quality of the image on the right, but it comes from an Early? Mid? Nineteenth Century French children's book called, "LA POUPEE PEINTE PAR ELLE-MEME", its cover image faded almost to oblivion. It came originally from an ancient house in La Vendee, a house full of such historical treasures, and which had been in the family of our very close French friends for centuries (at least three centuries, if not four). I set one of my Young Adult novels there - "WOLFSONG", which is currently available as an ebook on Amazon, if you're curious.

The house itself, sadly, has had a dramatic end to its very long and doubtless dramatic life. When the estate was  broken up and divided - French inheritance law is quite uncomfortable and often destructive - it went on to become a hotel in a part of rural France that didn't really attract tourists, so it failed, and eventually, after a succession of owners, was abandoned to the elements and the vandals, and one night there was a fire...

The book, given to us along with other curiosities (on the right, spectacles of such delicacy, with their velvet-lined case, costly at the time, sans doute) is fascinating. Published as a children's book with no discernable date, and full of rather elegant line drawings, the 'story' is actually about manners and correct behaviour, although it must have been difficult to be wayward while wearing one of those crinolines. The crinolined dolls do misbehave, though, or there'd be no drama, albeit slight, and what is even worse, they use incorrect grammar, so often have to be reprimanded by their owners (can I hear the faintest sighs of nostalgia among you?)

The magic lantern show - extremely advanced technology only available to rich, well-behaved and correct little girls in crinolines - is praised in the text for being so age-appropriate, with absolutely NO vulgar content (vulgar? Six year old girls? Banish the thought!) In fact, several very short paragraphs are dedicated to its virtuousness. The book's clearly handbound, too, with a fine rope-like twine. I have to come to the sorry conclusion that this was a story written by a grown up for other grown ups pretending to be children, having totally forgotten the messy, glorious and frequently vulgar reality.

On the other hand, though, the 'grammar' element does have its virtues. If only my medical consultant, in fact ALL medical consultants, had been exposed to this meticulousness re-grammar, perhaps fewer disastrous mistakes might be made ('Ooops, I meant the right leg, not the left, and I meant the appendix, not the heart' etc etc) I write with deep feeling having today received a copy of a referral letter sent to my GP, written in one extremely lengthy sentence, admittedly with a full stop at the end, and wondering if there might be a profitable career in teaching basic grammar to doctors, or at least to their secretaries. Any thoughts on this? 



Jan Needle said…
My doctor's a 31 year old ex concert pianist whose talents are so many and various it makes you speechless and breathless just to be in her company. A GP and a concert pianist, I asked her...WHY? "You may have noticed I'm Chinese," she said. "My mum and dad thought I ought to have a proper job just in case." And I bet she writes better English than me...
sandra horn said…
What a delightful and evocative post! As to the grammar question - I'm a fascist and tend to counter any sneery remarks about apostrophes not mattering, etc. with 'Fine. Let's all go back to grunting and pointing.'

Bill Kirton said…
One of the many endearing characteristics of the French is a seemingly universal predisposition towards hypochondria. We spent a year in France when my wife was doing an exchange with a teacher in a lycée, and I remember telling her how acclimatised I felt when leaving a Pharmacie with a carrier bag full of pills and potions. It’s just an extension of ‘Je pense donc je suis’. To answer your question, though, Enid, we have many doctor friends (or friends whose offspring are medics of some sort), all of whom exercise their particular specialisations with admirable application and concern. The constant evidence of their dedication goes a long way to explaining the sort of reverence we (or I, at least) have for the profession. When someone sits chatting with you in a ward a couple of days after having sawed through your breastbone and sewn a new valve into your heart, his use of the subjunctive (or whatever) is a long way down the list of conversational topics. (But I do know what you mean.)
Enid Richemont said…
Love these two responses. Sandra - I'm the same, and I find incompetent grammar an indication of incompetent thinking, which, in the case of medical consultants, could be alarming. My otherwise excellent orthopaedic consultant referred at one point to left ankle surgery, when it should have been the right. Soon corrected, but the mind boggles at the idea of incorrrect/sloppy verbal communication in surgical matters!

Jan - you obviously have the perfect GP. Might she travel?
Enid Richemont said…
Bill - I think many of them communicate via badly-educated secretaries. And if anyone's planning to saw off any bits of me, I'd want their communication to be precise (not talking of complexities like the subjunctive here, which is more of a problem for the French linguistically, but if you tell me you 'might' have a vaccine for Covid 19, I wouldn't queue up for a jab, but if you tell me you 'do' have a vaccine for Covid 19, I'd be the first in line, and prepared to sue if it didn't work.
Language matters. HUGELY!
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Enid, I am quite direct with friends/family when they use improper grammar in speech. I'd hate for them to use the wrong word when addressing a group. I consider myself a friendly audience who cares about them, so they should not mind. I would want to know if I've been making the same mistake over and over again. And you can only know your errors once someone points them out to you.

I don't believe grammatical mis-use necessarily equates to incompetence -- but more so a weakness in communication or understanding. Some people are excellent at their jobs but could never teach what they do. Some are succinct writers but take forever to make a point.

As for your medical consultant who mixed up your right/left ankle - that is just wrong! Good thing you caught his mistake!

Be well,

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