The Bad Habit Driving Me (To) Despair

Man With Megaphone Bartek Ambrozik

It seemed to happen overnight: Suddenly and inexplicably, the word 'to' disappeared from the English language, seemingly rendered unnecessary for the sake of a saved millisecond.

Perhaps it was not as dramatic as that. Perhaps it was lost over time. And in truth it is only from certain sentences. But there is no escaping the depressing fact that when some people tell you their plans, they now do so with words missing.

Sixteen-year-olds no longer say they are going to the shops. They say they are “going shops”.

Working in education, I hear it all the time. At break time the Sixth Form proudly declare they are going bakery, which on closer analysis is just half a sentence; the word 'to' joined in the graveyard of lost words by the once-great 'the'.

And it is not just teenagers.

Perhaps this is reserved for the place I call home, but fully-grown adults are now adopting an abbreviated form of communication.

What once was reserved for text messages and tweets has suddenly infected their everyday speech. At least it has for the woman who loudly declared to her young son that they were “going doctors”.

There it was again – that half-sentence, just two words deemed worthy of utterance; the vital components with those extra bits disregarded.

After all, who needs something to make sense when you get the gist from its dismembered equivalent?

It could be argued that it was inevitable. We live in a sound-bite world, our feelings conveyed in 140 characters or less, our phones rarely used for their primary purpose, and our speech affected as a result.

Some will say it is generation-specific, but I am not so sure. And while only the worst offenders are one backward step away from grunting, I have seen too many examples of this worrying trend not to say something.

I have begun shouting “To!” whenever I hear a student miss out the word, pulling it back from the precipice and reuniting it with the rest of its sentence. But I cannot do that in the street, at least not if I wish to maintain my reputation as a sane member of society.

There is still hope. Together we can save the English language. But this is coming from a man who tweets and texts in full sentences and has never once uttered the 'word' LOL.

Surely I am not in the minority. Although with every passing day, and every discarded 'to', I am starting to wonder.