“Howdy” Lingo – Neighborly Talkin’ in Non-Fiction

As a writer, I take pleasure in seeing other writers find the proper ‘Voice’ (and I’m not talking about the television show with four judges, people) for their articles or stories.  In fact, finding a story’s ‘Voice’ is a very large part of having a reader relate to what a writer is putting out there.  I mean, the impact of Flowers for Algernon would be lost without Charly’s unique dialogue throughout the story, or the down-home twangy drawl in Of Mice and Men added a warmth and realism that would have been considerably less convincing if the tale had used proper grammar.  As a writer, I often utilize different grammatical effects to relay specific character-related quirks or personalities, changing from what type of tale or story I’m telling to the format I’m presenting it in.  And I wouldn’t trade the opportunity employ every skill or trick a writer has to convey their messages to their readers.  However, as a writer, I like to think I know when creative use of language is best utilized and, with the exception of fiction and, possibly, the greeting card business, I’ve rarely found “Howdy” lingo used in non-fiction articles or stories to be efficient tools of the trade.  As a matter of fact, I’ve more often found the frequent use of neighborly-speech dismaying.

With the ever-apparent “dumbing down” of educational programs (Let’s face it, even 15 years ago when I was in high school, we were only asked to read one Shakespeare play and, if you guessed Romeo and Juliet, you guessed correctly; and we never touched on Steinbeck, Orwell, Kerouac, Lee or Buck to name a few of the Greats.), and basic human conversation (Must I point out the vocalization of OMG?!, LOL, or WTF?!, to name a few?), I’ve often taken solace in the knowledge that most writers know when and where to use informal ‘Voice’ in their literature.  One of these places to bolster that perception I’ve grasped at (like a drowning man clutches to a life preserver!) could always be found in the newspaper.

All but the smallest rags have managed to maintain a formality to their articles, a finessing of language, that supported my wishful thinking that not all of literature’s society was caving into the idiocy that people needed smaller words in order to relate to the literature.  So one can imagine my disappointment when I open my local Sunday newspaper to find no less than a science article from an Associated Press writer in Houston using neighborly-speak such as, “Heck, astronauts…”, “Astronomers figure…”, and “Some old-timers….  With such informal terminology, how can one be expected to not conjure images of two old pig farmers standing knee deep in mire going back and forth casually about “that there importance of asteroid travel by the boys over at NASA by gosh“?

Perhaps only I am bothered by this liberalization of non-fiction; maybe today’s society needs simple, friendly words to make possibly dry subjects entertaining?  (They are competing with the Kardashian sisters after all.)  Let me ask, however, what happens when you hear a journalist use terms in writing such as heck, figures, and old-timers?  Does it instill images of professionalism and intelligence, or are you left with pictures of a good ol’ boy him-hawing about the weather or the crops in the field?  Without much stretch of the imagination, people might be able to see how many, many other people, professional and otherwise, might be led to the same imagery. And, as a writer, I am left to wonder if this article could not have been better verbalized if it had been scrawled on a napkin at 3 a.m. by a NASA-interested pig farmer who had had one Red Bull too many?