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Sunday, May 31, 2020

The death of the typewriter, the death of an era

Gina Miller reports on the death of the typewriter

 

I noted that Britain’s last ever typewriter rolled off the assembly line at Brother’s factory in Wales last week, the Brother CM1000 electronic typewriter. This was one of 5.8 million typewriters made at the factory since 1985 and it has been donated to the Science Museum in London.

 

The power of words

Over the weekend, whilst perusing the Sunday newspapers, I shuddered at the disgraceful dumbing down of language. Then, last night, whilst watching the evening news, I was appalled by the grammar being used by newsreaders as my radar is now fully focused on honing in on grammatical sabotage.

 

It has struck me that with the death of the typewriter we are also experiencing the death of an era. An era in which the art and craft of writing, grammar, attention to detail, concentration and a love of words was celebrated has passed. Gone is a time where cutting and pasting required dexterity and glue. A time when mistakes, typos and bad grammar all had consequences; and when people enjoyed a romance with words has indeed moved on. Words that could be simple yet sophisticated have been sadly forgotten. I love the power of words. They are an amazing form of self-expression that can convey such beauty and such emotion. They have the power to make or break a person. They can lift or depress the spirit, they can make us rejoice or cry.

 

As a young girl I would sneak into the back of a courtroom and marvel as my father, a noted criminal barrister, defended a client.  Years later reading the John Mortimer play, A Voyage Round My Father, I found the exact words to express my childhood wonderment. ‘He sent words into the darkness as if they were soldiers into battle,’ Mortimer wrote.

 

In the work environment we now use computers, which often means people are less productive and lack concentration as they are distracted by the Internet and auto spell checks which dull the intellect. Typewriters used to be chained to desks so they were not stolen or thrown out of windows. But now staff can steal time by using office hours to communicate with friends on Facebook or Twitter, shop online and book leisure activities and holidays.

 

Outside of work, letter writing is dying; people text to say thank you, to make up – even to break up. Communication lacks emotion, style, considered phrases and politeness. Written communications have been reduced to rough, short, sharp, harsh expressions of functionality.

 

I love how words taste just before you say them, how some of them have to roll around your mouth for a while before they can be uttered and how others explode off the pad of your tongue, excited to be leaving your thoughts and heading out into the world. Words like ‘strident’, ‘garrulous’, ‘mosquito’, ‘svelte’, ‘sanguine’, ‘parlour’. The word ‘rat’ that you can’t say and be tearful at the same time – it’s a great word to repeat several times when you can’t control your emotions. I love coming across words that I’ve never heard before – sometimes just hearing them is enough to satisfy my appetite but more often than not I need to get the full effect of them by thinking of how to use them. This I explore with my children where we have rhyming games, opposite games; if a word was a colour, what colour might it be?

 

There are some words that you can’t help but ‘feel’ as you say them – say the word ‘whisper’ and the very air around you changes as you say it. Words are beautiful to say and hear but they really come into their own when they are written down.

 

I’m certainly not as clever with the use of words and language as I would like to be and I probably use each and every forbidden type of style and grammar error known to man. But I firmly believe that in these fast-paced, hectic times we should all encourage a wider expansion and usage of vocabulary so that generations to come can enjoy the pleasure of words and language.

 

Like the health message of ‘eat 5 a day’ in terms of fruit and vegetables, I would encourage parents to ensure their children to ‘use 5 a day’ – at least 5 adjectives a day to ensure the beauty of language is kept alive.

 

Gina Miller is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and lover of words.

 

For more information about Miller Philanthropy, go to: http://www.millerphilanthropy.com

 

 

  1. Totally agree with Gina. I tend to love them too much sometimes, as I believe a lot of people do (think it’s to do with loving the sound of their own voices) and less words mean so much more. Deaths for example are not always ‘tragic’ How can someone die at 105 and it be tragic? Tragic is 5, not 105. You’ve had a good innings at 105.
    I am always being edited but then I write dialogue in my books and I always end up arguing with the sub that people do not speak grammatically correctly. They certainly do not text grammatically correctly or email grammatically correctly. Dramatically correctly may be.
    I remember learning Pitmans at school, hoping to God I wouldn’t end up a PA typing someone else’s words but it has thank goodness, helped me to write my own. Haven’t got a clue what my speed is now but it’s still not as fast as I think.
    I don’t miss the typewriter. I made too many mistakes. My letters were so tipex laden they ended up as thick as cardboard. The laptop allows one to type fast and correct and type again and go over things. It allows flow. Too much thought and everything becomes grammatically correct but loses the visceral nature. Too little thought and it’s nonsense, too much and it’s not what you meant.

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