Growing concern among teachers, policemen, and the elderly about fallacious speech habits has spawned a new kind of superhero: Article Man. With a superhero figure, rippling muscles, and sparkling white teeth, Article Man’s mission is to “save these darn children from their own bad language.” But in this case it, isn’t four-letter words he’s concerned about, nor even certain three-, five-, or nine-letter1 words, but a particular pair of one- and two-letter words known as articles.
These articles aren’t the sort you read in newspapers or even in spectacular news sites like The Flying News. They are the indefinite articles “a” and “an,” one (both?) of which is (are?) the first word in any English dictionary, and both (one?) of which appear (appears?) in almost any page of printed or non-printed reading material.
“What we’ve seen,” says Mrs. Green, a Year 2 teacher at The Blake School For Blonde And Other Children, “is a growing trend of children—and they’re getting it from their parents, obviously—using the article ‘a’ to the exclusion of ‘an.’ It’s as if they don’t even know English.”
Grammarians tend to agree that the word “a” is correct when the following word begins with a consonant sound, while “an” is used before words that start with a vowel sound. For example, one would say “a unicorn,” “an ytterbium,” “an honorable boy,” “an ‘appy girl,” and “an unwaxed apple in a uniquely misanthropic relation to an umbrella treatment of a utilitarian nature in an upscale igloo that a university student built in an urgency unmatched by anyone in London for a usually ill-humoured wife before an ulcer took its toll although he’d seen a UFO.” See? any idiot can handle it if he just thinks about what he’s saying.
As Article Man himself puts it:
We are at an historical moment in the development of the English language. Just as the Shakespeareans fought—and, thankfully, lost—the battle to keep alive the use of proper forms of ‘have,’ which included ‘hath’ and ‘hast’—not to mention ‘thou,’ ‘thee,’ ‘thine,’ and ‘thyself’—we are now fighting to keep the word ‘an’ on the tongues of English speakers. It is sadly falling into decline, as evidenced by the rubbish that comes out of some people’s mouths.”
And so, Article Man gets paid loads of money to come to primary schools and shake things up a bit. “I like to teach them games like Pin An Article On An Adverb, Push The Article Misuser In The Wastebin, and my all-time favourite, Bite The Tongue When You Get One Wrong.”
While it seems not all the children enjoy the games equally, they are, apparently, having an impact. One parent exclaimed, “My child used to misbehave constantly when he came home from school, always running around and speaking out of turn. Now he’s so well-behaved, he just sits quietly in the corner and I don’t hear a peep from him.”
If you’d like to book Article Man for an appearance at your school, you can write to him by telegraph, making sure to use proper English.
- Try to guess which one that is. ↩