Language is arguably the greatest tool ever created by man, and as any etymologist will tell you, it's the never-ending evolution of our vocabulary which keeps it interesting. This week, a South London academy school banned their pupils from using a list of slang words (bare, innit, ain't - you get the picture) to much misguided mirth from the public.
The problem here isn't with children being told to behave a certain way at school - after all it's the responsibility of the teachers to send them into the world as adults with as many life skills as possible, speech and vocabulary included. The more worrying aspect of this government publicity stunt to drum up public support for academies (and please don't be fooled into thinking it's anything else) is the contempt for our lower-class youth which it seems orchestrated to encourage.
Self appointed 'urban youth' commentator David Lammy has been conveniently wheeled out to give the plan his blessings, handing ammo to the Right and giving comfort to scores of nervous liberals afraid to have an opinion on anything which might tread the race line. While Lammy's concerns that too many young people are going to job interviews unable to speak or write in formal English are correct, what the Labour MP should be more concerned about is the constant stereotyping and singling out of our urban youth as responsible for the deterioration of society. This lowest-common denominator public pandering is just another attempt at painting young urban kids the way our ruling Eton set see them: unambitious, work-shy little oiks.
Forget hundreds of angry, disaffected young men rioting in the streets of Tottenham in 2011 with very little done since to address any of the social problems which caused those events, let's just ban inner city kids from calling each-other 'fam'. That'll straighten them out. The fact that much of the shouty agreement on social media comes from people who you wouldn't trust to sit the right way on a toilet, never mind explain diphthongs and metaphors, is an irony in itself.
If it's lazy, annoying vocabulary that we're aiming to tackle, then how about we ask a few teenagers from major universities up and down the country how their weekend was? How many will break out into beautiful prose to describe their Saturday night hammering Jagerbombs in the local 'Spoons, bolstering complex sentences with similes, chucking in the odd Latin phrase? No, you'd get "It was LITERALLY AMAZING!". In fact, if you've been anywhere near a recent uni graduate in the past hour it's likely you'll have heard the word 'literally' close to 100 times already, with casual disregard of what the word actually means. But of course that's not a problem when the tabloids are busy handing out pub-justice to menacing 'hoody' culture.
If the educated Twitterati can decapitate their words willy nilly without getting totes emosh about it, why do we have such spiteful outrage reserved for kids on the street shortening isn't it to 'innit'? And is there any reason whatsoever to stop children using a word like 'bare'? These aren't grammar issues, they aim not to teach our young about language, but to suppress a culture which the ruling class don't approve of or understand.
Finally, a message to the pupils of Upper Norwood Academy: the English language is one of the most useful and enjoyable things you will ever learn, but as with any means of creative expression, the 'rules' can always be broken. Don't accept that you're lazy, show your intelligence and be proud of how you speak.
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