A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

BAD LANGUAGE




                Surprisingly, I was recently invited to become the founder President of the Cribden based Rossendale Royal Philological Society (Not really). Wrongly assuming that philology was the posh word for something like wife swapping, naturally I accepted. The night before the inaugural meeting, the secretary-elect informed me that philology was, as he put it, ‘Language and stuff like that’. I hurriedly re-wrote my presidential inaugural address and hereby append the speech as delivered, for your further edification and delight. And stuff like that...

            Ladies and gentlemen, I feel greatly honoured to be invited to give this address, and not only honoured but somewhat awed. For is not language one of the most important aspects of human behaviour? I think it’s terrifically useful for communicating with, and, in line with current socio-dynamic psychologist theory, I would say that talking wouldn’t be the same without it. Language is, when you come down to it, a whole... I mean it’s a whole... language, isn’t it? And much better at getting things over to other people than... than... well, you know.

            However, I have chosen as the subject of my inaugural address not a song of praise for the goddess of language, but more a note of caution on some of the lesser known abuses and depredations currently being heaped on her alter. If the goddess language is truly the White Cliffs of human expression, then she is being sadly eroded at the bottom. I have decided tonight to select a few of the more current abuses and misuses of language, the ones I think are a bit more commoner, and therefore dangerouser, and illustrate them for you. For these purposes I shall ignore the older errors, as I shall the newer (text message speak – l8ers m8), those that generations of grammarians have regarded as their bêtes noirs (a French phrase meaning literally ‘black bets’, i.e. money down the drain). I shall not be rehashing those schoolmasterish sentences such as ‘Where did you get that book you know I don’t like to be read to out of down from?’ (Laughter.) I do not particularly object to ending a sentence with a preposition, but prefer, like most politicians and prostitutes, to end my sentence with a proposition! (No laughter.)

            The first aspect of current abuse that I should like to illustrate is the common practice of converting nouns into verbs at random and without regard to grammar or propriety. For the purposes of this talk, I shall define as a noun any word pertaining to an object or abstract concept that has specific ontological significance within any given substantive contextual cognitive pattern. And of course a verb is a ‘doing word’. Now the practice of converting a noun into a verb is long-standing. For centuries we have penned letters, pencilled drawings, and more recently telephoned our friends. But the practice of random and willy nilly conversion of any noun into a verb - one might say 'of verbing a noun' except one wouldn't be caught dead doing so (no laughter) - reached its apogee (or possibly apogeed) in an American movie when an unruly and ungrammatical youth said to his moll, 'Cigarette me, baby.' The mannerism caught on. Soon Americans were saying to each other, 'Let me lunch you.' The connotations were numerous. One could let oneself be coffeed early in the morning; the working class continually meat and two vegged one another while the aristocrats Devonshire-clotted-cream-teaed themselves; and the middle class executive, ever in a rush, simply hamburgered himself. After you have been lunched (or even lynched) the bill is checked and credit-carded, and if you don't want to keep the receipt you can always bin it.

I am sure you get the idea. It surprises me that the Americans - having had so much trouble with Messrs. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Clinton, Bush and Bush - do not say things like 'the best man lost the race, so the whole ceremony was completely presidented.' And from this inauspicious beginning, whither? Will doctors of this country start doing it? Will patients soon be hearing things like 'Well Mr Smith, I'm sorry to say that you have been heart-attacked.' Let us hope not. (Even if he has.) Will the practice then extend to abbreviations? Shall it be de rigeur (literally 'boring you stiff') to utter phrases like 'my new play was BBCed yesterday', and the like. And if you fancy getting away from it all, you might choose to P and O off.

There is another trend coming to us on the wind of change blowing across the Atlantic - most of it small change unfortunately - and that is the tendency to append the suffix -ise to abstract nouns. Thus a citizen may announce that his house 'has been burglarised'. This is indeed a crime of superfluity (by both parties) since we have totally acceptable alternatives freely available in 'a burglary has taken place', or even 'the house was burgled'. This error carries with it an air of precision and technical knowledge which makes it attractive to the uninitiated. I fear that we will have, on the crest of the real crime wave, a second phraseological crime wave. Innocent passers-by will soon be robbery-with-violencised, urban streets will be loitered-with-intentised in, and rich merchants will be muggerised or else abductionised and grievously-bodily-harmised, robberised, assaultised and, for all I know, sodomised and simonized. The mere thought of all this dastardliness is enough to make me heart failurised (or was it heart-attacked). As the parliamentarians so often say, 'The -ise have it!' (Absolutely no laughter at all).

Then there is the problem of the second remove. This is not another name for the debate for the abolition of public schools, but merely a way of suggesting that people are tending to forget where their words come from. A Vienna is a sausage designed or built in Vienna. A hamburger is a flat cake of stuff dittoed (forgive me) in Hamburg. But there is no such place as Beefburg. Nor is there a place - even in Arizona - called SuperEggBrunchBurg; though there is still time for a Russian oil oligarch to build one. In the same vein, there is a well known confection made with cherries and chocolate sponge called a black forest gateau.  If one invents a lemon flavoured version, would it become Yellow Forest Gateaux? Let us hope not. With the present standard of etymological orthodoxy, it would soon become Yellow River Gateaux or even the highly xenophobic Yellow Peril Gateaux. Even if it could be ediblised.

The final aspect of linguistic abuse that I would like to highlight under the precise glare of my philological scalpel is that of the chimera. The uneasy alliance of verb and preposition in an ongoing and upcoming scenario. We may soon look forward to train passengers becoming involved in an offgetting situation, athletes starting an uplimbering run, students becoming outdropped (which sounds a little surgical), and of course prunes becoming - as everyone knows - throughgoing. Need I say more?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this address has been little more than a preliminary survey of the field, an upwarming attempt on my part. If it has been too long or inaccurate, I do apologise in a downclimbing fashion. I just hope I haven't boredomised you. (Again, no laughter but a round of ecstatic shuffling of feet and a spontaneous burst of going across the road to the pub and stuff like that).



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