Monthly Archives: September 2011
I blame the Beeb. And yes, there are worse offenders – Sky News, ITV, Four, Five, politicians, bureaucrats, executives, business schools, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. But, Oh Auntie! It really is up to you to set an example. No one expects you to keep wearing the twinset, pearls and horsey headscarf. Something classic and tasteful from M&S or John Lewis would be perfectly acceptable, linguistically speaking. Or even a mini skirt or skinny jeans from Top Shop for Radio 1 listeners – but a shell suit and faux Burberry and all that bling! It’s just not on.
New expressions and new influences keep the language alive. Shakespeare misused grammar to great effect and some current expressions add wonderfully to its richness. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is laziness, sloppiness and the need to rush through everything at the behest of the programme schedulers – the modern equivalent of the hounds of hell. The broadcast media is always in such a hurry, trying to fit too much into too short a time. You only need to listen to the poor breathless weather people – trying to cram their spits and spots into the 15 seconds allotted to them. Hence the fashion for turning verbs and adjectives into nouns and vice versa. You do not ‘task’ someone to do something. ‘Task’ is noun, not a verb. And ‘conference’ is a noun, not please, oh please not a verb as in ‘lets conference.’ Add all this to the herd mentality and you end up with the sort of language that has me thinking fondly of the National Rifle Association.
Misuse of language is like a rash – it spreads. It only takes one politician to say ‘going forward’ and next thing you have is an epidemic. Before you know it expressions such as ‘in the future’, ‘looking ahead’ and even ‘from now on’ have become like Monty Python’s parrot – deceased, they are no more. ‘Going forward’ isn’t the only example, indeed there are so many that I could fill in a thousand posts, and given time, I probably will.
When did you last hear a newsreader, politician or businessman say that something was going to happen ‘before’ the meeting, the summit, the statement? Bet you can’t remember. ‘Before’ has vanished into outer darkness. Nowadays it’s all ‘ahead of this’ and ‘ahead of that’. Happily, I’m not alone. Lucy Kellaway has written a great article on the subject And there’s a bunch of people so annoyed at the way the expression has crept into business in general and their organisation in particular that they tracked its use in their meetings.
Not everyone cares about the way language is used. And of course, expressions that drive me nuts don’t bother others and vice versa. Nor am I suggesting that we follow rules blindly. I’m all for embracing new words, new forms and new uses. Provided they make sense. Provided you know what you’re doing. As long as there’s a positive result – more clarity, more nuances, more invention. What I can’t stand is sloppiness and the herd mentality. We are not sheep though I’m of the opinion that some among us are not as intelligent. Sloppy language leads to sloppy thought. And sloppy thought leads to all sorts of bad things. So if we can’t look to Auntie Beeb to set an example, then we might as well pack up our bags, put out the lights and learn to speak Esperanto.
Last time I heard some interviewee say ‘different than’ I threw the radio across the room,narrowly missing the cat. So for the sake of the cat’s physical health, not to say her sanity, I am reduced to screeching ‘different from’ at the top of my voice. Which does nothing for my throat. This is England for goodness sake. ‘Different than’ is an Americanism. It has no place here.
I’m happy to see that that excellent blogger ‘Pain in the English’ has posted on the subject. Of course, as he says, there are grey areas and differences of opinion. But, when used as a comparison, the expression is ‘different from’ or even on occasion ‘different to’ but not ‘different than.’ It’s just not right.
I know there are a few, very rare and vey specialised, instances where the ‘from’ might just be permissible, but what irritates me is that 99.9% if the people using the expression have absolutely no knowledge of the rules that might allow this. They are just following the herd – or even the ‘heard’ for it’s more than likely they have picked up the expression on the radio or TV. For more fascinating discussions on this and other facets of the English language, have a look at Pain in the English.
The material in this post comes from my old website. I had always meant to update it but never got round to it. Now that the new website is up and running and the blog is too, I think this stuff is better on the blog. It’s a totally random selection of some of the books I have enjoyed.
Ridley Walker – Russell Hoban. A must-read for anyone intrigued by language.
Beloved -Toni Morrison. Among the most exquisite writing you’ll find anywhere. An emotionally searing book.
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman. A brilliant, un-put-downable trilogy. The very best storytelling, tangled up with metaphysics.
Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. A children’s story, also much loved by adults and artists. Extraordinary imagination and amazing illustrations recently made into a film that, for once, is more or less faithful to the brilliant original.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt. Fantastic, dark, intriguing, factual. A cross between a travelogue and a crime mystery. Makes you long to visit Savannah.
Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve. An astonishing debut novel for children, but a great read for grown ups too. London on wheels. Yes, you did read that correctly. Read the book.
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things – Jon McGregor. Another wonderful debut novel. Beautifully written, spare and compelling. The tension is almost unbearable. And he’s written two more since then – both different, both amazing!
The Shipping News – E. Annie Proulx. One of my bibles. A book I return to again and again for its power and its poetry, its characters and its quirkiness.
Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman. The effect of mass media on society. An instructive, if chilling, book.
A Dictionary of Angels – Gustav Davidson. Perfect dipping in material. Did you know there is an angel over vegetables? And an angel who returns small birds to their owners?
More to come. Watch this space.