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Otherwise my novels, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations, responses, apologies. I'm only serious by accident. Education? Forget it. I hold posts to 300 words* since I've found less is better than more. One quasi-certainty in an uncertain world: I almost always re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* New exclusion: short stories.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Cull words, not badgers

The Académie Francaise, France's word police, aiming to protect the language of Molière, have belatedly banned the anglo-import ASAP ("far from transparent, seems to accumulate most of the defects of a language that hides its contempt and threatening character under the guise of modern junk").

I try to imagine what causes I would support if unexpectedly elected to the little-known British imitation: State-School Comprehensive Workshop.

I'd be careful not to jump the gun. I sneered at "prioritise" when I first saw it ("It's new, therefore it must be bad.") But recently I haven't been able to think of a single-word equivalent. How can I then condemn  it? And I don't want to hear anyone say it's ugly - a very subjective judgement. Just imagine the reaction among the steppes-dwellers when they first heard: "We're thinking of calling it a yurt."

I don't like "tad", it's unnecessary, coy if not cute. But that's subjective. The battleground would be political euphemism. Replacing the burned-down House of Commons would not be a "challenge" (implying grandeur), simply a necessary job. I would not feel "challenged" if my trousers fell down before Huw Edwards; I would improvise new braces and curse the chainsaw manufacturer, Stihl, who sponsored my current pair.

I have already said "unacceptable" is not synonymous with "wrong". On a different tack I would condemn percentages, especially related to growth, if uttered baldly without reference to a numerical base. After all, a hundred percent increase on a base of a half, gives a total of one.

At the weekend I would erect gallows for my prejudices: "incredible" denied to all TV globe-trotters, "genius" a no-no in sports commentaries, and nobody, alive or dead, ever to be called "bubbly".

7 comments:

mike M said...

I'm wondering what tools the French have to enforce word bans. I've read a book about the original compilation of the OED, "The Meaning of Everything" by Simon Winchester....found it a good read. For the most part you imagine banning words not outright but in particular situations. I favor a moratorium on "awesome", but I hope to accuse several people of being forgetive today and insert penultimate if given a chance. A close friend of mine used penultimate incorrectly in a spoken sentence to me once (he thought it to mean something like "uber-ultimate") choice moments those! I learned penultimate many years ago when I encountered it in the liner notes of ELP's rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition, referencing the movement Baba Yaga. Thanks for the intro lads, you led me eventually to the proper piano version. A list of bannable acronyms should include lol, lol.

Blonde Two said...

Blonde One is a tad (sorry, couldn't resist) fussy about a couple of words. One dare not utter them in her presence. "juxtaposition" is one and "moist" is the other.

We Blondes also, as you may have noticed, enjoy making words up. This trait has been inherited by Not-At-All-Blonde who invented "smasual" which is much nicer than "smart-casual".

PS I like to use the word "nice" because so many teachers told me not to. Go figure, (so much easier to hate whole phrases.!)

Sir Hugh said...

Nothing wrong with the word, but Dennis Healey used it so many times in his autobiography that it now makes me feel sick every time I come across it: "seminal". Serves me right for reading it I suppose.

And worst by a long way: "amazing".

Natalie said...

Along with awesome, incredible and like, I would ban 'at the end of the day' and the mis-spelling of 'separate' as 'seperate'. Don't get me started on other spelling atrocities.

mike M said...

Grammer is as much a problem as spelling. People should of paid attention in school.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: The short answer is the AF can't ban words; only provide guidelines and put pressure on government to be more careful. I'm sympathetic about the AF's aims - an uphill struggle which they are bound to lose, due to the US's enormous global influence re English.

"Awesome" - a useful word which has lost its primary meaning - inspiring awe. As to your mate's "penultimate" you don't say whether you kindly pointed out his error. If you did (and he is still your friend) there will have been one beneficial outcome - he'll never make that mistake again.

I see you carefully picking your moment for dropping "forgetive" into the conversation - possibly in the bar that featured in the short story (non-fictional account?) you posted two or three months ago. Be very careful to use a soft g; a hard g would create too close an aural link with "forget".

B2: Since it's clear the pair of you walk and talk, and would only stop talking if held underwater for some time, you have the basis for an ambulatory language lab. Calling up oddities, discussing meanings, favouring some words and casting others into outer darkness, relishing favourites. I would pay good money for one day's invisibility, trailing behind you both for a mile (before you outwalked me) taking notes.

Making up words is a sign of language love as far as I'm concerned. Keep it up.

I enjoy using "nice" in its older meaning: "a nice distinction." A good way of inducing blankness among those within earshot.

Sir Hugh: Perhaps you are sickened by the copulatory overtones.

A good rejoinder to someone who is amazing-dependent: "But then you're easily amazed, aren't you?

Natalie: Joe came up with another, regularly used by politicians: "to be honest" (I am now about to tell a smallish lie) leading to "to be perfectly honest" (a bigger lie).

Mike M (part two): A very, very dangerous type of joke. Many people (though not those who comment on Tone Deaf) are cursed with clanking literalism

mike M said...

Of course I called my friend out on penultimate, and he remains my friend. (how could he not, his mother was an English teacher and he and I "met" during a math lesson in probability, finding that we were born on the same day in '54, 8 hours apart) He was duly chagrined, as I would have been had he jumped me for mispronouncing forgetive. I certainly would have without your cautionary comment, and he might well know that one!