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From the vaults

Another one for Lords connoisseurs. It's 1979 again:
Lord KINGS NORTON rose to call attention to deterioration in the use of the English language.
“Deterioration”, in this context, turns out to have a very specific meaning:
Lord Kings Norton: In recent times, the tendency of which I complain has been even more noticeable in the USA than here and a great deal of the long-windedness and ambiguity which is creeping into our usage originates in America. Unfortunately, there are many uncritical folk here who think it clever to copy American usage. I became aware of what I now regard as a genuine danger many years ago when in the United States people began to use the word "alibi" to mean "excuse". An alibi is a special kind of excuse and to use it for "excuse" is to introduce ambiguity, and to diminish precision. If a man says, "I have an alibi", one does not now know whether he means that he has an excuse or that he was elsewhere when the act attributed to him took place. Other examples are the use of "anticipate" to mean "expect"; of "disinterested" to mean "uninterested" and a more recent neologism of this kind is the use of "hopefully" to mean "hope". To say, "I am hopefully going to Timbuctoo", used to mean, quite certainly, "I am going to Timbuctoo in a spirit of hope". Now it can also mean "I hope I am going to Timbuctoo".

There is also, harking back to long-windedness, a strange tendency to say "I am hopeful that" instead of "I hope that", an appalling desire to "meet up with" instead of "to meet", and a hope that actions will "pay off" instead of just "pay". The transatlantic liking for the long word of course has long been evident in the use of "apartment" for "flat", of "elevator" for "lift", of "assignment" for "job", of "location" for "place" and of phrases such as "mission accomplished" for "job done". But the liking for the long locution is, I think, more recent.

For example, for some time we have been aware of the spread of the word "capability". It all started in the world of technology. An aeroplane had "a long-range capability" instead of merely "a long range". We have now reached the stage indeed of saying, "It has the capability of doing" instead of "It can do ". This sort of thing seems, in cold blood, incredible, but it is happening. Worse still is the prevalence of "currently". That is a word I feel very strongly about. The present is one of the few precise notions we have: It is the instant dividing the past from the future. It rarely needs qualification and if, for emphasis, it does, the word "now" is available.

We have reached a pitch, however, at which if I had said in my preamble this afternoon, "I am currently speaking to your Lordships on English usage", I doubt whether I should have attracted any criticism. More and more such unnecessary words are being inserted. People today no longer have just good or bad records; they have good or bad track records. "Track" is not only unnecessary; it is really rather silly, but it is in common use. In another place recently a Member referred to "the crisis situation". The word "situation" was unnecessary. Rather worse, in a broadcast report of the Pope's visit to Mexico, I learned that in Mexico City there was "an ongoing chaos situation", which meant, I suppose, "continuing chaos". [Hansard]
And so on. A valid enough criticism of style but one probably better suited to a stern letter to the Radio Times. If this is what the noble Lord considered deterioration, it's worth spending a second picturing what his reaction would have been to a construction such as “I'm bringing bare mans, blood, we're gonna mash it up, you get me?”.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
chiller
Oct. 18th, 2011 12:12 pm (UTC)
Well, it's nice to know they have something to worry about, because they're not sparing much anxiety about the nation's health, are they?
lowlowprices
Oct. 27th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
I strongly agree with Lord Kings Norton.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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