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The language

"Wrong" words can irritate, but perhaps we shouldn't get too hung up about them, reflects Heather Neill

"The Language" is now several weeks old, and I hope I have managed to project the image of a reasonable person writing this column. That isn't altogether true, of course; most people interested in language get bees in their bonnet and, well, I'd better confess, there are still times when I shout at the radio. Trying to steer a path between valuable change, the fudging of meaning, political correctness and simply appearing (heaven forefend!) to be out of touch or old-fashioned is not easy.

One mistake (well, I still think it's a mistake) that gets a response from me is the use of "hung" by a BBC person to refer to dispatch by rope. Pictures are hung, people are hanged - not judicially any more, thank goodness - but anyway, they are not hung.

This little irritation illustrates all too clearly just how important it is to keep things in perspective, however; the word for the phenomenon isn't very important compared with the thing itself. I remember once being told by a programme-maker that, unfortunately, allowing the phrase "Bloody Pakies" to be uttered in a drama would result in far more complaints about the first word than the second. "Bad" language still presses instant irritation buttons for many listeners and viewers.

But hang now means something else much more restful. Whereas young people used to hang out when they were relaxing, now they are likely to invite each other to "come round and just hang". They'll be chilling at the same time, of course.

Please send in your thoughts on current trends in language. Some time before the end of term I'll quote from your correspondence.


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