Linguistic slash ludicrous

7th June 1996 at 01:00
I can't work up much enthusiasm for Trevor McDonald's Better English Campaign, but my own mission to root out the linguistic idiocies of those who are too slipshod, stressed or greedily competitive to talk properly goes on. These are the ones who qualify for Simon Hoggart's "Stanley Unwin Prize" for making yourself understood in a language close to but different from English. So here is another "lethal cocktail" of the fatuously ludicrous, a hopeless attempt to make the irritatingly fashionable unfashionable.

That annoying tendency to convert nouns into verbs has developed an alarming momentum. Cricketers now "gift" their wickets, actors "workshop" plays, intellectuals "critique" ideas, institutions get "bankrolled", DJs "playlist" tracks, writers "sequel" their novels, companies get "headquartered" and Formula 1 drivers "pit" their cars. Occasionally, verbs masquerade as nouns as in a big "spend", a new "hang" at an art gallery or a hand-finished "build" to a car.

Information technology jargon has clearly made powerful inroads when a computer nut can refer to his "partner" as his "girlfriend slash fiancee". Journalists "page" through their minds, the telephone becomes a "hard line" and "interrogate" comes to mean looking up something in a book.

Teaching is still riddled with people seduced by shallow managerial claptrap, using it as a mark of virility or unashamed ambition. There are those who want to get pupils "tasked up", talk about "key" or "major league players", or intend to "backmap" a school's performance. I've heard "bottom line drivers" used, amazingly, for "basic aims" and the inexplicable "fugitive material" is now librarian-speak for a box of scrappy cuttings and dog-eared Oxfam leaflets.

Mind you, I've yet to find anyone saying "I've just shifted another 30 units" after marking a set of books or "It's been nice working with you" at the end of a lesson. Military euphemism has also been resisted, so we're not yet accused of "mission creep" when we exceed our job specification, or "posturing our operations" when we set objectives.

Cultural studies offer rich pickings, with an intellectual spat invariably described as "a site of contestation", universities as "the academy", a significant point in history always as a "moment". Psychobabble still threatens plain language with Courtney Love talking about her need for "anger management" after allegedly punching two fans and presumably ending up in a "shame spiral" craving "personal validation".

Linguistics professor David Crystal pointed out the futility of trying to hold back linguistic innovation. Words change, it's a "suck and see" situation, yet in the chasm between language and the depredations of speech there is still room for mirth. But to be serious about the "future basing" of the language, we must close the "rhetoricreality" gap. Have you any views, "at all"?

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