Thursday 8 November 2012

English. Don't let it die of ignorance

Every day we mangle our precious language. We use words we don’t understand, or use the wrong words to describe what we might not mean. Occasionally, hilarious clangers, such as ‘escape goat’, remind us how little care we take over verbal expression, or how reluctant we are to challenge received Norman Wisdom.

Other examples of misused phrases include ‘for all intensive purposes’, ‘play it by year’ and ‘that’s a mute point’. Add to the mix the proliferation of so-called management speak - meaningless pumped up expressions that allow corporate clones to miscommunicate with each other - and we are perilously close to little more than grunting… albeit in a form of English. 

If I ever hear utterly redundant phrases such as ‘going forward’, or tautology like ‘me, personally’ or the ridiculous ‘from the get go’ I know the speaker has nothing to say and will use too many words to say it. I’ve already closed my ears and pretty soon my eyelids will follow suit. I’ve been known to snore loudly in meetings and not miss a single important thing. 

We also use phrases from the past whose origins are lost. How can ‘now then’ mean ‘hello’, for instance? But, English changes; all languages change with common usage. Useful phrases from one age – ‘balls out, ‘big-wig’, ‘dyed in the wool’ – often survive with their meanings intact, while others die out altogether or change their meaning. I’m not against change; I’m against wrong. 

And the wrongest of wrongs must surely be the ubiquitous ‘should of/would of/could of/must of’ and any other variants you can think of. Wrong because it is simply incorrect; but even more wrong because users don’t seem to realise it. You hear it pronounced ‘of’ instead of have, which is bad enough but far too often you see it written down, even in newspapers and official documents. It’s only a matter of time before the OED lists it as acceptable. 

This is how propaganda works. Say it often enough and loud enough and eventually people will accept as true something which palpably isn’t. The Conservative political philosophy is as far from being evil as you can get, but Tory may as well be pronounced ‘Lucifer’ for many. Labour’s fiscal policies are demonstrably unworkable, unfair and destructive, yet somehow ‘welfare dependency’ is interpreted as caring. 

If you can’t even be bothered to check whether what you say means what you intended, what are the chances you’ll bother to check the provenance of the news of the day? Ignorance breeds more ignorance and eventually the truth is lost altogether. How else did the gigantic despotic experiments of the twentieth century get off the ground? 

The USA has just had its say and produced an outcome many disagree with and some even fear. But at least the USA IS one nation with no real threat to its identity. But a United States of Europe? English isn't just a language, it's a whole way of life. We should of got out when we had the chance...

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