Alarm at the BBC!

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I pick on the BBC now and then, as part of my series on How the English Are Ruining Our Language, mainly because I like to listen to the BBC World Service’s News Hour in the morning, and Razia Iqbal is a constant source of entertainment to me.  It turns out, though, that somebody at the BBC thinks we Americans are ruining their language.  Today I came across this article from last September on the BBC’s web site.  A person with the surprising name of Hephzibah Anderson, writing about a book by one Matthew Engel, asserts that “Americanisms are killing the English language,” by which she seems to mean the Southern-English dialect of the written English language.  (She says, “Because by English, I mean British English;” but she obviously doesn’t mean Scottish English or Liverpudlian English or Welsh English or Yorkish English, or any dialect of English as it is spoken outside of English public schools.)

What she is worried about seems chiefly to be vocabulary, rather than grammar.  I think she doesn’t need to fret so much.  The vocabulary is changing on this side of the Atlantic, too, mostly because of computerese and commercial speech, as I never tire of pointing out.  But vocabulary changes constantly, and, at the end of the day, England is probably giving as good (and as bad) as it gets in that game.  Don’t get me wrong:  it annoys me, just as it annoys—and rather depresses—me to see advertisements all over Europe in English, rather than in the native languages.  But most of the Americanisms Ms. Anderson deplores are neologisms here, too, or were at some point.

Take apartment.  Americans used to live in flats, just like the English (when we didn’t live in tenements), but in the mid-Nineteenth Century American real-estate marketeers imported (and Anglicized) the French word, appartement, as a sexier alternative.  (Apartments already existed in English, referring to a separate suite of rooms within a large house, as in “the state apartments at Duke’s Denver”, but as an alternative to flats it’s an import from Paris.)

She remarks on elevator, not as a noun (as opposed to the good old English lift), but as a verb:

As in, Ahmed was ‘elevatoring’ towards the top of his profession in Manhattan.

Why would a Brit object to that?  It’s the English, after all, who insist that a house could use “a good clean”, and who enjoy “a bathe” now and then.  If they can noun verbs, why can’t we verb nouns?  Anyway, plenty of nouns get used as verbs in “British English”, and nobody objects:  dog, track, sound, race, hand, head—the list is endless.

If I were Ms. Anderson, I’d be more worried about the British elimination of the subjunctive and prepositions, and the bizarre pluralization of pronouns (so as to avoid gender), all of which are happening here, too, but which are happening much faster in England because of the unified school system and the national press.

By the way, one of the words Ms. Anderson particularly deplores, cookies, isn’t really an Americanism at all—that is, it did come to England from America, but it doesn’t come from American English originally.  It’s Dutch, just like bosscoleslawand Santa Claus.  Maybe that will be some comfort to her.

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“Based off”

We used to say that one thing was “based on” another.  For example, a movie might be based on a book, or an assertion might be based on statistics.  Somehow, things have come to be “based off” other things (or, occasionally, “based off of” other things).  Based on means that one thing has the other thing as its basis, its base, its foundation.  What does based off mean?

Number again

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I’ve complained here before, several times, about people’s giving a verb the number of the nearest noun, rather than that of the noun that’s doing the action.  Usually, it’s a plural verb that ought to be singular, but today I came across a singular verb that ought to be plural, so I thought I’d mention it here:

As you may have seen, there are some “one time affects” from a large cash infusion that is very hard to explain.

The writer misspells effects, which is not unusual, and seems to consider a large cash infusion very hard to explain.  She or he is in fact referring to those one-time effects, which he or she should have said, “are very hard to explain;” but “infusion” got in the way, and compelled her or him to use the number of that, instead of the number of the things that were hard to explain.  Why don’t people think about what they write?

“Manse”

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I grew up in a manse.

tinkling spring manse

Tinkling Spring Manse, Fishersville, Virginia.  Probably taken by my father, the Rev. R. S. Crutchfield, probably around 1960.

My father was a Presbyterian minister, and our house, which the church provided, was the manse.  The principal, modern definition of manse, according to Webster’s, is

the residence of a minister; especiallythe house of a Presbyterian minister.

The first manse I lived in was an imposing house on a hill, which still stands, although it’s been sold, the land around the hill has been filled, and there’s a gas station where the front yard used to be.  Then we moved to the city, and the manse we lived in was an ordinary, single-family house—big enough for a family of six, but not imposing.

There seems now to be a trend among the paid praters to use manse in its secondary (or, according to Webster’s, tertiary) sense,

a large imposing residence.

Just go to Webster’s and look at the examples from the Web.  They all refer to large, imposing residences, rather than the homes of Presbyterian ministers.  I guess the paid praters want a snazzier alternative to the ordinary word, mansionwhose modern meaning is always “a large imposing residence” (unless you’re into astrology).  It’s not wrong, but it bugs me.

Numbers and Numerals

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I’ve said before that it is always wrong to start a sentence, a headline, or a title with a numeral.  George Orwell’s most famous novel was originally published as Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it’s a sad comment on our times that it has been reprinted as “1984”.

I complain from time to time about newspaper style-books, and I think it’s singularly inappropriate that they have been adopted by news outlets that exist only on the Web, where column-inches are virtually unlimited (at least in terms of production cost), and there is no need to conserve type.  (The parsimony of the printed press has given us “kidnaper” and “thru“, among other monstrosities.  I suspect it’s also to blame for “normalcy“.)

That’s why I was pleased today to see, on CNN’s Web site, the following:

Two hundred twelve people have gotten sick with salmonella since February due to poultry, the agency said Monday. The illnesses have been reported in 44 states.

JEN CHRISTENSEN AND DEBRA GOLDSCHMIDT, CNN, “WHY BACKYARD CHICKENS ARE A HEALTH RISK“, 26 JULY 2018.

CNN does seem to be using a newspaper style manual on its web site, whence the “44 states” instead of “forty-four States”, as I would have written it; but at least it starts the paragraph with words instead of numerals.

“Percieve”

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Probably forty years ago, maybe more, Americans, led by politicians and their flacks, started using the word perceived to mean false, usually in response to accusations of wrongdoing.  “Perceived corruption”, for example, came to mean, not corruption that somebody has perceived, but something other than corruption—perhaps something that looked like corruption, to a hostile viewer, but wasn’t.  It was a way of calling people liars without giving them the lie direct.  Now, predictably, perceived has quit being a euphemism or indirection, and simply taken the place of false.  Take the following example:

A lot of people perceive a bird with salmonella will look sick, but that is really not the case.

Dr. Megin Nichols, a CDC veterinarian, quoted in Jen Christensen and Debra Goldschmidt, CNN, “Why backyard chickens are a health risk“, 26 July 2018.

Here, perceive just means “wrongly believe”.  How can anybody get a doctorate without knowing how to use the word perceive?

On the Subway

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One of my very first blog entries (on my old blog, long since deleted) praised whoever wrote the announcements on the New York City subways for using momentarily correctly:  “We are being held in the station momentarily by the train’s dispatcher.  We expect to be moving shortly.”

Well, those days are pretty much gone.

Most of the announcements we hear on the subway are now canned, recorded by people with generic American-broadcast accents, in a gross affront to the few remaining people who still speak like New Yorkers.  (We Southerners, of course, have been putting up with that since the dawn of radio, but it still gets up my nose.)  Occasionally, on an older train, or when something unexpected happens, you still get a live person with a local accent on the P. A. (the conductor), and some of them still remember that momentarily means “for a moment”, not “in a moment”.  (If that strikes you as odd, maybe it will help to think about the Pink Floyd album, “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”.  Probably it won’t.)

Only now, it seems, those canned announcements will have to be re-recorded (as soon as the budget allows it), because the old “Ladies and Gentlemen!” is insufficiently inclusive.  I’m not complaining about that.  If a significant number of subway riders don’t consider themselves to be included in “Ladies and Gentlemen!”, I may disagree, I may frown and grumble a little (how many real ladies and gentlemen have there ever been on the subway anyway?), but who am I to tell them how to feel?

What I am complaining about is the syrupy “Hello Everyone!” which seems to have  been selected as an alternative.  It’s almost always delivered by a woman who sounds like a kindergarten teacher, and who almost always delivers the message that follows in a sing-song voice, as if commuters were little children.

Official announcements should sound businesslike and impersonal.  When an announcement starts out, “Hello Everyone!“, my impulse is to ignore it.  It strikes me like a commercial on the radio, and I automatically tune it out.  I’m not advocating the bizarre announcementese that calls trash cans receptacles; but what’s wrong with, “Attention Passengers!”?

This morning, the F train was delayed because of “a track condition”, whatever that is.  The nice lady who shared that news with “Everyone” told us, “We hope to return to normal operation as soon as possible.”  They hope?  Surely they will return to normal operation as soon as possible!  What they hope, I venture to say, is that it will be possible for them to return to normal operation soon.