The Continuing Insult To The English Language

Yithian

Parish Watch
Staff member
Joined
Oct 29, 2002
Messages
23,196
Likes
19,943
Points
309
Location
East of Suez
#1
Which, in the spirit of the essay, is not to say that Mr James is himself a continuing insult. Rather he's a bit of a legend and this rather painful read (i'm not all that shoddy with my language and i had to give one or two sentences a second - or third - glance) is a nice introduction to his rather splendid website. It's packed with content and well worth your time.

The Continuing Insult to the English Language

In which English-speaking country is the English language falling apart fastest? Britain. Are things as bad in Australia? I hope not. In Britain, in 2006, the Labour government is still trying to fix Britain's education system, but surely one of the reasons it's so hard to fix is that most of the people who should know how are themselves the system's victims, and often don't even seem to realise it. They need less confidence. Even when they are ready to admit there might be a problem, few of them realise that they lack the language to describe it.

An appropriate sense of desperation has been insufficiently quick to set in. As recently as 2001, one of Britain's higher educational journals carried a letter signed by more than five hundred university professors, lecturers and teachers of English. They all concurred in a single opinion. "The teaching of grammar and spelling is not all that important." But every signatory of that letter must have been well aware that a depressing number of his or her students and pupils would have written the sentence another way: "The teaching of grammar and spelling are not all that important." We can only hope that the number has since decreased. The government would like us to think it has. But the evidence from the media and everyday life suggest that most people would be at a loss to find anything wrong with the first clause of the sentence I am writing now, except, perhaps, the whining irascibility of its tone.

Unless taught better, even a quite bright student will not realise that "the evidence" is the subject, and takes the singular. The "and" linking "media" and "everyday life" makes the noun phrase look like a plural, and so, by attraction, the plural verb is put in automatically. People who have learned English as a second language rarely make the error, because they were taught some grammar along with the vocabulary. But people who have learned English as a first language are increasingly likely to be driven to a plural verb by a plural-sounding singular subject, and precisely because they have learned the language by ear, instead of by prescription. In an infinite variety of forms, the same mistake can be seen in the feature pages of the British quality press every week. (The trash papers, oddly enough, are still relatively immune: perhaps because some of the old unionised sub-editors are still on the case.)

Even the most intellectually upmarket publications are not exempt. Before Fleet Street's necessary but regrettable disintegration, the editors and subeditors of the quality broadsheets knew how to fix the solecisms of ambitious young journalists who had somehow dodged the school system. But at the very time when the school system itself became a potent incubator for the semi-literate scribbler, the sudden multiplication of culture-page outlets meant that there were no longer enough cultivated editors and subeditors to go round, and by now some of the editors and subeditors are themselves products of the anti-educational orthodoxy by which expressiveness counts above precision. It would, if the two terms were separable. But they aren't. Beyond a certain point — and the point is reached early — precision is what expressiveness depends on.

Startled by the high-level declaration in 2001 that grammar and spelling were not very important, I began keeping a record, for the first time, of the blunders as they flooded by. I expected the flood to abate. But by now I am sitting on top of the house, and my notes for that crucial year are in my trembling hand. Things had gone haywire a long time before that, of course, but that was the year when the people in charge had the hide to tell us that it didn't matter. They could hardly have picked up even the most posh of newspapers without encountering evidence that it mattered like mad. On May 12, 2001, someone on the Guardian's literary page asked "What would Philip Larkin make of a new collection of his work, Further Requirements?" Reasonably all right so far, although the unspecific "a" would have been better as a "the" or a "this". But then the literary someone answered his own question. "Having selected all the material for Required Writing, in 1983, and then died a mere two years later, one might regard a second volume as de trop..."

The French tag is a claim to clerical expertise that the dangling participle scarcely supports. In 2001, the literary someone has failed to notice that he has composed a sentence in which he dies in 1975. It would be asking too much to expect the literary someone to realise that he is not qualified to read Beatrix Potter, let alone Philip Larkin: but he might at least read his own stuff with his ears open. Evelyn Waugh occasionally dangled a modifier, and Anthony Powell dangled them like a boat fishing for tuna; but a less gifted writer would do best to avoid the practice. All too often, such blunders of mismatched apposition drive the reader to re-work the sentence himself before he can figure out what the writer must mean. When the writer is getting all of the fee, and the reader is doing at least half of the labour, the discrepancy can cause resentment.

In the Observer of 13 May 2001 the aviation correspondent drew on his reserves of metaphor to recreate the Concorde crash near Paris the previous year. The historical present is a bad tense in which to evoke anything, but worse than that is on offer. "Already mortally wounded, flame bleeds uncontrollably from beneath the left wing." The bleeding flame has everything wrong with it apart from the mixed metaphor: for the aircraft to bleed flame, it would have had to have flame in its veins and arteries, whereas what it had was aviation gasoline. But what really screws the sentence is the dangler, which makes the bleeding flame mortally wounded. He means that the aircraft was mortally wounded. Luckily you know he must mean that, because he has been talking about the aircraft in the previous sentence. So this sentence counts as a mild case. In thousands of more severe cases, from hundreds of other writers, mismatched apposition introduces genuine confusion. "At the age of eight, his father died in an accident" can be construed on its own, after a brief pause for thought. "At the age of eighteen, his father died in an accident" gets you into the area of needing to look elsewhere in the piece to find out what's going on.

In its best years, Private Eye was written by privately educated junior mandarins who could make a stylistic analysis of yob-speak in order to score satirical points. But in June 2001, issue No.1029 carried the following sentence as straight reportage. "Unheard of before the Tories plucked them from obscurity, cynics suggested that Smith Square couldn't afford a more established agency..." After looking back, you can deduce that an advertising agency called Yellow M was plucked from obscurity, and not the cynics. A thousand issues before, you would never have had to bother. For a long time, Private Eye's literary page was free of illiteracy, but now the disease is rampant even there. In No.1042, for 30th November 2001, Andrew Morton's catchpenny biography of Madonna was given what was obviously meant to be an exemplary wigging, but the reviewer calamitously proved that his grip on the language was no more firm than that of his lumbering victim. "With countless newspaper serialisations and the most fortuitously timed royal death in the history of publishing behind him, any celebrity bum-chum knows that the phone call from Morton is akin to Judas's 30 pieces of silver." In whatever way something is timed, it can't be timed fortuitously: the reviewer means "fortunately". But the real damage is done by the muffed apposition. It can't be the celebrity bum-chum that has all that stuff behind him, so it must be Morton. Or so we presume, if we are still reading. But why would we be doing that?

The internet magazines are a rich source of tangled connections. Their contributors are computer literate but that doesn't make them literate, and indeed seems to ensure the opposite. Here is a sentence from the July, 2001 issue of one of the glossiest internet magazines, the net. (The preference for lower case, incidentally, is already a bad sign about the standard of literacy in the wired world: the illustrative use of upper case amounts to an information system, and to abandon it means being less communicative, not more.) But let's try again: here is the sentence. "Once up and running the guardians of copyright are really going to have their work cut out to close it down."

Sad experience has already taught the reader that "it" is more likely than "the guardians of copyright" to be the noun element that will soon be "up and running." Previous sentences reveal that "it" is the Freenet file-sharing system for pirated feature movies; and that the Freenet system is still in development, and is therefore a likely candidate for being described as not yet up and running. Armed with that information, you can put the meaning of the sentence together. But the saddest thing about the sad experience is your hard-won knowledge that if the author had meant the guardians of copyright to be the subject of description, he would have put the adjectival element in the wrong place by about the same distance: "The guardians of copyright are really going to have their work cut out to close it down, once up and running."

On the web itself, the standard of English is even worse than in the magazines. The characteristic sentence on the web is transmitted in a nano-second across the world and then slows to a crawl within the reader's brain, almost always because the grammar is out of whack: vocabulary is abundant, but its analytical deployment is an approximate mess. Efficiency of expression is in inverse proportion to the precision of the machines. It is sadly possible to predict a future in which anybody will be able to transmit any message at any speed but nobody will be able to say anything intelligible.

Especially in those American glossy magazines with pretensions to being investigative, there is a brand of lumpen prose that perpetrates no real howlers but still weighs like lead because the reader continually has to join in the writing. In Vanity Fair for May, 2001, an informative article about Bill Clinton's abandoned colleague Webb Hubbell evoked the scene when Hubbell was taken back to Little Rock to testify. "He arrived in the city where he had once been mayor handcuffed and shackled." Unless he was handcuffed and shackled while he was mayor, this sentence is just a mass of raw material waiting for the reader to make something of it. Ostensibly there is nothing much wrong with the grammar, but the word order is out of control; and in English composition, because the language is relatively uninflected, word order and grammar are seldom without connection. The sentence could be mended at the price of one comma: "Handcuffed and shackled, he arrived in the city where he had once been mayor." The New Yorker's style police would probably want two commas ("He arrived, handcuffed and shackled, in the city where he had once been mayor") because the New Yorker likes the noun stated in front of any qualification, in case the reader cancels his subscription while being kept in suspense.

But faulty word order, when it does not introduce confusion, is a secondary issue compared with faulty grammar when it does. You can write charmlessly without insulting the reader. But to write ungrammatically, and not realise it, is to insult the English language. It also removes the possibility of being ungrammatical on purpose: a real impoverishment when it comes to special effects. And in this respect the British are a long way ahead of the Americans: a long way ahead, that is, on the road to perdition.

"Even as Congress was voting," wrote Anthony Holden in his New York Diary for the Observer, 18 November 2001, "one rogue security-dodger in Atlanta was enough to grind the world's busiest airport to a prolonged halt..." Anthony Holden once gave me some crucial help on a Washington assignment, so to quote one of his less polished sentences might seem a harsh way to reward him, but I like to think he would do the same for me. The language, as Keats said after being repelled by Milton, should be kept up. Holden is a long-serving professional whose prose is normally as well-calculated as his poker playing, and the Observer section editors were once the best in Fleet Street. But on this occasion both the writer and his editor must have nodded off at once. The original metaphor depends for its effect on evoking the sound of some mechanism grinding to a halt. The metaphor is fatally diluted when something grinds something else to a halt: for one thing, it would be a slow way of stopping an airport.

Usually, when a metaphor slithers into imprecision, it is because the activity from which it was drawn is no longer current practice. Nobody gets the picture, because there is no longer a picture to be got. The expression "loose cannon", for example, grew from the actuality of an untethered cannon, through its enormous weight, working havoc on the gun-deck of a wooden warship rolling and pitching in heavy weather. For a long time there have been no wooden warships, but the metaphor stayed accurate while everybody who could read was still reading C.S. Forester. Finally some journalist who hadn't, but who liked the ring of the expression, falsely deduced that the loose cannon caused damage because its barrel was too big for the shot, and so we started hearing about the damage the loose cannon might do when fired.

Similarly, "he shot himself in the foot" originally referred to a soldier in the Great War who hoped that a self-inflicted wound would buy him a ticket out of the trenches. Perhaps because of the irresistible mental image of a Western gunslinger pulling the trigger while getting his revolver out if its holster, the metaphor is nowadays almost universally used to evoke clumsiness rather than cowardice. Sometimes the words within the metaphor change. "Home in" is now often written as "hone in" because the writer thinks "hone" sounds rather grand without knowing what it means: the age has passed when knives needed to be re-ground. Now they can just be replaced.

Examples of deteriorating metaphors could be multiplied. There is seldom any stopping the process after it begins to affect good writers. Bad writers can be mocked, but good writers inexorably spread the word: and if the word is the wrong one, the language changes. As I put the finishing touches to this piece in May 2006, A.A. Gill, the excellent television critic on the Sunday Times, has just used the word "solipsisms" where he obviously meant "solecisms". Gill is dyslexic, so he had a good excuse. But his editor had no excuse at all. The chances are that he simply didn't know the difference, and that on the Sunday Times the number of solecisms will inexorably increase, and that they will be called solipsisms if they are noticed at all.

The language has always changed, so to protest looks reactionary. If there were no reactionaries, however, deterioration would become galloping decay. In reality, decay does not gallop, but we all know what a horse is even if we have not ridden one, so everyone realises, so far, that "galloping" is being used metaphorically. When all the horses have gone, "galloping" will just mean "rapid". After a galloping shave that spattered the bathroom mirror like a loose cannon, he honed in on his car, but when he could not find his keys he was ground to a halt by the awful realisation that he had shot himself in the foot. You know what I mean, even though every component of the sentence has lost touch with its own history. The typical prose of the present has no past. Whether it has a future remains to be seen.

(The Monthly, May 2006)

http://www.clivejames.com/articles/clive/English
Link to the front page:
http://www.clivejames.com/
 

stu neville

Commissioner.
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2002
Messages
11,051
Likes
3,294
Points
234
#2
I've been a James fan for years - I've got most of his books. You can learn a great deal from him without really realising it - such as how to make very precise and incisive literary criticism not only readable but also entertaining. There's loads of good stuff on his site, including passages from books out of print - from "Snakecharmers in Texas", an essay collection, there's this marvellous article on Barry Humphries, with whom James used to share a flat (unfortunately missing from that collection is James's critique of the memoirs of the founder of the French Surete, Vidocq, which still for me ranks as the funniest book review I've ever read.) Also well worth a read are his TV columns, also on the site - you didn't have to have seen the programme to enjoy them (most are 30 odd years old anyway, but still fresh.)

He can come over as a tad smug from time to time, but that's a small price. Get stuck in :).


...waits to see if JW agrees or not... ;)
 

escargot

Beloved of Ra
Joined
Aug 24, 2001
Messages
23,463
Likes
15,492
Points
309
#3
Languages change as time goes on. What is seen as incorrect usage now may become accepted in time.

For example, James' point about how metaphors fall into misuse is rather fatuous. A metaphor which nobody understands any more is useless and the fact that one is being misunderstood and misused means that it's probably obsolete. A new one will no doubt be along shortly!

I sometimes hear James on the radio or on TV giving talks or narrating travel programes. He always sounds as if he's reading a script, which he of course must be, and he never comes across as spontaneous. For this reason I'd much rather read his written work than listen to him.

This suggests to me that James has trouble distinguishing between written and spoken English. Outside very formal occasions they are not the same. Perhaps this is his real problem with the language.
 

The late Pete Younger

Venerable and Missed
Joined
Jul 31, 2001
Messages
5,925
Likes
103
Points
129
#4
Quite right Scarg, language certainly does evolve...

The following brief sample of Old English prose illustrates several of the significant ways in which change has so transformed English that we must look carefully to find points of resemblance between the language of the tenth century and our own. It is taken from Aelfric's "Homily on St. Gregory the Great" and concerns the famous story of how that pope came to send missionaries to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity after seeing Anglo-Saxon boys for sale as slaves in Rome:

Eft he axode, hu ðære ðeode nama wære þe hi of comon. Him wæs geandwyrd, þæt hi Angle genemnode wæron. Þa cwæð he, "Rihtlice hi sind Angle gehatene, for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað, and swilcum gedafenað þæt hi on heofonum engla geferan beon."
 

graylien

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 31, 2004
Messages
4,229
Likes
2,531
Points
169
#7
James isn't saying that language should never change. He's merely saying that people should learn to use it effectively and efficiently. If you have to read a sentence twice before you can grasp its meaning, then the writer is wasting your time. And while you may be happy to spend all morning analyzing the meaning of a poem, you should hardly have to put the same effort into understanding a news article.
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#9
Do you speak Ploddledygook? The police force jargon that should be banned
By JAMES SLACK Last updated at 07:02am on 14th April 2008

If you've just come home to find a window broken and your stereo gone, it's time to get in touch with Citizen Focus Command and ask them to put the customer first.

Such terms are among a long list of needless police jargon - or "ploddledygook" - which should be ditched, according to the Plain English Campaign.

Citizen Focus Command is the new name for force control rooms, while victims of crime are now customers. And it's not just constables, sergeants and inspectors working at HQ any more.

Expect to find an office set aside for the Head of Protective Services, Head of Citizen Focus, Director of Criminal Justice Change and - most intriguing of all - Director of Knowledge Architecture. :?

The PEC said that enough was enough and, Life on Mars-style, it was time to go back to a time when police were blunt about their business: catching criminals.

"I think 'ploddledygook' is the term to describe it," said a PEC spokesman.

"The police have always had their own language. In the past, we might have thought of PC Plod with his flat feet, proceeding a westerly direction, saying, ''Ello, 'ello, 'ello, what 'ave we got 'ere then?'' It was endearing.

"But now police force websites talk about 'customers' and 'end games' and 'mission statements'. We know what police officers are and what they do. They don't need to waste their time calling us 'customers' or telling us that we are their 'focus' or what their 'mission' is."

Many forces now, for example, insist on taking a "holistic" approach - which must be a major consolation when someone's nicked your flatscreen television. :roll:

And Metropolitan Commissioner Sir Ian Blair memorably spent thousands adding the word "together" to the force's logo. It created the slogan "Working Together for a Safer London". But it seems the craze has stretched far and wide.

Examples picked out by the PEC include:

• Suffolk Police titling their senior officers Head of Protective Services, Director of Criminal Justice Change and Director of Knowledge Architecture.

• Norfolk Police's description of its control room as "Citizen Focus Command".

• Essex Police's website declaring: "We strive to always put the customer first."

• A Humberside Police press release saying burglaries were caused by "insecurities".

Even a few unpleasant home truths were disguised by management babble, the respected campaign-group said. An Essex Police press release, headed "Putting you First", said "There are 47 police stations in Essex: 12 of which are open around the clock."

The PEC said: "This is the opposite of what most people would conclude. Isn't it saying, sorry, nearly 75 per cent of police stations are not open after 5pm?"

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "All this 'ploddledygook' might be funny, but there's a serious side.

"If police forces are wasting public money churning out this sort of rubbish it's no wonder they have problems. It's very simple. People want coppers to come when they're called and catch criminals."

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/a ... ge_id=1770
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#10
A bit more ploddledygook...

Police accused of talking riddles

Senior police officers have been accused of speaking "ploddledygook" by the Plain English Campaign (PEC).

Norfolk Police have created a "County Delivery Unit" and describe the control room as "Citizen Focus Command".

A PEC spokeswoman said County Delivery Unit "sounds like a milk round" and Citizen Focus Command is like a "mix of Star Trek and NYPD Blue".

A Norfolk police spokesman said most of the terms deemed to be "jargon" were only intended for internal use.

"Our business is about reducing crime and catching criminals - this is clearly stated in our Vision, Pledge & Principles statement which is a plain English guide to what we will do and how we will do it on behalf of the people of Norfolk," the spokesman added.

"Our new strapline 'Our priority is you' works on the same level whether you are Bill the burglar or a victim of crime.

"We have a professional communications team that translates unfamiliar language for the ordinary person." :roll:

Humberside was also singled out by the language group for claiming burglaries were caused by "insecurities".

Titles given to some senior officers and staff at Suffolk Police, included: "Head of Protective Services", "Head of Citizen Focus", "Director of Criminal Justice Change" and "Director of Knowledge Architecture".

"Who could guess that these were police officers?" asked the PEC spokeswoman. "What are these jobs?"

The PEC also accuses police forces of stating the blindingly obvious on their websites.

Northumbria Police say they are: "committed to tackling crime in your area".

The PEC spokeswoman scoffed: "I suspect most people in Northumbria assumed that.

"It would be worrying if a police force wasn't committed to tackling crime." 8)

Lincolnshire Police say their aim is to: "focus on the citizen, achieve the highest standards of professionalism, deliver excellent performance and so inspire confidence amongst the people we serve".

"Could they have an ambition to do the opposite of those things?" asked the PEC spokeswoman.

"Interesting that they don't appear to aspire to catch criminals," she added. :roll:

In a mission statement released by Northamptonshire Police, the reader is informed: "Policing in partnership to: reduce and prevent crime..."

"What else could their mission be?" asked the spokeswoman.

A statement on Essex Police's website quotes a police authority chairman saying: "We believe that we have a unique style of policing in Essex, where we strive to always put the customer first."

"Unique? Do they police in a completely different way to every other force?" said the spokeswoman. :shock:

"Customers? Do the police really have customers?", she added.

West Midlands Police are also singled out for a press release which said: "The concept of neighbourhood policing was introduced in 2006... West Midlands Police was one of the first forces in the country to introduce neighbourhood policing."

"An example of saying what's always been happening but presenting it as new," said the spokeswoman."

Hertfordshire Police's "prime example of the stating the blindingly obvious" - a poster saying "Don't Commit Crime".

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7346191.stm

"neighbourhood policing"? I thought it was "community policing" nowadays! :D
 

graylien

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 31, 2004
Messages
4,229
Likes
2,531
Points
169
#11
"Our new strapline 'Our priority is you' works on the same level whether you are Bill the burglar or a victim of crime.
It works on the level of being utterly meaningless, I suppose.
 

Novena

Offanonagin
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
1,020
Likes
416
Points
114
#12
Reminds me of the "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" sketch where the man goes to police station to report his car stolen only to find it's been privatised and is now a branch of "BritLaw Plc"! "Are you a shareholder?" "Well I'm a citizen if that's what you mean!" :D
 

Kondoru

Antediluvian
Joined
Dec 5, 2003
Messages
5,389
Likes
33
Points
114
#13
"It would be worrying if a police force wasn't committed to tackling crime."
Well, round here their main interest seems to be keeping out of trouble and in work.
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#14
A lot of blather about an indefinite article here:

Restaurant reviewer Giles Coren abuses colleagues in leaked email
One of Britain’s leading restaurant critics has been left red faced after an obscene 1,000-word email rant he sent to his editors emerged on the internet.
By Matthew Moore
Last Updated: 5:53PM BST 24 Jul 2008

Their crime? Changing a single word in one of his reviews.

Giles Coren, son of the humourist Alan Coren, was angry that his phrase “where to go for a nosh” had been replaced with “where to go for nosh”, with the penultimate word removed.

The change was made to the last line of his review of Cafe Boheme in Soho, published in The Times magazine in April this year.

“There is no length issue. This is someone thinking: ‘I'll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate c*** and I know best’,” he wrote in an email to four of his sub-editors. “Well, you f****** don't.”

He continued: “I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it.”

In his email Coren, who recently starred in The Supersizers Go... series on BBC 2, appeared particularly aggrieved that the alteration caused a sexual pun he was trying to make with the word “nosh” to fall flat.

“I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you've f****** stripped it out like a p***** Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco and thinking jesus looks s*** with a bear (sic) so plastering over it.

“You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, f****** christ, don't you read the copy?”

Coren continued his extraordinary rant by dissecting the grammatical consequences of the sub-editor’s change, namely that it caused his review to end on an unstressed syllable.

“Can't you hear that it is wrong? It's not f****** rocket science. It's f****** pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. F***. F***, f***, f***.”

Coren has laughed off the email, describing it as “a corker”, but admitted he fears that the four sub-editors to whom it was addressed must now hate him.

This is not the first time the critic has been caught out writing abusive emails to colleagues. In 2002 he sent a similarly profanity-strewn complaint to another editor at The Times for changing a key phrase in a book review.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstop ... email.html
 

stu neville

Commissioner.
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2002
Messages
11,051
Likes
3,294
Points
234
#15
Serious over-reaction by Coren, granted, but I can see his point. The removal was the equivalent of someone else coughing whilst you are delivering a punchline. Alan, Coren's late and much-missed father had a policy, when editor of Punch, of changing nothing apart from obvious typos, and even then only after checking with the contributor in question. All he asked in return was that submitted pieces were the required length. Net result? They got to spend Friday afternoon in the pub, rather than sweating to meet a deadline.

Trebles all round!
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#19
Met Office and George Bush shamed for baffling English
An attempt by the Met Office to justify the inaccuracy of its weather forecasts has been picked out as one of this year's worst examples of gobbledegook, at the annual Plain English Campaign awards.

By Matthew Moore
Last Updated: 6:52AM GMT 10 Dec 2008

The national weather forecaster was shamed for posting message on its website which explained in 45 words what could have been said in three: "We're not sure."

"Seasonal forecasts indicate how slowly-varying large-scale climate influences make particular seasonal conditions more likely than others. Random, unpredictable factors ('chaos') also partly determine year-two-year variations, and these will sometimes override large-scale influences. Such uncertainty makes a probabilistic format, as used here, advisable for seasonal forecasts," it read.

HM Revenue and Customs and Scottish Life also received "Golden Bull" awards, which are handed out to organisations responsible for needlessly bureaucratic English.

In a letter to a customer who had just handed in their tax return, the HMRC wrote: "I will treat your Tax Return for all purposes as though you sent it in response to a notice from us which required you to deliver it to us by the day your received it."

And a Scottish Life customer was left equally confused by this response to a query about an endowment policy: "The growth of the policy is calculated through more than one area of the plan, the annual reversionary bonus is only one area of this growth, the part of the growth rate of this policy is the increased rate of the terminal bonus rate for a policy with a term of 24 years is currently 24 per cent of the basic sum assured and the total bonuses attaching. The terminal bonus is only applied at the end of the plan and is not known to ourselves until this is applied."

The Plain English Campaign awards also honoured outgoing US President George W Bush with a "Foot in Mouth" lifetime achievement award, in recognition of his services to gobbledegook. Among the Bush-isms picked out by the judges were his closing words to a crowd in Oregon in 2004 – "I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'what did he say'" – and this warning to an audience in Virginia: "Let me put it to you bluntly. In a changing world we want more people to have control over your life."

Baroness Thatcher received a special award for her contribution to plain English, with organisers citing the former prime minister as the prime example of straight-talking politician.

Impressionist Rory Bremner, who presented the awards, lamented the decline of characters in British politics, saying he now struggled to impersonate many leading figures

"I don't know about the credit crunch – we are in a character crunch at the moment," he said. "How am I going to do people like John Denham, Andrew Lansley and Nick Clegg?

Cancer Research UK, the Forestry Commission and BBC2's Newsnight were among the charities, public bodies, and media outlets honoured for their clear use of English at the awards.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstop ... glish.html
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#20
The bride married 36-year-old fiance Karl Woods.

Afterwards, she said the wedding had been "absolutely brilliant".

"I am so happy," she said.

"Everything has gone so well, we had our dream wedding."

Mr Woods said he was pleased that they had got their in the end.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/here ... 850348.stm
They had got their what in which end???? :shock:

I think we should be told! 8)
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#22
Perplexing council speak such as 'rebaselining' banned in LGA guide
Perplexing council speak including phrases such as 'Predictors of beaconicity' and 'rebaselining' have been banned under a new guide from the Local Government Association.

Last Updated: 2:49PM GMT 17 Mar 2009

Councils across England and Wales have been stopped from using 100 words and phrases and instead replace them with plain English.

Terms that may no longer be used include 'cascading', 'funding-streams' and 'cross-fertilisation'.

Other phrases on the list are 'across-the-piece', 'gateway review', 'holistic government', and the equally perplexing 'predictors of beaconicity'.

The LGA compiled the list in a bid to cut out meaningless management-speak, and improve communication with the public.

It wants Town Hall bosses to use plain and simple English instead, to avoid alienating taxpayers and other members of the public.

The list was compiled by Richard Stokoe, Head of News at the LGA.

It adds to a previous list of 100 banned words released in December 2007.

Mr Stokoe said he had included alternative plain-speaking phrases wherever possible - and admitted even he was unsure what some of the terms actually meant.

He said: "I have no idea what 'predictors of beaconicity' means, even though it was the title of a 20-page report.

"Why bother using 'innovative capacity' or 'rebaselining' - it does not mean anything.

"Community engagement' just means getting people involved and what kind of dialogue is there other than 'meaningful dialogue'?"

The Plain English Campaign welcomed the publication of the list and said it was important to encourage councils to be clearer.

Marie Clair, its spokesman, said: "This list is not saying people are not intelligent enough or able enough to understand.

"It is the context in which words are used that makes them gobbledegook.

"The word 'welcome' is in there not because it is particularly convoluted or complicated but becasue it is often used unnecessarily."

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It's about time this management gobbledegook was stopped.

"It is infuriating for people who want essential services from their council to find that their money is being squandered in a blizzard of indecipherable nonsense.

"Far too often bureaucrats think they can use long words as a substitute for doing their job properly."

The list's publication comes just months after Harrow Council in London banned the terms 'civil enforcement officers', 'school crossing patrollers' and 'civic amenity sites' - and renamed them 'traffic wardens', 'lollipop ladies' and 'rubbish tips'. 8)

Top ten council gobbledegook phrases are:

1. Coterminous - in agreement;

2. Across-the-piece - everyone working together;

3. Predictors of Beaconicity - saying which councils will do best;

4. Early Win - success;

5. Functionality - use;

6. Interface - talking to each other;

7. Income Streams - money;

8. Seedbed - idea;

9. Top-down - ignores people;

10. Lowlights - worst bits.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstop ... guide.html
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#23
Philip Hensher: English should not just be a subject for girls
Monday, 8 June 2009

I have often sat at the front of an undergraduate class in English literature and observed that the class is mainly, and sometimes overwhelmingly, female. Nobody apart from me ever seems to think this is at all odd. English literature as a subject, rather than a thing, has for years, and perhaps since its academic founding, been regarded as a female subject. And yet English literature as a thing, rather than a subject, is overwhelmingly written by men, and before the 19th century almost exclusively so.

Why should men be happy to write a literature and then subsequently regard it as a subject for women? I thought this was just one of those odd little paradoxes confined to the study of English literature. But the decline of masculine participation in education at all levels is starting to alarm policy-makers, and fingers are being pointed.

Women's participation in higher education has reached 49.2 per cent, virtually at the government's target of 50 per cent, while men's is only at 37.8 per cent. Now, I don't believe that anything much is served by inappropriate people going into higher education, and 37.8 per cent may well be closer to a sustainable figure for participation. But boys consistently perform worse than girls at school, too, and have done so since the introduction of the GCSE.

All this has been pointed out by a report issued by the Higher Education Policy Institute. Its director, Bahram Bekhradnia, has written despairingly of comments made on this disparity by educational professionals. One said, in his hearing, that the disparity didn't matter and concern about it sprang from the fact that "it is seen as a threat to masculinity. It is a moral panic."

Another said that the difference is "an evolving realisation of the nuances of gender's effects," or in other words, that we now understand that men are really more stupid than women. :shock:

The emergence of able women through a new educational regime is to be welcomed. But the Higher Education Policy Institute has, surely rightly, suggested that men are being actively disadvantaged through a shift in emphasis on to discursiveness, empathy, speculation and all the other areas in which women traditionally do well, and away from the kind of fact-acquisition and analysis where men excel. This is the case even in areas like science and foreign languages, where some sort of systemic learning ought, surely, to be the basis.

And sometimes, the bias is actively shocking. One well-known published guide to GCSE English literature provides, without seeing how grotesque it is, a sample answer to an exercise in "writing to argue, persuade, and advise", on the question: "Write a persuasive article for a teenage fashion magazine about whether following fashion is important." :roll:

No wonder boys give up, sent such clear messages that the subject – that education as a whole – is not for them. They are never introduced to the wonderful masculine literary worlds of violence, murder, survival-on-a-desert-island, catapult and raft-construction (thank you, Bevis), spying, sadism and thuggish adventure. If every time one class was given I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, another one was given that much better written and more interesting book, Greenmantle, we might start to get somewhere. If every time a GCSE candidate was asked to say why following fashion was important, another one was asked how they would carry out the perfect murder, boys might start to show an interest in a subject rightfully theirs as much as their sisters'. :twisted:

If English literature passed permanently into the study and practice of women, it wouldn't be the end of the world. But the disparity in achievement in education as a whole is a complete catastrophe. It really can't continue like this.

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/co ... 99239.html
 

escargot

Beloved of Ra
Joined
Aug 24, 2001
Messages
23,463
Likes
15,492
Points
309
#24
If every time a GCSE candidate was asked to say why following fashion was important, another one was asked how they would carry out the perfect murder, boys might start to show an interest in a subject rightfully theirs as much as their sisters'
That's very out of touch, if the idea is that males are more interested in crime than women are, as most criminology students are female these days. ;)

How is this a gendered question? -
Write a persuasive article for a teenage fashion magazine about whether following fashion is important.
Are we supposed to believe that young men don't have an opinion about fashion?

Maybe we should go back to teaching boys woodwork and girls cooking. ;)
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#26
Mythopoeika said:
rynner2 said:
Women's participation in higher education has reached 49.2 per cent, virtually at the government's target of 50 per cent, while men's is only at 37.8 per cent.
OK... so what gender is the remaining 13 percent? ;)
Yes, not very well phrased, was it? 8)

I assume it means the government want 50% of people to participate in H.E., but only 37.8% of men actually do so.
 

escargot

Beloved of Ra
Joined
Aug 24, 2001
Messages
23,463
Likes
15,492
Points
309
#27
The target applies to each gender individually, so that 49.2% of women taking up degree courses is seen as closer to the target of 50% than the 37.8% of men who do.


* is a trained statistician ;)
 

rynner2

Great Old One
Joined
Aug 7, 2001
Messages
55,452
Likes
8,845
Points
284
Location
Under the moon
#28
escargot1 said:
Are we supposed to believe that young men don't have an opinion about fashion?
There are some Dedicated Followers of Fashion amongst men, but in my experience far fewer than amongst women.
Maybe we should go back to teaching boys woodwork and girls cooking. ;)
Well, most top chefs are male, so it seems the women could do with learning a thing or two... ;)


But getting back to Gender in Literature 101, surely it's common knowledge that reading tastes vary? How many men read Mills and Boon, for example? (Although I do know that some men actually write the stuff! ;) )

No doubt some academic or library has already carried out some research of this kind, and could tell us what proportions of the sexes read various genres of writing. With statistics like that to hand, it should be possible to put together a very well-balanced literature course that would appeal equally to everyone.
 

escargot

Beloved of Ra
Joined
Aug 24, 2001
Messages
23,463
Likes
15,492
Points
309
#29
There are some Dedicated Followers of Fashion amongst men, but in my experience far fewer than amongst women.
The question asked was intended to elicit an answer about whether fashion was important. The canditate could have written a persuasive argument either way. For example, I'm sure there's an article somewhere in the back numbers of FHM advising men to wear whatever they want, but with panache. ;)

Anyway, I feel that Hensher is pushing a different agenda from the obvious tastes-of-girls-versus-tastes-of-boys one, as his arguments are all woefully out of date. He really wants boys to be real boys and girls to know their place, and you can't have that when the girls are getting the top marks. :lol:
 

Yithian

Parish Watch
Staff member
Joined
Oct 29, 2002
Messages
23,196
Likes
19,943
Points
309
Location
East of Suez
#30
escargot1 said:
There are some Dedicated Followers of Fashion amongst men, but in my experience far fewer than amongst women.
The question asked was intended to elicit an answer about whether fashion was important.
I'm afraid it was reported as worse than that. It seemed to specifically ask you to tailor your argument to a teenage fashion magazine:

"Write a persuasive article for a teenage fashion magazine"

A teenage fashion magazine?? Couldn't we ask students to aim a little higher?

Why not ask them to compose a Dr Seuss book...
 
Top