QED

A Little English Discipline Would be ‘Noice’

This gal on Fox News kept referring to President Trump, when in Japan, as being “in route” (pronouncing it “in rowt”) to some meeting or other. “En route” pronounced “on root” did not accord with her way of talking; nor even “on rowt.” Does it matter? The language evolves. Well, it matters to me. Is it just my sense of hearing, born simply of what I am used to, that I find “in rowt” terribly ugly?

I heard something as being in someone’s “purvey” (not “purview”) only a couple of days later. Was this a slip? Maybe, but such slips happen very often on air these days and children and young people might be listening and taking their cues.

A French woman who tended to the graves of fallen Allied soldiers immediately after WWII and beyond did so in order, so it was described, to “pay her gratitude.” Pay? When was the word “express” replaced by “pay?” Am I wrong to find this perplexing?

More often than not, I hear news commentators say “on behalf of” in circumstances when “on the part of” is more appropriate and clearer. For example, an interviewer might say, “that was a quick decision on your behalf.” I wonder who has made the decision. In fact, the decision was made by none other than the person being interviewed. I cannot see that replacing “part” by “behalf” in this instance represents a sensible evolution of the language; though, to be fair, Fowler tells me it had currency in the distant past.

We must have all noticed the fast-coming oblivion of the adverb ending in “ly.” Here are just a few of the many instances that I have heard recently from people on air:

It is something that comes natural / You will feel different / We did everything correct / It has not worked perfect / She sings it so beautiful / Are you going to take this competition serious / They are doing it safe / We’re doing absolutely phenomenal / What do you say to people who say you are acting hypocritical – What I say is can you rephrase the question and not mangle the language.

And, of course, almost everybody on air in Sydney should make a point of seeing My Fair Lady. The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain not in the “pleine” — which will have to serve as my attempt at a phonetic reproduction. This offence to the ear could be heard over and over again during the election “campeine” season. I tested this pronunciation with four older chaps, all Australian born, with whom I regularly have coffee. All responded with “campaign” in accordance with the admonitions of Professor Higgins.

Exaggerated Strine has its place in movies not, I humbly suggest, as an English-born chap, on air. For example, “nowt” is a perfectly understood Yorkshire-ism and Liverpudlians have a nasal affliction and congenitally use the word “done” for “did.” But it is best, in my view, to keep these and other abominations off the national airways for fear of them corrupting young minds.

Let me be clear. I am very far from perfect when it comes to standard English expression and am all too frequently corrected (gently) by those around me with a finer sense of the language. After all, I was born in Liverpool, England, whose inhabitants, as I note above, are not known for exemplary pronunciation. That said, the BBC on the wireless played in my formative years and in those days no irritating regional accents polluted broadcasts. Subliminally and consciously I took note.

As a result, I try to use the right word and pronounce it correctly. Admittedly, this has left me isolated somewhat in still pronouncing numbers of words, for example, schedule, forehead, harassment and controversy, in a way which clashes with prevailing fashion; and in stubbornly sticking to the original meaning of words such as “replica” and “oxymoron” and “fortuitous” when the world has clearly moved on. What this shows is that the language, the meaning of words and their pronunciation evolve and we can’t be stick-in-the-muds. But that doesn’t mean that it should be a free for all.

Evolution is one thing; devolution another. It would be helpful, I suggest, if those on air, particularly those presenting news and current affairs programs (see I have evolved in not using “programmes”), studied, practised and maintained a standard of English and English expression to which we could all aspire.

Incidentally, if I am being critical it is of broadcasters not of common folk, such as myself. Hmm? I think that the word “myself” in that sentence should be “me.” Shouldn’t it? I think it should, but would gain confidence if broadcasters took care to get things right and provide a template for us common folk to imitate.

35 comments
  • en passant

    Peter,
    To spice up your article you should have added some hyperbowl.
    In the film “The Last Emperor”, Pu Yi is corrected by his Scottish tutor, when he gently rebukes the Emperor with:
    “Words are important. If you do not know what they mean, you can never mean what you say.”
    Anyway, so long as you can chant the Welcome to Country apology, what more do we need in this Orwellian Age of Green Darkness?

  • Tony Tea

    I don’t care if foreigners butcher the language. But I do care if Aussies slaughter it; especially when they introduce foreign words and phrases in place of Australian vocab.
    My current gripe is preposition crime, where Australians use terms like “he wrote him” instead of “he wrote to him” or “She will meet him Monday” instead of “She will meet him on Monday.” Just because the Yanks speak a certain way, it doesn’t mean we have to follow.

  • Mohsen

    Some years ago I heard Christopher Pyne pronouncing “erroneous “, \er ə nəs\.

    I think your use of “myself” is correct (or ,at least, more correct); anyway, its use rather than “me'”s sounds more fluid and more idiomatic in your sentence.

  • johnhenry

    Good article, Mr Smith, but I do wish pundits would quit using the locution Let me be clear” (ninth paragraph) and Make no mistake, both of which were run into the ground by that teleprompter wordsmith and 44th president of the U.S.A.

  • johnhenry

    You don’t believe me, Mr Let Me Be Clear Smith?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oNcHS0c5W8
    That aside, how would you pronounce Psmith if you never got ’round to asking PGW before he left us?

  • Mohsen

    en passant,
    The reason that that Scottish tutor was teaching in China (three million miles away) was because China was the only country he could find a job as a teacher in. (Forklift driving was the best he could do as an intellectually satisfying job back in Britain).
    If you do not know what words mean, you would not use them in the first place, so you wouldn’t be worried about meaning what you say; after all, you don’t know what they mean. You predictably only say and use the words you know the meaning of (or, at least, you think you know the meaning of).
    Now the correct (and ,of course, even more worthless and meaningless) sentence would be, If OTHERS know what the words you use mean, then there are chances that you will mean what you say!
    😀
    (Just joking; no offence, sir!)

  • en passant

    Mohsen,
    Thank goodness you added that you were joking as I am a sensitive soul who was just looking you up to come and rip your heart out …
    Until the late ’60’s a Scottish education was as good as you could get: then the PC woke crowd got to wurk and removed merit based secondary schools to give ‘equality of outcomes to the illiterate and innumerate’ (just ask Doug Cameron, Blair, Brown, Salmond or Sturgeon).
    It is worth repeating my comment from another article:
    “I just spent two hours this afternoon at a Primary School (in Vietnam) watching the appalling enthusiasm with which the 7-year old, Grade-2 pupils tackled their lessons.
    They began with some counting, some addition and some tables (up to x5), followed by an individual test (with 5-seconds to write the answer!). Those who scored 100% received a lolly, the loser failures received nothing.
    That was followed by the class reading a text out loud.
    Finally, my eyes must have deceived me because these 7-year old muppets were given 12 logic problems to solve in 10-minutes! You know the sort What is the next number after 3, 6, 9, ….? One that stumped me was a “Which is the odd one out?” question followed by three pictures of a partially coloured rectangle, a partially coloured square and a partially coloured circle. I cannot give you the answer as I am not sure I know the right answer. Too hard ..
    My muppet got it right, so I will either bribe her to explain it to me, or will sneak in when she is asleep and look in her book.
    The Class then stood and sang a patriotic song, were given an hour’s worth of homework by their teacher as they shook her hand as they filed out.. Each thanked her for teaching them and received a word of encouragement.
    I thought “These poor children, all they are being taught is to read, write, solve problems and learn a second language before the age of ten. How will they ever get by in the real world? Will they ever know the importance of transgenderism, how we must impoverish ourselves to stop killing the planet and why they should have been aborted and never been born in the first place?”
    Their naive happiness at being given the opportunity to learn brought me back to Earth with a jolt as I realized I was neither in Kansas, Dorothy, nor the debt ridden Land of Oz.
    I was probably witnessing the generation of next great civilisation to rule the world and replacing the declining failing states of Europe and Oz.
    So, who will rule the world, those who can read, write and solve problems or those who can prance around like fairies?”
    Ask a teacher …

  • Mohsen

    johnhenry,
    What would you replace, in the ninth paragraph, “Let me be clear” with? I think it can’t be replaced; what comes after it in that paragraph is prudence shown by the author, and indicates his conscious forethought; after all, he’s criticizing pronunciations of words , phraseology, and even spelling of words by some or many people!

  • Mohsen

    Peter,
    In the sentence within which you’ve used “myself”, It’s not clear to me (I mean it; I’m not in any position to criticize your style of writing or anyone else’s) which or what the “it’”s antecedent is! Either of “it is of broadcasters (that) I am (being) critical. . . .”, “It is the broadcasters (that) I am (being) critical of. . . .”, or “if I am (being) critical, I am of broadcasters. . . .” would have sounded—I think—more grammatically correct than “if I am being critical [IT] is of broadcasters. . . .”
    (I’m aware I’ve used three coordinated alternatives after “either”; Merriam-Webster and Shorter OED both affirm it’s standard usage!)

  • johnhenry

    My brain hurts reading that.

  • johnhenry

    Off topic, but why does Quadrant calendarize our comments thusly: 10th June 2019?

    Surely, the most efficient, simplest and most easily understood date stamp is 10 Jun 2019. Tell me how that could ever confuse anyone. I always insist my staff follow my instructions on this issue. I know there’s a commercial standard that says we should use 100619 or 061019 or 190610 some such, but whoever thought of such things is mental.

  • Peter Smith

    On reflection “….such as myself” should be “I” – rather than “me” shouldn’t it? I mean it would be correct to say “Bill and I” if there were two of us wouldn’t it? The Queen usually says my husband and I, so that must be right????
    Incidentally, the chap commentating on the match the women’s soccer world cup match between Norway and Nigeria on Saturday said that the Nigerian defenders were “very statuesque” after Norway had scored. They are statuesque but he meant static. I kid you not.

  • Peter Sandery

    Mistakes not only in pronunciation but in spelling as well. I have seem some monumental blues on SkyNews’s ticker-tape news headlines at the bottom of the screen and the odd one on your ABC too. As you say, namesake, this does not help our children to become anywhere near conversant or literate in the Queen’s English, the language which is supposed to be our national means of communication. It is sad for me to write that , on the whole I find that Indians, Sri Lankans and Malaysians who I meet here in Australia tend to have a better understanding of the English language than most Australians. Something which tends to support Peter’s prognostication about who will lead the world in the future.

  • Alice Thermopolis

    T’was ever thus. Language has always been going to – or with – the dogs.
    Swift reckoned it was in his day too. Dr Johnson started his Dictionary to stop the rot.
    Fat chance of doing so today, when communication is dominated by the IMAGE, with the WORD reduced to a few characters or “#”.

    Pronunciation tricky too, especially across cultures, What to do when a “girl’ can be a “gurl”, or a “gairl”, or a “gell”, or something else on today’s ever-expanding gender spectrum?

    After seeing an episode of Shetland on ABC iview last night, there is little doubt climate change and proximity to the North Pole are critical influences on comprehension. Sub-titles would have been helpful here and there.

  • Macspee

    May I mention the dreadful habit of refuting an accusation. At times I have almost died from starvation waiting to hear the refutation before I remembered that the speaker simply denied the accusation but wasn’t about to give any explanation – something required in order to refute it.

  • Doubting Thomas

    What drives me crazy is the way journalists love their clichés, and no amount of ridicule seems to discourage their inappropriate use. One of the most frequently abused is ‘controversial’. I doubt there is a newspaper that has not used the word to describe Israel Folau in every story about his recent run-in with Rugby authorities.
    Yet, in all fairness, there really is nothing controversial about Israel Folau as a person. To some, his actions may have been seen to have been unacceptable. But there was nothing inherently controversial about that. To others (pick me), the actions of Rugby Australia and its allies are seen to be unacceptable. But there is nothing inherently controversial about that either.
    The only thing that is controversial is the inherent controversy that exists between the two competing views.
    Of course, Cardinal Pell has also generated a storm of controversy, none of which can fairly be attached to him personally. He is who he is. It’s not his existence that is controversial. It is the opposing views of his alleged action/inactions that are controversial.

  • johanna

    Alas, I fear that the gremlin that strikes almost everybody who writes disparaging articles about contemporary misuse of words has wrought its revenge on you.

    ‘But it is best, in my view, to keep these and other abominations off the national airways for fear of them corrupting young minds.’

    I suspect the word you meant to use was ‘airwaves.’

  • Peter Smith

    Yes, Johanna, you are right and right. But that is why I sought protection by describing myself as one of the common folk prone to error and needing guidance from eminent news readers and commentators as heard over the ‘airwaves’. Mind you, even writing these two short sentences has now made me nervous.

  • lloveday

    I was unaware that “programme” had evolved into “program”. When I studied computer science 50+ years ago, we used “program” as a noun to describe a set of instructions for a computer and as a verb to describe the writing of the instructions, and continued to use “programme” as before, and I still do. Thus:
    .
    · We’re still drawing up the programme for the concert.
    · I wrote a program to analyse horse races.
    · This computer program won’t run on my PC.
    · I missed my favourite television programme last night.

  • talldad

    John Henry the standard is ISO 8601, available, for example, at:
    https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/iso-time.html

  • psstevo

    My current ‘beef’ is with the many advertisements on tv and radio, promoting “Excessories” for your car, truck, hat etc etc. Freud would likely view this abomination as a Truth, for, verily, many of the Accessories being enthusiastically promoted are in Excess of normal requirements!

  • Peter Smith

    lloveday, I might be jumping the gun. Programme is still widely used. I use program, as do others, because the American spelling is sensible, and I am sure it will take over. Fowler tells me that it was also the English spelling before about the beginning of the 19C, when the French spelling was adopted.

  • johnhenry

    Thank you, talldad. I used to know there was one of those ISO thingamajigs for date notation, but couldn’t remember on the spur of the moment last night.

    btw: my son-in-law is 6′-5″. We call him tinydad.

  • lloveday

    Peter Smith,
    So many English words have non-sensible spelling: one (won?) two (to?) four (for?) eight (ate?). And what about the 5-letter word with 4 silent letters, queue (cue?). I first came into contact with “program” all those decades ago when it differentiated a set of computer instructions from the other uses, and liked being able to write “program” without needing to qualify it as “computer program” (I was unaware of the American spelling being the same for all meanings then, as I was until now that “program” is acceptable in British/Australian English for all meanings).

  • Peter OBrien

    “On reflection “….such as myself” should be “I” – rather than “me” shouldn’t it? I mean it would be correct to say “Bill and I” if there were two of us wouldn’t it? ”

    Peter, I think “I” would be correct because the implicit meaning would be ‘common folk such as I (am)’. You would be the subject of that clause.

  • Mohsen

    Peter Obrien,

    It grammatically can’t be “I” in the above case. The word used after “such as” is the object of the preposition in the sentence; that is, it should be the objective case (me or myself) of the first person singular pronoun (I) after the preposition “of”. “I am being critical of broadcasters”; I am not being critical of common folk”; “I am not being critical of myself.” Either “me” or “myself” has to be used.

    Bill and I (my husband and I) were critical of (laughed at) (taught) Chris.
    Chris was critical of (laughed at) (taught) Bill and me (my husband and me).

  • Peter Smith

    Well, I was convinced by Peter Obrien before myself read Mohsen – whose explanation admittedly went a little over my head. Maybe our esteemed editor can help. Otherwise one of my coffee chums is a wiz at this kind of thing.

  • padraic

    I take your point loveday about “won”, “to”, “for” and “ate” and it reminded me of a spelling conundrum that has never been resolved. In English there are three “t???s” : two, too, and to. How do you spell “t???s”?. If one can say the collective word it should be able to be spelt. Like other contributors I was astounded at the range of local pronunciations when I first went to UK – wotcher me ole flarpot etc. In Australia many of what were UK regional usages and/or pronunciations have been universalised, for example “chook”. In the UK I found this was understood in Geordie land as a fowl but not down in Cornwall and elsewhere. Other regional words like “shenanigans” from Ireland is another example. The Scottish “bisom” had potential in the 1920s but never really caught on and has faded from sight. However there is some “diversity” in pronunciations in Oz, such as “Newcarsell” and “Newcassel”. Shakespeare’s adjective “naughty” has lost its original meaning in UK but is alive and well as a noun in Australia, among shall we say, the less refined. A friend in London some years back discovered some research into traditional English nursery rhymes that were current in the English speaking world, e.g. North America, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa et al. It was fascinating to see how some nursery rhymes, long lost to the UK children were still extant in the former colonies, and even they differed considerably in the range. As others have mentioned, words can change meaning in one’s own lifetime. My grandmother and her sisters used the word “directly” differently from today’s usage, e.g “When are you coming in for dinner?” “I’ll be there directly”, they would say, Which brings me to Peter’s comments re “Pay her gratitude”. I suspect that may be a local Australianism like “pay homage” or “pay one’s respects”. Finally, the pronunciation of “controversy”. Some pronounce it the continental European way “con/tro/ver/sy” whilst others use the traditional English way “controv/ersy”. I am of the same view as you Peter in respect of leaving “ly” off adverbs and lazily using the adjective instead – Gruesome to hear. (I was going to say “listen to” but thought of the backlash).

  • lloveday

    “In English there are three “t???s” : two, too, and to. How do you spell “t???s”?”
    .
    I guess I’d have to get around it by saying “In English there are three homophones that are pronounced ˈtü : two, too, and to”, but hardly THE answer.
    .
    Decades ago I prepped some non-native English speakers for studentships in Australia and that opened my eyes even wider to what a bugger English is – they repeatedly asked for rules or even guidelines where there weren’t any that I could give.
    .
    The funniest thing was when the men played in a social game of soccer with Australian men and the women watched. They did not know what a word so often used by the Australian players meant. As one young woman said to me when the men were trying to work it out, “Yes, what is this “f**k”?

  • Bwana Neusi

    johnhenry – 10th June 2019: Here we have another Champion seeking the death of the ‘ordinal’.
    It is only the fashionable that sycophantically (note the adverb) mimic the new American speech.

    Long ago I was taught English in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and we were given the example of the most grammatically english spoken from our teacher from Inverness. No can’t or won’t was tolerated when cannot or will not should have been used. Split infinitives were an absolute “No No” and the verb “to be” included shall for the first person, not the current imperative for the third person.

    The date was the “Enth day of” not as you prefer, but the Yanks are closer to the correct sequence with their mm/dd/yy although scientifically yy/mm/dd/hh/mm/ss/0.ss is the logical sequence.
    If as you wish, we kill off the ordinal, then the second will be replace with two and ultimately we will have hours, minutes and twos.

  • Geoff Sherrington

    How many superlatives can be attached to the word “unique” when every choice is incorrect? Geoff

  • johnhenry

    Dear Bwana: I thoroughly enjoyed your put-down of me concerning date notation; but as for split infinitives, I’m a disciple of H.W. Fowler: “The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish.The aim here is to convert to the fifth category anyone included in the first four.”

    God bless your teacher from Inverness 🙂

  • PT

    Personally, I always use “program” for a computer program, and “programme” for what’s on TV, or whatever kind of physical activity our betters decide kids have to have daily etc.

    But is remind those who imagine English is “such a bugger” for foreigners, that we don’t have gender rules (no remembering which is “Le” and which is “la”); there are no inflections (btw old English had the same inflections as German) and none of the complex verb conjugations that say French has.

    It’s probably easier to learn to speak intelligibly, although spelling can be difficult, compared to other major languages.

    As for you Mohsen. As has been pointed out, the Scots used to value education as much as the Jews, Germans and Japanese. Why else do you think there are such a large number of Scots peppering the “big name” pages of history: David Hume, James Watt, Adam Smith, Sir Walter Scott, David Carlyle, James Clerk Maxwell, Alexander Graham Bell, Sir Robert Watson-Watt (the inventor of radar) to name but a few. BTW I doubt there were many Forklift drivers in the 1920’s!

  • Mohsen

    I certainly am aware that Scots are great people—it’s my understanding that the first editor Of the OED was a Scot, too—and have respect for them
    In my comment I said “THAT Scottish tutor”; that is, the tutor in the movie “The Last Emperor “ which was referred to by en passan as “Scottish tutor”. My comment was on THAT PARTICULAR person’s admonition of Pu Yi (all according to en passan). I found his “rebuke” funny and pointless.
    I never meant any disrespect or offense!

    As for forklift driving: well, it was my—at least, now, obviously, realizing—my futile attempt at humor!

  • lloveday

    PT,
    Another group was subjected to a female purportedly teaching Operations Research lecturing the class on female equality, how Asian women are suppressed, blah, blah.
    .
    A female “student” told me, and I 100% believe her, she said “I’m Division Head of a major Government Department on merit, not because or despite being female, and Indonesian and its sister language Malay is spoken by 300 million people and does not even have gender unlike English. There are not separate words for he and she, just one “dia”, nor for brother and sister – “kakak” if older, “adik” if younger….. (LL – but thankfully they do have separate words for mother and father, as English moves towards Parent 1 and Parent 2, but they have never had separate ones for actor/actress, head master/mistress…….). We came to learn Operations Research, so would you please address only that”.
    .
    Wikipedia lists only 43m as native Indonesian speakers despite every school teaching only in Indonesian, education to year 9 being universal and all but a few old, uneducated people being fluent in Indonesian. I understand that is because the vast majority are bi-lingual, speaking for example Javanese or Balinese as well as Indonesian and the former is considered their native tongue.

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