Thursday, June 11, 2015

Modern English as it is mangled

Just because English is a fast-evolving language does not mean we have to put up with every new usage. Here are some of the more ghastly examples. I hope this will not be the first in a series.

What was wrong with giving? Does gifting actually denote anything different? Does anyone ever use this word in day to day speech?
"Darling, have you wrapped up all the things you are gifting this year?"
"I'm off to the shops for some serious gifting"
"Oh God, I'll be so glad when I can see the back of all this gifting"

No, I've never heard anyone say anything remotely close to these phrases, either.

In an email, BBC Publications, who really should know better, suggested pre-ordering one of their  magazines. You cannot pre-order anything. You either buy it outright or you place an order. The order will then be fulfilled. If the product is not in stock, you should be given a delivery date. Your order still stands whether in stock or not, the contract is based on the premise that delivery will be in a reasonable time in relation to the product and fair expectations.

The term pre-order is never used in business to business, where it is normal for goods not in stock to go onto back order for delivery as soon as they become available. I cannot see why this term is now used in retail, unless it is meant to be shorthand for "We want you to pay now but we don't have the goods in stock so we're going to sit on your money" in which case it should be replaced by "Prepay" and then everyone would know where they stood. If you are registering your desire to obtain something as soon as it becomes available and have not paid, and will not be charged until it is sent out, then you are ordering the product. Not pre-ordering. 

It is interesting that where you order a service in advance, such as airline or theatre tickets, you are not invited to pre-order. The phrase here is "book".

An Americanism which appears to have no discernable meaning at all. Funk, in English, means fear or cowardice. Funk in America used to mean a form of "music" involving excessive use of the amplified electric bass guitar and men shouting "huh, uh" at every opportunity to denote how cool, up-to-date and sexually desirable they thought they were. But the adjective funky gets routinely applied to anything you wish nowadays. It was even used to describe a kitchen featured on a "You're too lazy to go house-buying so we'll ferry you around and film you going "Wow" a lot so as to make a cheap TV programme" TV programme the other day.

I don't know if some users believe the word to be a bowdlerised form of a well-known four letter swear word, or, if some do, whether there is an Irish form called fenky but if not it can only be a matter of time.

When you phone almost any commercial organisation, you will be asked to make selections from a menu, then they will play three minutes of music at you and then you will hear a recorded message telling you that "They are experiencing a high volume of calls but one of their advisors will be with you shortly".

By "advisor" they suggest an experienced, reassuring person in a business suit, hired specifically to answer your call, who will calmly and efficiently deal with your enquiry. But you will, when you are finally connected to a real person, talk to an ordinary employee who works for the organisation and who routinely answers calls directed to them by the automated switchboard. They do not advise their employer. They do not advise you. They are not advisors.

Second hand. That's all it means. Someone owned the object before you. Whether they loved it or loathed it is not relevant. If you want it, you want it and if not, not. End of discussion. 

If a young bird fledges from its nest it is a normal event in the natural world. But if it is filmed for a nature TV programme the fledging will be described as a "drama".

Another TV misuse. If a popular comedian visits a part of the country on some trumped up excuse to fill up a six part series, she will be described as being "on a mission to...." do whatever is going on. Or it could be a well known business person dispensing advice to failing entrepreneurs. Or a singer teaching amateur choirs. Or a gardener espousing a particular form of gardening. 

Leaving aside the religious aspect of the word, the essence of a being on a mission is that someone has required you to go and do something. Therefore it cannot be anything to do with a TV programme for nobody can be really tasked with doing anything in the world of TV; they have obviously consented to it, on the advice of their agent, and signed a contract for a nice fee, a book deal and a decent share of any spin-off adverts or feature films.

 I suspect that such shows commence in the office of a production company with someone staring up at the sky, folding their hands behind their head and saying in a reflective way to someone else who is half asleep after a long lunch
"How about we get Joe Blow to go to China to find the world's most talented panda?"
"Sounds promising" responds the second replete executive "But what would be the, ah, motivation?"
"Joe Blow is on a mission. No other reason needed. No further research required. One easy fee for him and an easier one for us"
"Excellent. What's for dinner?"

It is, if we wish to nitpick a little, possible to have a self-imposed mission, in the same way that I am sometimes impelled to check out if there any nuts left in the packet we started last week and so go on a mission to the kitchen to see, but then they should come clean about it. "Joe Blow is off to China because he felt like having a damn good holiday paid for by the TV production company he happens to own a half share in" - something like that would be refreshingly honest.

Let us end with a hearty round of abuse for this ghastly phrase, so beloved by politicians that it is used ad nauseum. I worked for over 40 years in the UK, paid all my taxes, continue to live here and intend to go on doing so. But I am not working now. Does this disqualify me as a voter, or mean I no longer have any claim to any benefits to which I may be entitled? No. So why go on and on about hard-working families when what they mean is "the British public"? Or do they? You see, that's the problem with these stupid phrases, dreamed up by speechwriters and image consultants. How long before we have a distinction between "the hard-working", the "easy working" and the "non-working"? If you work "hard" should you pay less tax? No, hold on, hard work is normally identified with earning more so paying more tax. Unless you are head of a large business and can base yourself somewhere like Jersey.  It's confusing. Politics should be simple and clear. I don't want to hear any more about "hard-working" people. Just "people", please.


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Daring Young Dog on the Flying Trapeze

I have never watched Britain's Got Talent; I gather it is similar to what happens when large families have get-togethers and all the children are encouraged to do a piece - recite a poem, play the recorder - and are enthusiastically applauded no matter how dire the effort, even while the adults are wincing behind carefully placed newspapers.

It seems I must change my mind. I learn, from this riveting piece in today's Guardian that on the aforementioned TV show not only do they permit animals to take part but that stunt doubles are used for the dangerous bits. For it was the winner - a dog, no less, who in a scandal that must surely be dubbed Boniogate, stood quietly panting by a handler whilst another pooch donned the leotards and did the dazzling trapeze act that secured victory. The audience who voted for the acts they liked the most were not informed of the deception; apparently it's all right because, according to his proud owner, (who was reported as sharing the prize with the now wealthy canine), the dog was capable of doing the high wire tricks but doesn't have a head for heights. Or to put it another way, was not capable of doing the high wire tricks. Because the whole and entire point about high wire acts is that they take place on a high wire, not on a bit of rope laid out on the grass.

Now this gives  me problems, and I don't just mean taking easy potshots at the obvious aspects of this ludicrous story. Consider my bid to represent team GB at the London Olympics in the 100m. I was clearly the outstanding candidate with just the tiny defect that I can't actually run 100m in under 10s [or even 10 minutes: Ed]. Applying the BGT rules means this can be ignored and a suitable stunt double - Dwayne Chambers perhaps - could have stood in for me, and no-one would be any the wiser. Admittedly Mr. Chambers is black and I am not, and he is fairly muscular whilst I am somewhat more lissome in appearance but a bit of clever makeup and some camera trickery will easily get round that. So that's a gold medal in the bag for sure.

Let us return to the idea that "talent" can be measured in animals. What about my wonderful performing goldfish? Each afternoon I splash my finger in the pond, they emerge from the duckweed and open their mouths and I oblige with a pinch of fishfood that smells disgusting but which they adore. Should I enter them in next year's BGT? Or perhaps the Eurovision Song Contest - they could be filmed miming to something being sung by some suitable popular beat combo.

In any case, if you are going to include animals then the talent being appraised should surely be a talent that is meaningful to the animals themselves, not tricks taught in imitation of human activities. The fastest burrowing earthworm perhaps, or the squirrel quickest to unearth the tulip bulbs one's wife has just planted. The magpie with the most irritating "caw"; the fox that can lay the most crap overnight on one's finely raked gravel, the most persistently head-banging wasp in the conservatory. This is raw, natural talent and it ought to be recognised.

I am not sure how Boniogate was uncovered. Are there other cases of suspected mutt impersonators? Did a crack team from the Met Police Dog Squad take the case, with Rover going undercover as a yodelling poodle whilst Mr. Snuffles and Shep spent long hours in a kennel with the listening apparatus? Were there late night meetings in sinister, deserted car parks between Lassie and a hooded and cloaked beast identified only as Deep Growl, whose sage advice was "Follow the Kennomeat?" I look forward to the Parliamentary Select Committee that will uncover the whole rotten mess of corruption and half-chewed soft toys that must surely underlie this nefarious affair and which will inevitably lead to the resignation of the Chairman of the Kennel Club. As for the President of Crufts - dare I suggest that he will be hounded out of public life? [Ouch: Ed]

Friday, May 15, 2015

Another of life's little mysteries solved

Thanks to the BBC I finally know why one of the performers with the well known popular beat combo U2 [Never heard of them: Ed] has his colourful soubriquet. He's called "The Edge" because he keeps falling off them.

Perhaps he should be renamed "The clumsy oaf" or "The bruise".

Actually I used to have a U2 album, "The Joshua Tree". It was not in my possession for very long. 'Nuff said.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Election 2015 - Farage Lives!

A celebratory ode as Nigel F. puts his leader's hat back on after his party refused to let him go.

So welcome back then Nigel Farage
You only took the weekend off
Perhaps you sorted out your garage
Or took a stroll on Southend Pier

Your party threw you out of triage*
Refused to let you hibernate
Though power still remains a mirage
It's time to sink another beer

*yes, I know, you try finding a decent rhyme for "Farage" that hasn't already been used

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Election 2015 - Trying to make sense of it all

The dust is still settling on the amazing result of the general election. This column, like everyone else, accepted the opinion polls verdict that the votes would be split between Labour and Conservatives and a hung parliament would result. The real vote put some 6% between those parties and far from a swing against the Government, the Conservatives achieved a absolute majority in the House of Commons. This result was even greater than the BBC's exit poll predicted and that poll, announced at the stroke of 10pm as voting ceased, was regarded by everyone as rogue and overstating the swing to the Tories (until the first dozen results were in).

Therefore not only did the very many polls taken over the weeks up to the election fail to predict correctly but the exit poll, based on a very large sample and taken from people with no reason to conceal their preferences, was unable to gauge the full impact on voting patterns in key marginals. Does this tell us something about poll methodology or about voter decision making? Either the polls are based on false assumptions or many voters changed their minds in the final hours. If the latter, this has been seen before in UK elections but not on the scale of last Thursday.

The polls did get it right in Scotland where a social democratic bloc that can genuinely claim to represent the whole country now faces a conservative government that cannot make the same claim, not even for England where the Tory vote was 41% of the total cast. Did the English vote harden to the right in the face of the predicted landslide north of the border? Can most of the UKIP votes (14% in England) be treated as straying Tories who will return or has there been a shift to UKIP from Labour as well? If so, this, coupled with the LibDem wipeout, suggests a very serious problem for the left wing in England. How long can the union survive with the two main regions so opposed? Two generations ago the Tories were as strong in Scotland as in England - now they have almost ceased to exist.

It is fair to point out that the SNP gained just 50% of votes in Scotland. Is this their high tide? If they begin to fall back, and it is recognised that many of their voters do not support their fundamental policy aim of full independence, maybe the union can stagger on for a while. But if the forthcoming referendum on the EU results in a British withdrawal, surely the Scots will put every effort behind independence so that they can remain in, and the result of Cameron's victory will be the breakup of the UK and its isolation from European partners, massive loss of influence with the USA (which most definitely wants the UK to stay in the EU) and a diminishment of the whole of what used to be the UK.

This blogger supports UK membership of the EU, believes in the UK as a real force for good in the world and that British values of tolerance, freedom and fairness are vital. The 2015 election has put much of this in the hazard.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Election 2015 - an elegy for Nigel

So farewell then Nigel Farage
Thumped in Thanet, marred in Margate
Deflated by a heavy barrage
as Tory voters stood their ground.

Perhaps you should have tried in Harwich
but then again, it always was
going to be an awkward marriage
It's time to drink that final round

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 7: Isn't it quiet in here?

You wouldn't think there was an election on. Hardly a poster or placard in sight. No candidates patrolling the streets with posses of rosetted supporters and no mysteriously crackly and undecipherable loudspeaker announcements that always seem to come from the street round the corner but never your own street. No new leaflets through our door in the last week.

The winner, B. Johnson, continues to make national news as he positions himself carefully near to, but somehow a step away from, the man whose political career he may shortly terminate, if results do not go to plan. Consequently he has not been much in evidence around here but, then again, he doesn't have to do a damn thing locally and he will still get a thumping majority.

Meanwhile the polls show no movement at all. Labour and Conservatives locked at about 32% each and, depressingly, UKIP the next most popular party. For twenty years before the American Civil War there was an "American Party", commonly known as the "know-nothings". It was anti-Catholic and anti immigration, and especially anti-Catholic-immigration. There is a parallel with UKIP and its "I don't really understand all this but I know I'm against it" gut reaction to most political questions. I hope UKIP's longevity matches that of the know-nothings and it fades into the sunset after tomorrow.