Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Sentence First

 In my last post I neglected to put a link to Stan Carey's excellent blog, Sentence First. I was delighted to come across it some time ago - even the title was promising. "Sentence first. Verdict afterwards." I think that was it, but I'll check Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. There is so much thought-provoking stuff about language (Humpty Dumpty on verbs, anyone?) in Lewis Carroll - is it unusual for there to be a good connection between language and mathematics or science? Stan Carey is a scientist, I'm glad to say. There should be more interest across  these fields, shouldn't there? Comments, please.

Here's that link:  http://stancarey.wordpress.com


 The excellent Stan Carey (see Sentence First website and @StanCarey on Twitter) uses the term "fancyisms" for what I have called posh or pretentious words. He mentions "signage" when "signs" is what is meant. More when I think of some more.

Monday, 7 April 2014


 By the way, my transatlantic audience may not know what I meant by the heading "Simples-tic". It was meant to be playing on the UK TV commercial which uses, for some strange reason, Russian meerkats to advertise a price comparison website, comparethemarkets.com. "It's compare the markets, not meerkats - simples!" (or similar) was the catch phrase or slogan and for equally mysterious reasons this really did catch on. Why do some new language uses grab the public imagination and others don't? It's not simples.


 More on word inflation, hyping and perhaps pretentious or posh words later.


 I've mentioned what I call "word-inflation" before. Sometimes it is a case of extending words to make them sound more important: "transport" is lengthened to "transportation" (when it means transport around a city, not to a penal colony), or "methodology" is thought to sound more impressive than "method".

 In other cases a sort of hyping occurs. We used to say, for example, "We need to be clear", and maybe that was varied with "have clarity". Then someone sought to emphasise it by saying "crystal clear". Somewhere along the line this became commonplace or hackneyed and "transparently clear" began to be used, without really thinking of the meaning but just by a sort of inflation or, um, upgrade. Then we began to hear of the need for "transparency", "total transparency" and so on.

 No thought was probably given to the fact that totally transparent things are nearly invisible. If, for example, top bankers' salaries (or "compensation", presumably for doing such a noble, self-sacrificing job) and procedures are totally transparent they must be pretty hard to focus on, or even glimpse in outline.

 In sport, "giving a hundred per cent" sometimes just doesn't do it. You have to dig deeper and find that extra ten per cent you didn't know you had in you. But is that enough? Why only 110 or 200 or even a thousand per cent? So we have moved into the million per cent region now.

 In a similar way,  if "lucky" or "fortunate" is not impressive enough,  try "fortuitous" - it might make TV sports sound better or more worth spending your time on. Such things have happened with other words but, as with "unique", this inflation decreases their value. Last week I heard Sean Pollock, distinguished South African cricketer, say something was "a little bit unique". It clearly just means "rather unusual" now.

 And what about "simple"? It seems to be giving way to "simplistic", which according to my OED used to mean "characterised by extreme, excessive, or misleading simplicity".

 And please, don't even mention "fulsome".