For the past year and a half I have published 40 articles about how the English language is being used, or rather abused. I have scored nearly 8,500 unique hits, for which I am grateful, but there is no sign of the language improving. What did I expect?
Last month, a major non-governmental organisation held its annual summer party in London and waiters were instructed to “pre-pour wine” for the guests as they were arriving. I winced. What’s wrong with pouring it?
This goes back to my Pet Hates 3 about tautology from December 2010. The term tautology suggests a redundancy, a needless repetition of the same sense in different words.
A lead paragraph in a British daily read: “The police caught the suspects in a pre-planned operation.” Excuse me, but the police planned for this operation to happen. To suggest it was “pre-planned” amounts to saying the same thing twice.
A friend once told me he had pre-booked a table in a restaurant. What did he do when he arrived? Did he book the table? This goes to show he did not understand conceptually that booking an event or an object is something that happens ahead of time. Add “pre-“ and you are normally looking at a redundancy.
It insults my intelligence every time I see this sort of nonsense.
And I keep seeing it.
A British classic car magazine reported this month that one of its correspondents had been allowed to drive a 1937 Mercedes Silver Arrow race car on the legendary Nürnberg Ring track. Now, those pre-war (correct use of “pre-“) cars take a bit of fiddling to start. But the motoring correspondent wrote: “After the pre-start-up check … etc”.
Why not just write “start-up check”? Isn’t it implicit that a start-up check is a procedure that takes place just before the engine is fired up? Or did he mean that a separate check had to be made before the start-up check took over? I have no idea.
Meanwhile, there is no end to the abuse of the English language on the Internet, from company announcements filled with clichés to words being systematically misspelled in everything from tweets to comments on YouTube. Did you know that separate is the most misspelled word in English?
But publish a blog at your peril.
A few weeks after launching my blog in November 2010 I unexpectedly reached a peak of more than 1,000 unique visitors for a few days just before Christmas that year. I felt encouraged but little did I know what would happen when I published a story headlined “Palin website needs updating”.
My intro read: “Sarah Palin may have quit as governor of Alaska last year, but her official website still has her as governor of the 49th U.S. state. Lesson to be learned: if you’ve got a website you’d better make sure it’s up to date or you’ll lose credibility.”
It was an innocent submission but I suddenly had 10 comments, most of them from Tea Party advocates critical of me. I had never planned to be part of any domestic politics of the United States. I had simply made an editorial comment, having worked as a website editor at Reuters for five years. My rate of unique visitors dropped to a more predictable average of 20 a day as Mrs Palin’s fans turned their backs on me, defiantly.
Anyway, the language evolves as it likes, making it impossible for grumpy old editors like me to exert any meaningful influence on it. I hereby throw in the towel. Unless some huge linguistic challenge stirs my mind, I shall now retire and focus on my hobby: music.
I am lead guitarist in a rock blues band in Hampshire in southeast England. Sorry, but I must stop here. I am playing a gig tonight and need to pre-prepare myself …
I welcome your comments.