Mind your language!

Here are a couple of odd uses of language I came across recently. At least, they made me sit up and take notice, and perhaps that was the point.

The first was when a presenter at a conference I attended said that her full presentation would be on the web, and that she was going to read out an abridged version. A copy of the abridged version was given to each delegate.

In other words the abridged version was her presentation, which makes the longer version a longer version, not the thing itself. It also made me wonder, what exactly is a presentation in this context, given that what she described as the full version of her presentation was not, in fact, presented.

What is a presentation? Photo by Jack Newtion http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdn/

The second occasion was seeing a notice in a café announcing “Our new favourite drink”. Does this mean it’s a new drink which is destined to become a favourite, or an established drink that is a new favourite according to some poll that has been carried out, or a new drink which has just become a favourite even though it’s “new” (and I wonder what that word means in this context?)

It’s a bit like publishers’ advertisements for so-and-so’s brand new bestseller – made even more interesting when they add “In shops soon”.

It could, of course, all be down to the long tail phenomenon whereby more and more, smaller and smaller, niches become economically viable, and available, because of the low costs of online storage and selling. If, for example, you sell 1 copy of your book entitled “The colour of grass in Virginia in 1897”, which I would presume would be in a niche of its own, your book will by definition be a best-seller.

This ill-treatment of our wonderful language has been noted by many people, usually from the standpoint of attempting to help people avoid inadvertent misuse of English.

For example, people sometimes confuse continual and continuous, but there’s nothing intentional about it.

However, as Kenneth Hudson demonstrated in his book “The Dictionary of Diseased English” (which, sadly, appears to be out of print now), words are being used in ways which are completely wrong – in fact, in some cases the meaning is the exact opposite of the way the word is being used.

Take, for example, the word “choose”. In what sense do you choose a room in a hotel whose brochure states “Choose from over 200 rooms”?. You may, perhaps, choose a non-smoking room, but does the hotel show you a plan of the hotel and ask you to choose which room you would like, similar to the way theatres offer you a choice of seats?

British comedian Tommy Cooper was a marvellous mangler of the language, to hilarious effect. I’ll be writing about him soon. In the meantime, please…

Mind your language!

This is a slightly amended version of an article first published on 3rd September 2006.