I want to share a couple of innovations in English language usage that I’ve heard lately. Slips of the tongue? Harbingers of change? New corporate jargon? Flights of poesy? Necessary neologisms? Or just errors? Whatever, they both amuse me in their way. They are similar in two ways. They both use abstract nouns unconventionally. And they are both a bit Kiwi, using the casual “bit of” with an inappropriate abstract noun. I laughed when I heard them, and I still think they’re funny. (Nerdy, I know.)
Changing language usage heard on the radio
- “I suggest they put a bit of mitigation in place.”
- “We’re used to doing that bit of optionality.”
Plain language? No and no. Redundant words, fancy words, abstract words, phrasal nouns, phrasal verbs and idioms. But hey, short sentences, at least! And in my experience, short sentences are a top tool for clear language.
In the context of a radio interview, the meaning of each remark was clear enough.
- The first speaker had just described a particular IT strategy that was not essential but sometimes employed. (Darned if I remember what it was.) I looked up “optionality” and it’s not an appropriate word here. The speaker referred to a particular option, not the quality of being optional. But hey! I got it.
- The second speaker was talking clearly and kindly about a rain dump forecast for parts of the North Island shortly. Advising local people to stock up on supplies for at least three days, because recent rain events had washed out roads and bridges. He used “mitigation” in a very odd way. But hey! I got it.
As Chaucer said, “Ye knowe ek that in forme of speeche is chaunge / Withinne a thousand yeer…” Yes, Geoffrey, and linguistic changes don’t always take a thousand years. Sometimes they happen under our very nose. Or ears.
Why I’m not offended by changing language usage
Long ago I heard a comment by Max Cryer, a Kiwi entertainer and wordsmith. He said that people nearly always firmly believed the grammar rules they were first taught. If Grandpa said you must never split an infinitive, that was gospel forever.
After this revelation, I began to question my own assumptions of correctness. When I came across something that I considered wrong (and therefore ignorant) I would consult a mainstream dictionary or style guide. To my surprise, nine times out of ten the “wrong” usage or pronunciation or word was accepted by linguists and lexicographers, at least as an alternative.
Since then I treat “wrong” language in casual speech with curiosity instead of judgement. I wonder why and how it happened. Even if the expression is a slip of the tongue, it’s still interesting. To a poet, anyway! In speech I think less about errors, more about change and novelty.
I’m fiercely pro-clarity in formal written documents
I’m a plain language warrior from way back. If I found either of the above new usages in a business or government document, out they would go. Spontaneous speech is entirely different. You’re speaking off the cuff, on the go, and you generally have several chances to make yourself understood. And by I write blog posts casually: these are not annual reports.)
Automatic editing: those other post-it notes
Yep, I get edited too. Occasionally I take note of irrational auto-incorrects. You too? These ones are random edits from the Swiftkey keyboard, so my aged fingertips are partly to blame. Or perhaps the creators of Swiftkey are poet puppet-masters.
- please became Olsen
- alternative became I
- unexamined became inexorable
- Hey became Jerky
- Eric became roof
- delish became selfish
- gotta became foots
Yet another quote about happiness
To lighten up, here’s a quote from Villette (Charlotte Bronte). I’ve been listening to the audio book. I think we can all agree that this is Plain English and we all understand and agree it is true.
Happiness is not a potato.Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Your comments are welcome as is, where is
Say what you like, however you like. The comments field on a blog are not an English Literature exam, they are a chat session. If I don’t understand, I will ask. Feel free to speak through your keys, speak through your fingers or your voice. Yes I’m a nerdy poet and take delight in variations from the norm, love it when you send a poem, but primarily I just want to know what you think.Follow Write Into Life