A few weeks ago I became involved in the modern phenomena of podcasting. The podcast isn't about language, however, it discusses household tips. Nowadays the young would call them “life hacks”, but I refuse to countenance such a silly neologism.
Oh my word
I found myself in discussion with a friend who shares my enthusiasm for clarity in language, but who holds opposite opinions on what are and are not effective and acceptable ways to communicate.
The Oxford English Dictionary has released a list of new words included on its pages. They do this every three months, and the rate at which words are added is dizzying. This quarter’s tally is 1,400.
Some of you will be Dundonians. There also will be Forfarians among you, and some Arbroathians, and Fifers, and Brechiners. These area-specific titles are demonyms, the word stems from the Ancient Greek word for “people” or “tribe”.
There is a war of words raging across the globe. The opposing forces are, on one side, the entire North American continent, and a battalion of etymology experts at the Oxford University Press (with support from The Oxford English Dictionary). And on the other side . . . me.
Possibly inadvisably, this week I intend to talk about a thing I know very little about — English language education in modern schools. It seems to me that young adults leave school with sadly deficient English skills.
Last week we talked about idiolects, concentrating on personal eccentricities such as peppering speech with phrases like “I’m not being funny, but…” or “As I was saying…” But your idiolect goes quite a distance further than a list of words and phrases habitually used. It is a fascinating aspect of how we personally interpret words and language.
We all have idiolects, the set of phrases and words we habitually use. Some pepper their speech with “you know”, others needlessly start sentences with “so”.
More than any other single aspect of the language, I find delight in the nuances of idioms. I’m fascinated by their ability to convey meaning in just a few words, yet if you take what is said literally it is often gibberish. Idioms, of course, are those figures of speech that don’t actually mean what they say. Kick the bucket (for death), lose face (a reputation drop), paint the town red (celebrate). English is full of them.
I will try to explain why I never try and explain. How many times have you heard, or seen written, someone claim they will “try and do” something?