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David Porter » Entries tagged with "English language"

Oxymorons, Verbosity and Tautology: Mangling the Language

  English is a living language, constantly adapting, changing, absorbing. When some people mangle it too far, senses of perspective, poetry and humour help. ‘Oh the games people play now/never meaning what they say now/never saying what they mean’. Lyrics from the song Games People Play (1968) by Joe South sum up the fact that few people say what they mean. Ever. According to net language course provider, Word Power, in the days of Shakespeare/Milton (say 16th and 17th centuries), the English vocabulary contained about 60,000 words. Today, it’s well over a million and growing. If words are the building blocks of thinking, then accurate language is vital. Statements of the Obvious On a day with particularly strong weather, people will invariably point out to somebody else things like: ‘What a lovely day!’ or ‘A … Read entire article »

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Acronyms Have Become a Language in Their Own “Write”

Officialdom, bureaucracy, media and people love acronyms, especially when they make a word that stands alone and means what the abbreviation actually is. The use of abbreviations to describe lengthy organisational names and regularly used terms in daily life has become well established. RAM (Random Access Memory) is universal in computers. Politics has embraced them wholesale. GOP is equally: Grand Old Party, Gallant Old Party or God’s Own Party. ACLU is American Civil Liberties Union and in the UK SNP is readily acknowledged as Scottish National Party. FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States), GOTV (Get Out the Vote) and WaPo (Washington Post) need little explanation in the USA. In the currency of communication across boundaries, an agreed, concise and comprehensible way of describing complex issues and structures is essential. It’s crucial … Read entire article »

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Plain Language is the Holy Grail of Communication

If people would say what they mean, instead of speaking/writing/hiding in cliches, jargon and obfuscation, might understanding be greater? The Free Dictionary gives meanings of the little-used but useful word, obfuscation. To obfuscate is to make so confused as to be difficult to understand, to dim, to darken, make indistinct or obscure, often used of the truth. Expanded definitions include bafflement, befuddlement, bemusement, disarray, mystification and confusion. All the nuances can be wrapped up in how some people and organisations communicate written/oral information/instruction, and how many people respond. Plain English, Plain Language The Plain English Campaign is a commercial editing and training firm based in the United Kingdom, ‘fighting for plain English in public communication’. They oppose ‘gobbledygook, jargon and legalese’. Once, the language they oppose was found mainly in legal documents; nowadays … Read entire article »

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Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPAG)

SPAG errors cost money. They also look bad if your written communications to the public and customers are badly presented and littered with basic English howlers! A July 2011 report on BBC News Education and Family suggests that businesses trading on the web are losing millions of pounds through bad grammar, poor spelling and misunderstood punctuation. Charles Duncombe, in travel, mobile phones and clothing websites, pointed out how online errors cost sales, because they diminish the credibility of a site.  He said that he had been ‘shocked’ by poor written English in many job applications, too. Head of Education and Skills at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), James Fothergill, agreed by stating that many employers invested in remedial English for staff. In autumn 2010 it was reported that the Leeds Building Society … Read entire article »

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USA and UK, Two Countries Divided by the Same Language

While American-English & British-English are similar but different in spellings and shades of meaning, text-speak could render all differences academic. It seems that nobody agrees who first said that England and America are two countries separated by the same language. The 1951 Treasury of Humorous Quotations quotes Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, as saying it, but not necessarily originating it. An earlier candidate is Oscar Wilde, who wrote in The Canterville Ghost (1887), ‘We really have everything in common with America now except, of course, language”. Although later, war time Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill is sometimes also cited as the originator. Philosopher Bertrand Russell, writing in Saturday Evening Post, June 1944, said: ‘It is a misfortune for Anglo-American friendship that the two countries are supposed to have … Read entire article »

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50 Crazy Ways to Call Someone Mad

A Writer’s List of Words and Phrases to Describe Insanity You need a good way to describe someone as barking. Many English cliches & expressions describe somebody others call mad. Some terms are funny; others cruel. In writing, any author is bound eventually to need to describe a character who is regarded as off the wall. People often account for the behaviour of themselves or others, as a moment of madness. But what is it? It’s a relatively permanent mind disorder. In North America ‘mad’ is a way of describing anger or irritation, but that is not common usage in most parts of the English speaking world.. Lunacy and Insanity Describe Madness Lunacy is an obsolete legal definition for insanity. It stemmed originally from the moon (lunar): howling … Read entire article »

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