There are lots of things I don’t understand – new ones every day, in fact.
Some of these involve language. I accept that language is dynamic and fluid and constantly evolving, but some changes – many of them perpetrated by journalists who should know better – are plain daft.
Being “across the news”, for example. Pardon me? And “going forward”, which is rightly mocked in the same way as the pompous phrase “at this point in time” was several decades ago, though it keeps popping up regardless.
The strange thing about “going forward” is that in almost all instances you can chop those two words off a statement without changing its meaning in the slightest. The phrase is superfluous, added in the mistaken belief that it somehow gives the statement greater weight or expands its meaning.
Language, of course, is prone to the whims of fashion and the human urge to conform to whatever ghastly phenomenon happens to be in vogue. “Going forward” is the linguistic equivalent of tattoos and mullets. I suspect a lot of trendy phrases originate in HR departments, which are fascinated by anything that conveys the illusion of being ahead of the pack (or should I say “cutting edge”?).
Some changes in pronunciation similarly defy rational explanation, other than the obvious ones of ignorance or laziness. I’m still wondering where the first “l” in “vulnerable” disappeared to, along with the “g” in “recognise”. Neither do I understand how “t” became “d” in words such as community and security.
But what most perplexes me most at this point in time (forgive me – I will have my little joke) is the practice of attaching words such as “up”, “out”, “down” and “on” to verbs so that they serve as intensifiers, as grammarians would call them.
Some of these grammatical constructions have been with us for a while. “Check it out” is endemic, although the “out” adds nothing.
"Watched on” seems to be a favourite of reporters, despite the “on” being totally (or should that be todally?) unnecessary. I suspect people confuse it with “looked on”, but the two constructions are different. “Watched” doesn’t need any elaboration because it stands alone; you can watch something but you can’t “look” something. You have to look at it or on it. "Watched on", therefore, is a nonsense.
“Covered off” is another usage that has inexplicably taken root in journalism, as in “we covered off that story”. (Even more bizarrely, I’ve heard “we’re covered off on that”, apparently with no awareness of the obvious contradiction between “off” and “on”.)
The same goes for “signed off”, which similarly often carries a nonsensical “on” – as in “the council signed off on the long-term plan”. What the hell happened to “approved”?
More recently I’ve noted “parked up” (“the caravan was parked up in the camping ground”), “chased down” (“witnesses chased down the robber”), “swap out” (“I had to swap out the old batteries for some new ones”) and even “bleed out” (“the patient was bleeding out when paramedics arrived”). More colloquially, there’s also “fessed up” for “confessed”. And when my teenage grandson wants to find the answer to something, he searches it up.
Oh, and then there’s “listen up”. Listen up where, exactly?
These are just a few examples off the top of my head. I’m sure there are plenty of others.
The common factor in all the above examples is that the second word adds nothing. As my edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (admittedly, published 20 years ago) remarks, it doesn’t affect the meaning of the verb it’s attached to.
I can see how “parked up” came about. Originally it signified a vehicle that was in storage or left in the same place for a matter of days, weeks or even longer, as opposed to one that’s parked overnight or for a few hours, but that differentiation seems to be disappearing.
As for those others, they are inexplicable.
There are precedents of a sort. Mothers used to urge their small children to “eat up” their din-dins and racehorse trainers are still heard to say that their charges “ate up” all their oats, which I gather is a sure sign of robust equine health. New Zealanders of a certain age will also recognise the phrases “cook up a feed” and “write up a story” (which in due course also became a noun, as in “I saw that write-up in the paper”).
The question remains: where do these usages spring from, and what causes them to suddenly take root among people who are supposedly trained to use the language properly? All theories welcome.