Friday, June 3, 2022

Things I don't understand (#1 in a series that could go on forever)

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.


hughvane said...

Several of the excess and superfluous words or expressions mentioned are North American in origin. They defy rational explanation. One not mentioned was ‘off of’, as in “I got this new bike off of my grandad”. One that rattles my cage more than usual is the use of ‘over’ as in “I’m so over this lockdown” - heard many times in 2021.

I think you’re right, some - perhaps much - of the verbal dross emanates from those paid to dream (dream up?), invent, and spread their linguistic veneer like manure on a farm paddock. Young people, children in particular, simply copy what they see and hear on television, or favoured radio station, there is little or no originality of expression.

Worst of all though is that the offenders could not give a toss what we, the Great Unwashed, think of their utterances, it’s what they think of each other that is all-important to them.

Kiwiwit said...

There is a subtle change in meaning conveyed by the many of the examples you cite. For example, “signed off” seems to convey a reluctant acquiescence to a proposal, whereas “approved” conveys a more positive and diligent agreement. It is no surprise that today’s bureaucrats (the source of so many of these linguistic inexactitudes) prefer the former to the latter, as they can’t be held too accountable for applying their signature reluctantly to one of the many documents that they are presented with in their busy and important lives.

Greg said...

I would suggest that "chased down" has a slightly different meaning than "chased" - the latter just means "ran after", whereas the former implies that the person was caught. Similarly, "bleeding out" implies a greater quantity of blood, to the point of expiration, than merely "bleeding". The rest of your examples are just laziness, and I don't understand them either.

Don Franks said...

Annoying stuff alright, although I think "Chased down" adds to "chased". You can chase someone without result, to me"chased down" implies a pursuit resulting in the quarry being apprehended. Chased down gives me an image of someone being successfully tackled.

Owen said...

I think the additional words add meaning in a lot of the cases you mention. For example, "chased down" implies the person was caught, whereas chased just means they ran. "Covered off" means we covered it and we don't want to do it any more.

LNF said...

I cringe when I hear the "t" replaced by "d"
So utter becomes udder - changes the meaning somewhat
But now "somethink" seems to be just fine - and on the world stage

Doug Longmire said...

Hallelujah, Karl !
Thanks for your outline of current corrupted English.

Chris Morris said...

Some of the intensifiers can actually mean something different. Chased down implies success while chased doesn't give an outcome. However, I agree with you that most are just space fillers. Did they originate with radio/ TV or politicians who dread dead time?

Frank Black said...

To "bleed out" is the fatal loss of blood, as opposed to bleed, which is what happens when i cut my finger.

Karl du Fresne said...

Frank Black,
I don't believe the bleeding was fatal in the examples I've read.

ihcpcoro said...

I udderly reject that it was somethink I said.

boudicca said...

In many of your examples Karl the use of a postposition does change the meaning, as in German with verbs which begin with a preposition. Check it has the meaning of 'assess' whereas check it out has come to mean 'have a look at it'. Signed off implies finality, whereas signed is merely the act of signing. However I agree with the creeping use of Americanisms. I have even hear 'oftentimes' used by a Kiwi - correct US English but please just 'often' in British/NZ usage

Eamon Sloan said...

I took a book off my everlasting bookshelf last week. Titled “Worst Words” by Don Watson (Penguin, 2015). Watson is an Australian language commentator and if my memory is reliable he was a speechwriter for one of the Oz politicians. Am cheating a little here and should say that my everlasting bookshelf is actually the local public library. Watson’s book runs out to over 400 pages and he sets about mocking modern day management and political jargon. Jargon now leaking and soaking into general use.

I have checked up on (sorry about that) some of Karl’s references. Watson doesn’t cover all of them, but some are mentioned in other forms. In 400 or so pages there are probably 1000 or more references.

Like you Karl, “going forward” I don’t have any “instant solutions” or “learnings” to share. So I shall “outsource” this matter to other commenters.

Andy Espersen said...

With all due respect, Karl – this is “Much Ado about Nothing”. Changing idioms of our ever living, ever young languages happen over periods of generations – whereas your (and mine) understanding of what is happening is limited to decades. And, alas, you are only 71. I am 86 – and feel exactly the same as you.

Nothing we oldies can do about it - except go to our graves, still protesting wildly!!

JohnC said...

One that annoys me: Everyone in business and government is 'pivoting'. If you are not pivoting, you must be deficient in some way. Also, a strong Pasifika influence has become evident in spoken English. Especially in those under 35. Our 'T' has pretty much disappeared. So it's Mou Wellington (for Mount Wellington). And fairly routine words such as 'them' and 'than' are now the most emphasised words in a sentence. Such as: I gave it to 'T-H-E-M'.

R Singers said...

It's amusing when people complain about Americanisms in the English language. Often what we think of as the British way originally came from the US and vice versa.

Hugh Jorgan said...

Me again.

I agree with hughvane and others that the yanks are largely responsible for the bastardisation of our language. I'd like to see some examples refuting that assertion from R Singers. I recall my Latin Master going nuts when a student would raise his hand and begin his question with "How come," rather than "Why;" a good example of the Americanisation of English if ever there was one.
My particular bugbear is pronunciation. You've touched on a few above; I note replacing the "t" with a "d" in words such as "party," "security" and "community" has been elevated to an art form by our saintly PM.
There are plenty of others that raise my hackles. For example, emphasis on the first syllable in "defense" which, I believe, originated as a basketball chant (another example of the Americanisation of our language). Or placing too much emphasis on the last syllable in words such as "ordinary" and "stationery," so that rather than being pronounced "ordinry" and "stationry," they become "ordinairy" and "stationairy." I've also noticed that more and more people are enunciating the letter "z" in the hard American manner of "zed," rather than the traditionally soft English "zee."
As Andy Espersen says, we can but rail against the gradual ruination of our language that occurs organically over much longer time frames than that which we'll occupy this mortal coil.

boudicca said...

And civiliZe and coloniZe drive me to distraction. They were once accepted in British English but are now considered US spellings. ColoniSe and civiliSe please!

Birdman said...

Often 'going forward' is used instead of 'in future'. It is an attempt to imply progress rather than the admission there has been a past wrong that has needed to be rectified. The user wants to imply progress, as the the user/their organisation has often actually done or been involved in something that has taken that individual/organisation backwards in others' eyes. To use the correct 'in future' admits there was that past event they want to ignore. It's the old 'nothing to see here guys so it's onwards and upwards' approach.

I'm glad I was able to reach out to you all over this.

Karl can you please explore the use of 'like'. If this word was removed from the vocabulary of the youth, many of them would have nothing to say - like they'd be like lost.

Zoroforever said...

"Somefink in the way she smiles attracts me like no udder"

Hugh Jorgan said...

Good grief, I just realised I got the "z" thing wrong. I meant to say 'soft American manner of "zee," rather than the traditionally hard English "zed."'
As Butch Coolidge said in Pulp Fiction: "Zed's dead, baby, Zed's dead."
And I was going so well up to that point...note to self - don't start drinking before the sun's over the yardarm...

Doug Longmire said...

The ones that bug me most are:-
"t" becomes "d", as in the Child Poviddy Minister.
and vulnerable becomes vunnleribble.
Also the general tend of many Kiwis to distort vowels badly. "i" becomes "u" - fushen chups for tay ?

Derek McGovern said...

I find Winston Peters mispronouncing "mischievous" as though it were somehow spelled "mischievious" (and therefore "misCHEEvious") extremely irritating.

Ben Thomas said...

Thank you for 'reaching out' with your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts about my personal peeve, the addition of "guys" in the second person plural "you guys". It may still be considered colloquial, but nek minnit...

Hiko said...

Gotten aaaaaargh!!!!

Doug Longmire said...

One last grizzle from Doug:-
The medical word "cervical" is mis-pronounced by all media as:-
ser vykle.

Check the dictionary !!
Correct pronunciation is:-
Rhymes with surgical, medical, technical, helical, etc.
The mispronunciation started back in the 90's, and was a deliberate affectation created by radio and tv journalists.

Doug Longmire said...

I still treasure my copy of Kenneth Hudson's book - "The Dictionary of Diseased English"

Anonymous said...

One of the things that annoys me is when the "ow" sound of words such as "how" and "now" more and more frequently becomes something like "aar" when the word is followed by a word starting with a vowel e.g. "haar is it working so soon" or "naar is the winter of our discontent".

Has anyone noticed how frequently people use the word "regularly" when they mean "frequently"?


Hilary Taylor said...

Ooooh there's nowt like a good ol' grizzle about language use!

My own pet peeve is 'our-uh' for 'hour'...but I suspect the flower/bower effect operates here. I rhyme them all...hour, flower, cow...perhaps I'm...NON-STANDARD!
Quel horreur.

Chuk...I'm guilty of popping an 'r' in before a vowel...a workmate used to tell me this was a South Island thing, but I've heard plenty use it from all over.

And Ive made my peace with 'gotten', given its olde worlde heritage...Irish I think?

Remember Frank Zappa's 'Valley Girl' from 'back in the day', his daughter Moon Unit providing the dialogue? Accents & in-group identifiers more than vocab I guess but a smart & funny satire I still play, and our daughters when growing up loved it.

pdm said...

non 8.01.

`youse guys' is even worse.

Paul Peters said...

Affect and effect have disappeared and have been replaced by the Americanised usage of impact , impacting etc. for everything.
Probably has also vanished are now likely is used all the time.
We used to protest against, at or about something but protest our innocence. Now we protest everything American style and the BBC has gone the same way.
I see ''have gotten'' but there is no need for gotten at all.
The American trend to put ''ation'' on everything as in transportation (roads vehicles plans etc rather than shipping folk out to far corners of the globe) is mainstream and was creeping in in the early 70s much to the chagrin of the subs of the day. He was admitted to hospital, not hospitalised I was told sternly as a reporter back then.
I see all spprts of nounds being turned into verbs; must be verbisation?
There are more examples but it is a losing battle and, in any case, correct use (as it was) of who, whom, that, which no longer appears to matter. Feelings and intent are more important . Maybe if I say I am an offended minority I can ''deplatform'' Stuff and NZME's ''writers''.
In 50 years everything might be in simplified text shorthand. I won't be around then.

One other thing is the way crashes are reported. I see stories where , say, a woman died when her car collided with a van. There is nothing in the story to support the claim the woman caused the accident. It seems many reporters these days do not realise they have the woman doing the act of colliding. I got told it sounds more punchy than saying a woman died when her car and a van collided (no blame). Anything goes.

Paul Peters said...

The lack of general knowledge about the subjects written about is of more concern.
Yesterday we had a Herald columnist and a newshub correspondent in a long podcast and article talking about republics and countries dumping the monarchy and ''leaving the Commonwealth''.
In all cases the countries concerned have remained in the Commonwealth including Barbados. There seemed no understanding of how the Commonwealth works .
Most members are republics, some have their own monarchy and some still have QE2. It is irrelevant whether or not the writers are republican (the tone was that way) or whatever, please get the basics right.
I have seen the same errors emanating from news agencies abroad.
The countries concerned are replacing the Crown as head of state. ie no longer being ''realms''.
Since WW2 Burma opted out immediately on gaining independence, Eire on becoming a republic, British Somaliland on merging with Italian Somalia , Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in 1956 and since then a few have left and returned (Maldives, Fiji, Pakistan, The Gambia). Zimbabwe is the exception. Still out.
The Commonwealth may be dead in the eyes of some for ideological reasons but there are countries that were never British territories that have joined or want to join.

Paul Peters said...

One of the worst is athletes ''medalling'' and having ''podiumed''. Definitely verbisation.

Andy Espersen said...

Ha - in this "#1 in a series that could go on for ever" : My Stoke hairdresser opened shop a couple of years ago - and proudly wrote on his window "Contempary Hair Saloon". Being me, of course I mentioned this "spelling mistake" on my very first visit to his shop. He laughed out loud - and asked me if I was a teacher. He had noticed that teachers would always mention it! As a matter of fact, almost all my family are teachers - and I (though not trained) have spent some time teaching.

He claims that this deliberate misspelling draws clients to his shop. I congratulated him for being 100 years ahead of his time!!

We look forward to #2, Karl - but perhaps not immediately!

Anonymous said...

“To be honest” is what annoys me most. It’s lazy and unnecessary. Likewise “your” has seemed to replace “you’re “. Dave