Saturday, 19 March 2011

If you can't see what's wrong with these, bend over!

All garnered in recent times from the B.B.C. which, at one time, I used to think represented the paragon of correct spoken English:-

1) "In Iraq a series of explosions have taken place."

2) "Crime has increased by 50%" (No mention of what period this is over.)

3) "Michael Jackson could hold an audience literally in the palm of his hand".

4) "Of the two candidates he was the one who got the most votes."
and a mistake of the same type with - "Saturday will be the best day of the week-end."

5) "The town's population was decimated by the flood."

Okay, in the last one I'll admit that although the commentator clearly meant that the
population had been reduced to about a tenth of its former figure, and not by a tenth, my
Chambers dictionary states that the word is currently used to mean "to reduce very
heavily", so that at least may have changed in my lifetime.

When I was at school, if anyone made such errors as those above, at best they would be openly ridiculed by our English language master-priest or, more usually, the unfortunate boy would be given a taste of the 'strap' on his hand, usually comprising several strokes. These straps, by the way, were made from heavy duty rubber and imported from Ireland where they had been lovingly crafted by Irish priests - all for our own good, you understand. After just one stroke your hand would sting like nobody's business - but, as I say, a mere single stroke was not considered adequate for the desired efficacy. (Though it's always odd when one thinks back and recalls that it was always the same few boys who were the ones repeatedly punished. So maybe not so effective after all.)

But I digress. It's often said that it doesn't really matter if what you say is incorrect as long as you can get over your meaning. I can't agree entirely with that because when I hear errors like these my distraction causes me to miss the rest of the information.
Well, I won't say things were better in my day. Oh no! That is just too much of a cliche. But I must at least register disappointment that things have come to such a pass when the organ which one feels ought to be propagating the English language with pride is, in fact, so sloppy in its use of it.


  1. Many times I also feel that if the basic point is being communicated, why worry about the little mistakes. However, now I think I agree with you in that if the little mistakes are distracting, the basic point could in fact be missed.

    I tend to mispronounce words a lot. My mind says them correctly, but my mouth does not. Sometimes I think my tongue is too big for my mouth. I know what I'm trying to say, and I think my listeners know what I'm trying to say, so I don't bother going back to pronounce the words correctly. I feel that's a waste of my time and theirs.

    When I see other people correcting their mispronunciations I get perturbed with them and feel insulted that they don't think I understood what they were trying to say. Also I feel like they are wasting my time by going back to correct their mispronunciations. How do you feel about all this? Should I spend time correcting myself?

  2. Sean :-)) and you were wondering if I'd spot it, weren't you? ;-)

    Cubby - We ALL make mistakes (yes, me too - frequently) and I just accept that other people make their own, though often I'll vent a sigh and a "heigh-ho!" when I hear them. I don't think it's our place to continually pull up others about their own foibles. (The words 'mote' 'eye' and 'beam' come to mind!)
    No, what I was getting at in my post above was that I would have expected the B.B.C., foremost among ALL institutions, to have set the 'gold standard' in correct English. But nowadays the speech standard of their reporters, newscasters (or is it the teleprompter writers?) weather forecasters etc has deteriorated noticeably in the decades since I started watching TV. They're saying things which, to me, just SOUND wrong but which they don't seem to notice as they deliver their words. Maybe it's my strict Catholic education which, though sometimes tyrannical, did give me a heightened sense of what is right and wrong in grammar.
    As to mispronunciations, well people's names and place names are fertile territory for clangers, some of which are forgivable. But when it comes to English vocabulary some words are controversial like, well, 'controversy' - where I've been brought up to say "con-tro-VER-sy' but now everyone says "con-TRO-ver-sy". There's a multitude of other examples where there's no single inviolably correct pronunciation.
    I must say I'm sympathetic to those who go back to correct their own errors. I do it myself, which I suppose is also distracting from the content. But if anyone feels that they must correct YOU, it is just an extension of trying to tell you how to live your life - and I reckon we have more than enough of that already.

  3. Simply shocking!

    By the way, here's some info on Loreena McKennitt!

  4. Reassuring that you share my sense of displeasure, Tiger ;-)
    Thanks for link to Ms McKennitt. I've listened to a fair number of samples and I see where she fits in now. Ta!

  5. This is, I suppose, part of what critics call 'dumbing down'. I'm pretty certain that despite my quasi-classical education I commit many howlers a day - particularly in these comments!

    By the way - Google nearly killed me off during its recent purge: deleting not only my blogs but Picassa, You Tube and my Profile. Confusingly that has recently re-appeared in Friend Connect but it is an empty shell of which I have utterly no control!

    I do, however, now have this:
    and I'm afraid that I shall just have to Follow you again - with my 'new' identity!

  6. I must confess that I had to think about No.4. I should know better, but when you constantly listen to the rules of English being violated, these errors become a part of your everyday speech.

    There are two very common errors that are repeated constantly that, conversationally, rise no red flags and they should:

    Him and I - at least the speaker is 50% correct
    Myself - e.g. Tom went with John and myself. 'Myself' is reflexive. Why is this concept so difficult to understand?

  7. Micky: Very good indeed to see you back. I'd feared that, unfortunate as your Goggle experience had been, I'd actually feared that something MUCH worse had happened.
    I've had a look at your 'other' site and though it doesn't really correspond to my own interests, I do hope we can somehow continue to maintain contact, particularly on LGTB matters where it seems we actually do very much see eye to eye.

    Paul: Yes, even the best among us, (far, far better speakers than me), make mistakes when speaking extempore, which is understandable and forgivable, but, as you say, certain common errors are made and the speaker just goes on as if s/he hadn't said anything wrong whereas with people like you and me would hear mental alarm bells and feel obliged to go back and correct ourselves. It's also odd that those of us who like to speak and write in languages other than those we grew up with, are more conscious and wary of making grammatical errors in those than in our birth language. There must be a lesson there somewhere.