Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

What the Telegraph hides behind its coy dashes to spare its readers’ blushes

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Graham Henry outrages the Telegraph's sensibilities

An odd bit of censorship in the Telegraph’s round-up of the New Zealand-Argentina Rugby World Cup quarter-final yesterday.

Quoting All Black coach Graham Henry at the post-match press conference, the Telegraph’s Mick Cleary quotes him thusly:

We’re through to the semi-final, [I’ve] never been there before, it feels – – – – – – amazing.

Note the coy use of dashes there. What naughty word could Henry have used there? Hmmm, let’s see…six dashes…could it be the Brits’ favourite Anglo-Saxon epithet, minus the missing “g”? You know, the f-word?

Of course not. Anyone who has been to the Land of the Long White Cloud knows that the Kiwis’ swear word of choice, particularly in mixed company, is “bloody”. Indeed, it’s probably one of the few countries in the world where you also commonly hear “blimin'”. *

And ‘bloody” was of course the word Henry used – check him out here.

Quite why the Telegraph feels it needs to shelter its readers – particularly its rugby-following readers – from “bloody” in this day and age is I suppose a matter between editor Tony Gallagher and Outraged Colonel of Tunbridge Wells. But to hide it behind dashes seems akin to those Victorian matrons who (perhaps apocryphally) hid curvaceous piano legs under frilly dresses, lest the sight of them stirred unseemly lust.

* Kiwis seem to have a fondness for b-words. As well as “bastard”, the other one you’re more likely to hear there than over here is “bugger”, usually used without any sexual connotation. The online debate continues whether Edmund Hillary, on returning from the top of Everest said “We knocked the bastard off” (what was reported by Jan (née James) Morris at the time) or “We knocked the bugger off” (how teammates remembered it). Hillary himself remembers it as “bastard” in his memoirs; most Kiwis remember it as “bugger”.

Required reading by all journalists

September 8, 2011 1 comment

Without comment, I commend to you Mark Steyn’s piece on freedom of speech post 9/11.

In such a world, words have no agreed meaning. “There were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown” is legal or illegal according to whosoever happens to hear it. Indeed, in my very favorite example of this kind of thinking, the very same words can be proof of two entirely different hate crimes. Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary “moderation” he’s been knighted by the Queen. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal was interviewed on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was “immoral,” was “not acceptable,” “spreads disease,” and “damaged the very foundations of society.” A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard’s “community safety unit” for “hate crimes” and “homophobia.”

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a “barmy doctrine” growing “like a canker” and deeply “homophobic.” In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for “Islamophobia.”

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for Islamophobia.

Actually, I will comment or, rather, I will let Confucius do it: “Above all, call everything by its correct and proper name.”

Have metaphors reached a stalemate?

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Zawiyah: Not a metaphor for a stalemate

Over at, foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont writes:

Zawiyah – 30 miles from the capital – is a metaphor for Libya’s current stalemate, which could itself end at any moment.

That ubiquitous, all-seeing gadfly Tim Worstall picks him (or rather, the Guardian’s subs) up on the use of “metaphor“:

Err, no. Zawiyah is not a metaphor for the current stalemate, it is an example of the current stalemate.

Well yes, Tim, and I’d go further: “Stalemate” is the wrong metaphor in the first place, since it signals the end of the game. No further move is possible, other than one which would put you in check. As in the old spiritual Rock-a My Soul, it’s so high, you can’t get over it, so low, you can’t get under it, so wide, you can’t get round it.

“Stand-off”, “deadlock” or “impasse” were really the words Mr Beaumont was groping for, since they each imply that some further action is possible, even if not probable. You can go round an impasse, as MacArthur did at Inchon, or smash a deadlock, or retreat and regroup from a stand-off. None of these are possible with a stalemate.

Which set me thinking about a thoughtful article in this week’s Spiked, The political use and abuse of metaphor, an interview with author James Geary by Patrick Hayes. Talking about the “explosion of metaphors” in the media about the economic crisis and, more currently, in events in Arab world, Hayes asks: Has metaphor replaced thought in modern political – and by extension, journalistic – discourse? In other words, have metaphors become so prevalent, so over-used, that we end up talking about the metaphor, rather than the actual underlying facts that gave rise to it?

Read more…

Confused words

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Former NME writer David Quantick, writing about Keith Chegwin (hey, it’s a living) in today’s Telegraph, says:

Acts such as Milton Jones and Stewart Lee spend years developing an individual style and to have it mined by poltroons is insulting…

Poltroon? Poltroon means “an utter coward”. I can’t see quite how that fits In Quantick’s sentence: what’s so cowardly about nicking other comedians’ stuff?

Harry Hutton, on the excellent but now sadly moribund Chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry website, once made the point that people trying to be archly archaic often use “poltroon” when they actually mean “buffoons”, or something else. I suspect that’s the case here: “mountebanks” or “rapscallions” would have served Quantick’s point better and made more sense. As indeed would “whoresons”.

Come to think of it, “moribund” is another word journalists get wrong, thinking it means “dead”. It means, of course, in terminal decline, lacking vigour or (in a person) on the point of death but haven’t quite karked it yet. But such is the systemic decline in good English in the media that you’ll quite often come across sentences like “The market in Betamax videotapes is moribund”.

“Systemic” is yet another word journalists have a lot of trouble with, confusing it with “systematic”. “The media reports skeptical arguments very poorly. I think it’s a systematic problem with science writing,” I read on a blog yesterday. The writer meant “systemic” –  of or relating to the whole system, rather than a particular, localised part of it. “Systematic” means that it’s all done to a set agenda or plan, as in “Police carried out a systematic search of the building”.

There you go: three clarifications of easily confused words, all stemming from a why-oh-why article about Cheggers and a writer who’s trying to be clever but is actually showing off his ignorance. Isn’t English wonderful?