As I was saying, about this whole American/English thing – after 30 years or so living in the USA, I think I qualify as bi-lingual. However, after a 10-year absence, I’m finding that some of the linguistic tendencies of my American cousins strike my ear in a peculiar way. To quote Professor ‘Enry ‘Iggins from that great Musical, My Fair Lady, it amounts to, ‘The cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.’
For example, there’s the great American habit of mangling a noun in order to turn it into a verb. A couple of recent examples (from network news broadcasts!) include the following:
“We don’t want to incentivize this behaviour.” (The word ‘encourage’ springs to mind).
“It would be unhealthy to intake contaminated air.” (Maybe ‘inhale’ might have sufficed?)
Then we had a classic. Not content with turning nouns into verbs, we had, on national TV, a weather reporter going one better; turning a perfectly fine noun into an adjective, as follows;
“Due to extreme tornadic activity in the mid-West…”
Now, I ask you, is there any reason to go all adjectival? Damn! Now they’ve got me doing it!
All that being said, our language is and has always been in a constant process of evolution. If that were not true, we’d all be speaking (and writing) in the language of Beowulf and sundry other Anglo-Saxons. Which, I have to tell you, is a painful process, having been forced to study such stuff as a young undergrad. No, as far as I’m concerned, as long as language serves its key purpose of communicating thoughts, I’m not about to jump off my Zimmer Frame and act like a grumpy old man. Well, maybe just once in a while. I just have to laugh at the sheer inventiveness involved in making up new words when there are perfectly good ones already in existence. That’s America for you – always moving ahead!
Don’t say you weren’t warned, though, of a worrisome linguistic trend clearly visible in the new generation – the twenty-somethings. It involves the use of the word, ‘like.’ Now, you and I are very accustomed to the word itself, in various contexts. Not, however, in this new one. The new language goes something like (see?) this: young person speaking will say:
“Oh I’m like, (then take any word you like and it will fit, often prefixed with a ‘so’) e.g. ‘happy, unhappy, confused, upset, angry, or frustrated’– well, you, like, get the message.
The other national quirk is the uplifting of tone at the end of a sentence, making it sound like a question. It’s impossible to reproduce in print, but it goes as follows (see how I avoided ‘like’?) “Hi, my name is David” – with an upward lilt at the end, so it sounds querulous. Weird?
Arlene sends apologies, but will report in detail on the Dress next month. And I’ll get less space to rant!