I’ve not had a gripe about words and their usage for some time. However, last night an old irritation re-emerged as I was preparing dinner.
I hate colloquial abbreviations that turn a perfectly serviceable – and sometimes quite beautiful – word or phrase into a much more humdrum, not to say unintelligent, expression. This is an irk (I’ve just made a noun of that!) that goes way back into my childhood. I grew up in an era when the relative affluence of the 1960s was taking consumerism to new levels and my mother frequently sent me on errands to our local shop, which (even then) belonged to Spar. As part of the independent retailer drive against the supermarket chains which, even in towns like Spalding, were just beginning to take hold (my Uncle David, who also kept a shop and didn’t belong to any kind of co-operative, was always railing against them), the shop usually displayed a few items marked ‘special offer’. As a nine-year-old or thereabouts (I admit that I was probably an insufferable little prig!), I remember the strong sense of semantic outrage that I felt on the first occasion that I heard the shopkeeper describe one of these as ‘on offer’. Now, of course, this is such a familiar term that ‘special offer’ has almost disappeared from usage; many retailers even use the term ‘offer’ without a preposition.
Since then, many similar slimmed-down inventions have offended my ear. The term ‘Brussels sprouts’ is a case in point. My father frequently abbreviated this to ‘Brussels’, which I felt gave the vegetable, although it provided good, solid English fare, a hint of continental exoticism. I was not so delighted when I came to live in Yorkshire and found that the locals always call them ‘sprouts’ – a less attractive word I could hardly conceive of!
Then there were ‘high heels’, those potent rites of passage into womanhood that girls aspired to and were once not allowed to wear until well into their teens. I’m not quite sure when this happened – possibly longer ago than I realise – but I note that now they are always called ‘heels’. Ugh! If you’d used this word to my grandmother, who was not particularly enamoured of the male sex, she would immediately have understood that you were referring to a couple of less-than-satisfactory men, not a pair of glamorous shoes.
And, while we’re on the subject, what about ‘mains’, as in ‘main course’? It’s another one that’s crept up on me. When was the second word dropped? Did restaurants not have enough space on menus and billboards to write the whole phrase? It sounds like an apology for a waterworks.
And now – wait for it! – as I discovered yesterday evening, Sainsbury’s is describing its garlic ciabatta bread as ‘a classic and Italian side’. A classic and Italian side of what? Of course, I know that it refers to ‘side dish’, or, as the Americans would say, something to be presented or eaten ‘on the side’. But why not say so? Why mangle the language in this way and diminish both the magic of the words and their sense?
Perhaps I’ve now become an insufferable much older prig… or perhaps I have a point.
6 thoughts on “Faster food and fashion… This irks!”
I’m with you in the pedants’ corner, Christine. The one that gets me – gotten. I’ve no problem when it’s used by Americans – it’s part of their language. But it’s not English!!!!!!
I’m not unduly pedantic, Jo – I just have my pet hates, like everyone else! Every so often, something like that ciabatta label just sets me off! 😉
I can also confess to a few irks, Christina. I agree with all yours, but admit I’ve got used to the ‘on offer’ label and also the ‘heels’. Daughter conditioning, I suppose, but the ones that really bug me are the ‘cell’, ‘mobile’ and ‘tab’ that I hear in place of ‘cell(ular) phone’, ‘mobile phone’ or whatever an iPad is really supposed to be. A tablet computer probably, but calling it a ‘tab’ reminds me of what some of my friends and fellow students used to call the drugs they took back in the seventies! Talking of that, I suppose our generation used to call a transistor radio a tranny…
Still, I agree wholeheartedly with Jo about ‘gotten’. I really can’t stand it used in our English. I can’t afford to be too pedantic though so often have to keep quiet. The trends in English as a Foreign Language teaching now are very focused on teaching students what they are likely to hear as natural language and not what correct grammar and conventions dictate. I am very resistant to the notion of ‘dumbing down’ the language, but I have to acknowledge that there’s not much use in teaching foreign students to use forms and terms that they will rarely come across except in very formal language. It’s a hard one as I fear the language will diminish over time and everything in me rails against it, but even in the discussion groups we have for my studies, the rhetoric is very much against worrying about ‘form’ and much more concern is placed on effective communication. I think they find me a bit of a dinosaur, but I argue that if we only teach students what they hear, then we will have to teach all the possible buzz words, dialects and slang with none of the correct language that forms a standard understood everywhere else in the world! Oh dear, I seem to have gone off on a bit of a tangent here. Sorry, Christina. It seems your post was a red flag to my bullishness!
I’m fascinated to hear how E2L? ESOL? or whatever it’s called these days (!) has developed from the very grammatically-orientated approach that I remember from the early eighties. I do agree with the practicality of usage, and I have fun with, for example, ‘street’ myself, as it’s a very amusing and enjoyable to play with colloquialisms. However, the trend to shorten and simplify everything annoys me! 🙂
I agree with you Christina. I have also noticed that in Coronation Street on television which in now called Corrie they have to shorten everyone’s name down to the minimal number of letters possible. Another pet hate is usually found on Facebook where younger people say they are emosh which means they are feeling emotional. People are becoming to lazy with words.
Thanks, Anne! I’ve never quite understood why people insist on talking ‘baby’ language to their children, when the capacity of infants to grasp complexities of spoken language is so great. “Say, ‘Ta!'” is a typical example. As you say, it’s about reducing words to their bare minimum. A sadness.