steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Taking the bêtes noires for a walk

My health regime will henceforth pay much more attention to innards. Hence my new mottos: "Ten minutes' splenetics in the morning - the way to a healthy spleen!" "Never go more than a day without evacuating your bile!" In pursuit whereof...

All those Scots in the cabinet have a lot to answer for, linguistically speaking. Take "Not fit for purpose". I think it was John Reid who, as Home Secretary, first introduced this phrase into political currency, just three years ago. Now, it has spread like swine flu. Meanwhile, "proven" has more or less displaced "proved", a giant Scottish grey squirrel muscling out the native population of participles. Politicians like these phrases because it makes them sound like reliable Edinburgh lawyers, or Dr Cameron in Dr Finlay's Casebook, but I think they're just naff, especially when spoken in the designer-glottallized English of southern MPs.

Then this morning I heard someone calling for a "sea change" in policy on city bonuses. I was momentarily charmed by the Shakespearian allusion, picturing rich and strange bankers covered in coral like Phlebas the Phoenician; but he soon succumbed to the tidal pull of the political demotic, and long before the end of the interview the sea change had become a "step change", which is now the only acceptable way for politicians to refer to a decisive change of direction. What is a "step change" anyway? A dancing term? When you go from waltz to rumba? I don't know, and I doubt they do either.

I never thought I'd feel nostalgic for the good old quantum leap.

And I long ago gave up on "a whole raft of measures". "Raft" in the sense of "a lot" is an Americanism, I think, but one that in this country is only ever used in this particular phrase, and thus inevitably conjures a heap of rulers, plumb lines and quadrants floating out to sea. Sometimes one hears of a "whole range of measures" instead, but either way, what does the "whole" bit mean? What would half a range (or raft) look like?

Okay, now I'm just being grumpy - and my splenetics session is nearly over. I'll finish by pointing to this very interesting piece on an old favourite of mine, which demonstrates that the importance of this mistake in logic cannot be undererestimated. Or can it?
Tags: language
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