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Use and Abuse of the English tongue

Story ID:5062
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Ajijic Mexico
Year:2009
Person:Me
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When the Romans arrived in Britain they were confronted by a country of inarticulate smurfs. The Britons ran around naked, covered in a blue dye called wode. Their very basic language consisted mostly of grunts, curses and the word “beer.” The hapless Romans set about educating the Britons and this is why 60% of the English language is Latin based. The word “percent” is Latin based, meaning “for each hundred.”

The “Angles” in “Anglo-Saxon” or Scandinavian invaders, brought their Viking language as did the Saxons, a Germanic tribe. If you read Chaucer you will see just how much influence the Saxons had. Words like “knife” and “knight” and even “night” would be pronounced gutterally, sounding out the “gh” phonetically. The Normans invaded in 1066 following “William the Bastard” or “William the Conqueror” depending on your view of history, because he really was illegitimate and also managed to conquer the last Saxon King: Harold the “Ow, I have an Arrow in my Eye.” So, the French language was brought into the mix under the Plantagenet dynasty and now we have words like “theatre,” “garbage” and “Entourage.”

For this reason and the fact that the English language liberally steals from other languages on a consistent basis, English has become the most recognized and important international language. It is the language required for communication in commercial and civil aviation. So whether you are a German, French, or Moroccan pilot, you must be able to communicate with the towers of different countries and your own in English. The English language claims a million words whereas the French only have 100,000 words, although every French word is superior to other languages.

Over the centuries English has been refined into quite an expressive tongue with a complex grammar system, pronunciation rules and all the requisite irregularities. It is highly evolved and much less pedantic, but the rules still apply. That is why I hate it when people use the pluperfect inappropriately, with incorrect past term verbs that feel like a heated ice pick being driven into my cochlea. “So she had went to the grocery store…” Arrgh! “She had gone to the grocery store…” but only if you are trying to establish that this event occurred before another event to which you have referred in the narrative. If not: “She went to the grocery store…” will suffice and is grammatically correct. Why is it I hear this sort of grammar consistently during police reality shows? Then there’s “I seen her lying there.” NO! I saw her lying there! God! Even Word for Windows did not catch that!

I am also nauseated by the incorrect use of perfectly good expressions like “I couldn’t care less!” This means I care so little, that it would be impossible for me to care less. When this is turned into “I could care less!” I want to vomit. That is the opposite! It means you care enough that it is possible to care less than you do! Another one is “All cars are not Toyotas!” That’s a lie! Some cars are Toyotas. What you want to say is “Not all cars are Toyotas!”

Unfortunately this sort of abuse of a wonderful language goes on all the time. One sees idiotic news-models not only making moronic statements, but making them in horrible English. Do the Station owners not realize that children listen to this ding-bat-speak and pick it up?

Some of the more insidious ways that language is abused is in politics and business. I remember Operation Desert Shield, which meant coalition troops would be sent to Saudi to protect their borders. (Although why one of the richest nations in the world cannot protect their own borders is beyond me.) Then there was Operation Desert Storm for the attack on Iraq, in the administration of the more benign Bush. These are good operation names. They describe what is going on clearly. However if you look at some of the names given in the last administration, you will see a dangerous abuse of the language. The next attack on Iraq was called “Operation Just Cause.” Makes you wonder who they were trying to convince. Then there were the laws that eviscerated the Bill of Rights: “The Patriot Act” so called so that if you opposed it you weren’t being patriotic. “The Homeland Security Act,” another brilliant name for draconian laws which stripped the American people of civil rights and liberties, but couched in language with which no-one can argue.

Now we have an economy which has been destroyed by the philosophy of a free and unregulated market being able to take care of itself; which allowed crooked high-level executives to borrow money against assets at about thirty to one, pay themselves huge salaries and bonuses and then declare bankruptcy. In addition, while these unscrupulous piles of human feces destroyed their corporation and hence the livelihood of thousands of people and hence the economy of the country and hence that of the world, they are leaving these sinking ships with huge bonuses! Performance bonuses are being paid to the very scoundrels whose performances destroyed the economy! The people are outraged, the Congress is livid, the Senators are… well… slightly peeved. So what solution does Wall Street, AIG, Bear Sterns, Morgan Stanley, Smith Barney, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and all the others propose? Their solution is: don’t call the bonuses bonuses anymore.

In fact the Huffington Post obtained a tape recording of Morgan Stanley Co-President, James Gorman which clearly demonstrates his ability with distorting the language. The quote is as follows:

“There will be a retention award. Please do not call it a bonus. It is not a bonus. It is an award.”

Then Gorman announced that the payments would be linked to '08 performance since ’09 would be abysmal.

"We could easily have done it from the point of closing, which is obviously going to be somewhere in the latter half of this year or around the middle of the year. But we just decided... to give you that certainty that it would be based off '08. '09 is a very difficult year... So that degree of anxiety, which many of you have emailed me about... is now off the table.

The insult is that these people are so arrogant they think the taxpayer will not be able to tell the difference between a “bonus” and a “retention award.”

Then again, in a world where we accept the euphemism “Campaign Contribution” for “Bribe” and “enhanced interrogation” for torture; that if you oppose sending the troops into harm’s way, you are not “supporting the troops” and that the statement “Mission Accomplished” does not mean the war is over, perhaps these top execs have a point. I think I’ll take all my clothes off, get some wode and paint myself blue.