The piece below is a copy of a note handed to us by a lady who does not wish her name or address to be published. Editor
It’s, You Know, Sort Of Tautological
Assiduous as I am in trying to keep abreast of trends, I consider it one of my self-imposed duties to listen to radio broadcasts featuring the chattering classes. I used to get some nourishment from this pastime, but have noticed lately that the stimulus level is falling. Why? I think the reason is that I find myself paying more attention to presentation than to content. I am increasingly distracted by the frequent use of pleonasms and fashionable words and phrases. Instead of concentrating on the doubtless worthy thoughts put forward, I dwell ever more on the ways they are expressed. Consumed by the fear that this near-obsession might cause me to miss something important, I decided to try to purge myself of it by devoting a week to ignoring substance and paying attention to speech only.
The first thing that struck me was that if the words ‘incredible’ and ‘incredibly’ were to be expunged from the vocabularies of the professional talkers, nothing would be lost, and arguably not much left – joke! I heard of things that were ‘incredibly interesting’, ‘incredibly unique’ and ‘incredibly authentic’, so fell to wondering why, if everything is unbelievable, we need to consider accepting anything we hear or read.
Next, I noted the number of times that people would ‘never, ever’ do or say this, that or the other. There were twenty-three examples of this in the broadcasts I heard. If one would never do or say something, why does the ‘ever’ keep popping up? Then I was struck by the ‘you know’ and ‘sort of’ syndromes. In one splendid example, I timed a woman who was particularly addicted to the former. In two short bursts of speech, totalling three minutes and twenty-odd seconds, she said it thirty-seven times, which must make her a championship contender. Next in line was a man who racked up twenty-four ‘you knows’ in two minutes and fifty-five seconds. I will not dwell on the ‘sort of’ area, as it is too depressing.
The number of ‘and also’ appearances was striking. I lost count after forty-odd doses, but wondered why, if one ‘ands’ something, one must ‘also’ it too. In all of the cases I noted, both words meant ‘in addition to’. Not being an expert in these matters, I may have missed a vital distinction.
I trawled up a nice collection of miscellaneous items. There were three instances of something or other providing a ‘positive benefit’, which caused me to ponder on why anyone might consider a benefit as negative. The same reasoning applied to another gem, ‘negative asset’. I had always thought that the opposite of asset was liability, but perhaps I am out of touch.
There was an impressive number of comments regarding ‘cheap’ or ‘dear’ prices. I was under the impression that prices were high or low, and that the goods or services in question were cheap or dear. Similarly, there were several cases of ‘cold’ or ‘warm’ temperatures. Are they not low or high, the weather being cold or warm? And what about ‘an attempt to try’ to do something? Is an attempt not a try?
Another type of expression used on several occasions concerned times of day. I noted ‘two/three/six a.m. in the morning’ and ‘eleven p.m. at night’. And let me not forget one little beauty delivered by a chap representing a charity. Speaking about the unfortunate victims of a mishap, he said that his organisation had offered them ‘help, aid and assistance’, but did not say which of these methods of support they chose.
There were some other oddities. First, a comment about ‘poisonous toxins’. Are there any non-poisonous ones? Second, a remark about a project which was running up a bill of ‘an annual £1.2bn a year’. Need one say more? Third, another enterprise was described as a ‘costly, expensive’ undertaking. Fourth, there were several references to ‘a few moments’. If a moment is a brief but undefined length of time, how does anybody distinguish between one and several? Fifth, I heard two observations relating to hot-water – or hot water – heaters. If the speakers intended to imply a hyphen, does one need to heat hot water? If no hyphen was intended, are we to assume that the heater itself was hot? We are surely concerned with the water, so should we not refer to a water heater?
I hope nobody reading this will mind too much if I slip in three items not directly related to my theme. First, I would like to see my television newscasters and commentators on current affairs doing a little less nodding while they speak. Perhaps they think this adds emphasis to what they have to say. Not to me. When I talk to people, I do not notice them behaving like demented donkeys.
Second, I do not care to have weather reporters flouncing around as though affected by Saint Vitus’ Dance, while saying that the ‘best’ temperatures – that thermometer again – will be in one place or another. Best for whom? That is surely a personal matter. Let me say in fairness that the weather people do notice criticism and often react by making adjustments. In that respect, they do better than many others. Good work!
Third, I am not happy with the offerings of certain disc jockeys in the classical music field. Until a short time ago, I listened regularly to a 24/7 programme featuring in the main pleasantly subdued presenters. There were the following glaring exceptions:
Number one was a man who introduced his next delight by what I believe is called plonking, saying things like “Last week I was in Milan, I saw a football match, followed by a visit to La Scala, where I heard the fabulous . . .. “ Number two was an astoundingly bubbly woman who gave me the impression that she was repeatedly wheeled away from her perch while music was played, then returned after getting an injection of high spirits. Number three was a lady who seemed to have difficulty in getting to the end of any sentence. Her words kept dribbling out, reminding me of a tap with a faulty washer. For nearly half an hour I got some amusement from guessing when she had arrived at a full stop. I failed, the final score being 6:3 in her favour.
I have rambled here more than somewhat and would like to avoid leaving myself open to charges of excessive punctiliousness, as I am sure I have my faults in terms of usage of our language. However, I do think that we in the Anglosphere, having originated the world’s main method of communication, might be a little more careful about how we handle it. By the way, I wonder how long it will be before the media people succeed in eliminating the first ‘r’ from February – they seem to be intent on transferring it to law(r) and order, or draw(r)ing room.
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