Post by CDB Post by Steve Hayes
Noam Chomsky, the plain-speaking philosopher and cognitive scientist
par excellence, complained to a French newspaper last year that “when
I hear words like ‘dialectic’ or ‘hermeneutic’ and other
pseudo-profundities, then, like Goering, I reach for my gun”…
Thank you for that article. I have always been willing to listen to
Robert Fisk, and his thoughts on the topic must have the sympathy of
most readers of usage groups.
Must it? It reads to me like a diatribe against anyone who should
dare to use terms figuratively or extend nuances of meaning beyond
the original lest it become scarily expanded beyond the Gold Standard
(a totally imaginary age of perfect English). It is knee-jerk
conservatism, the linguistic equivalent of Little Englander ranting. As
for the nonsense about the weaselling manipulation of language by
business (in consultation with PR experts and lawyers) does he really
imagine that that is some kind of new phenomenon. Perhaps he
should take the time machine he appears to live in, currently stuck in
1920, back to the days of professional rhetoricians in the Roman
Empire when Government and Law were in the thrall of eloquence
prized far ahead of logic and meaning.
Post by CDB
Human activity appears to move in cycles, and we may simply be sinking
back to a base level of the language; conative or coercive speech has
always been the province of politicians, and the once-abashed majority
have now realised that democracy (or its street-theatre equivalent)
makes politicians of us all.
What drivel! The language is mo more nor less robust than it ever was.
It is simply that the likes of Fisk have never been able to get their heads
round the fact that for the vast majority of people language is simply
a tool of communication, an everyday to which they give not a second
thought any more than they do the tying of shoelaces, and that
meta-analysis is a luxury which only a few can afford. Suddenly exposed
to this reality by the explosion of 'published' communications by the
Internet, poor little dears have gone into meltdown and (ab)used their
privileged position as journalists, broadcasters and the like to scold and
disparage. Let's not be fooled. There is no difference between the likes of
Fisk and the sandwich-board prophets of doom who declaim the end of the
world in the high-street. Both are equally deluded!
Stephen Fry's English Delight (a genuine expression of his constant
pleasure in new and unexpected shifts in usage as well as the title of
his splendid little radio show) will always be my guide in what usage
groups 'must' do. No amount of crabby, mean spirited, golden age,
reactionary Pharisaism like Fisk's will persuade me otherwise!