Temper-Trapped

I propose the following definition:

Temper-trapped past participle verb tricked into a buying a music album on the strength of one song, to discover that it’s the only decent one on the whole album.

It’s derived from the band The Temper Trap: I bought their debut album Conditions after hearing the song Sweet Disposition, but was disappointed to find that the rest of the album is utterly mediocre and forgettable.

I’ve recently been temper-trapped again by John Grant. His song Down Here, an infectious indie pop ballad, was stuck in my head for weeks, so I bought the album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, which turned out to be weird electro nonsense: not even the same style of music as the one song I’d enjoyed.

What albums have you been temper-trapped by?

Six Americanisms we should adopt into British English

Although I’m renowned among my friends as a language pedant, I know that pedantry has its limits, and can be taken too far. For example, I fully accept the following facts about language:

1. Languages have different dialects, which are each as valid for their own speakers as any other

2. Language changes over time

So I hope it’s not too shocking to reveal that I’m perfectly comfortable with the existence of a dialect called “American English” with different pronunciations and vocabulary.

I’m even comfortable with some influence and exchange between American and British. It was absolutely right, for example, that we British standardised to the short scale and accepted that a “billion” is a thousand million – though it would be nice if the Americans, in return, would stop being idiots and convert to an internally consistent date notation system.

However, I think it will probably surprise many people to learn that there are a few Americanisms which I actually think are better than their British equivalents, and which I’d be happy to see adopted as standard British English.

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10 words that Shakespeare uses in ways you don’t expect

Over the last year and a half, I’ve gone on a bit of a Shakespeare bender, as a result of my New Year Resolutions in 2014 and 2015 to read and see six plays each year.

Shakespearean language is difficult. Aside from Shakespeare’s lyrical, convoluted style and invented words, there has been so much language change between early modern English, understood by Shakespeare’s audiences around 1590-1610, and modern English, spoken today, that the two dialects often seem to have limited mutual intelligibility.

The more I read and hear of Shakespeare’s language, the more familiar and understandable it becomes. It’s relatively easy to pick up the meaning of archaic terms like fain and wot: after just a few readings or hearings they slip naturally into your vocabulary and cause no more problems.

But what’s much harder is when Shakespeare uses words which are common and familiar in modern English, but had a different meaning in early modern English. It’s very tricky to override the familiar meaning and hear it as the intended meaning; however hard I try to dislodge it, the modern meaning obstinately intrudes into Shakespeare’s text.

Here are the ten words which have caused me the most dissonance between their Shakespearean and modern meanings:

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DNA: the latest corporate buzzword

I love it when Private Eye introduces a new feature and skewers something which has been annoying me too.

Private Eye 1363, 4 – 17 Apr 2014

I first encountered this metaphorical use of the term ‘DNA’ in Army recruiting, when Capita were talking about their strategy for finding ‘the right candidate DNA’. What they meant was defining a set of characteristics that a candidate must possess to be suitable for the Army. It was obvious why they were using the term – the same reason anyone uses corporate buzzwords – to make it sound like what they were doing was much more complicated and skilled than it actually was, a facade which it was especially important to maintain in front of their client, the Army. Judging by Private Eye’s new feature, the DNA metaphor is currently the trendiest bit of corporate jargon and journalese nonsense doing the rounds.

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Three Eggcorns

An eggcorn is a linguistic phenomenon in which a person, hearing a word or phrase, understands its meaning, but incorrectly analyses its components. Usually this is done by mistaking a word or a part of a word for something which sounds very similar. Often the person then imagines a plausible derivation from the incorrect components.

A typical example is “ex-patriot”, a common eggcorn for “expatriate”. Imagine you learned the word “expatriate” only by hearing it used, but never seeing it in writing. You would gain an understanding of its meaning and the appropriate way to use it. You’d also be able to pronounce it correctly, since “expatriate” and “ex-patriot” are homophones (different words pronounced identically). But all along you imagine that the word you’ve learned is “ex-patriot”, ie someone who no longer counts as a lover of their native country, since they moved away from it. No-one’s told you that this is the root meaning; you’ve just come to that conclusion because it makes sense to you. For years, you happily use the word in conversation, and no-one suspects any error, because as far as they can tell, you understand it perfectly well. Then, one day, you have to write it down, and the mistake is revealed.

I particularly like “ex-patriot”, because the mistaken etymology makes such immediate, intuitive sense. It’s also a good example of the typical cause of eggcorns: they usually occur when the original derivation has become obscure or archaic enough to be unfamiliar to the speaker, who has only encountered it in the one particular phrase which becomes their eggcorn. How often do you hear “expatriate” used these days as a verb for withdrawing or being banished from your native country?

The term “eggcorn” was coined by linguists Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum on the Language Log blog in 2003, after Liberman had reported the case of a woman who had written it in place of “acorn”. Since then a database has been set up to collect other examples, and currently has 641 (though I think work to add new ones stopped some time ago). It’s a highly entertaining read, and I’d recommend anyone who enjoys words, and has a rainy afternoon to idle away, to have a browse.

The slightly unnerving thing about eggcorns is that it’s quite possible you suffer from one or more yourself, and you might never know. Now you know about the phenomenon though, you’ll be able to spot the exposure of an eggcorn when it happens. Here are three possible contenders I’ve noticed, two of which were mine:

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Wolf Hall, bad grammar and literary style

A bit of a break from India for a minute, while I deal with some idiots on Amazon.

I’ve just finished reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It was the 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and it’s been raved about ever since. Normally I avoid anything with this much hype, but I decided to take a risk on it. Also, I needed a new book, and it was one of the few literary novels stocked by the Indian bookshop, among its stacks of get-rich-quick self-help tomes and Osho tracts.

It was a good decision. The book is, quite simply, terrific. It’s one of the best things I’ve read for years, and I’d zealously recommend it to anyone.

I’ve just read some of the reviews of it on its Amazon UK page, and a lot of people are criticising it for its bad grammar.

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What I hate most about opponents of equal marriage

What I hate most about the opponents of equal marriage – aside from their closeted homophobia and blocking of decent egalitarian legislation, obviously – is when they claim to object to “changing the meaning of the word ‘marriage'”.

Last week it was reported in the press that the Oxford English Dictionary had updated its entry for the word ‘literally’, including a second definition, “informal, used for emphasis while not being literally true”, thereby legitimizing its longstanding misuse.

Now, obviously this enrages me to the point of bloodlust. However, I don’t see any of those people who suddenly appeared from nowhere, claiming to be linguistic purists when ‘marriage’ was at stake, protesting over this.

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You’re wrong about “internet trolls” – dangerously wrong

An item which I’ve been ranting about a lot over the past year or so, and which was scheduled for inclusion in Volume 18 of The Hate List, was the misappropriation of the internet terminology “troll” by the mainstream media. The rant seemed long enough to spin off into its own post on the new tombell.net blog.

Over the past few years, we’ve heard a lot from newspapers and the like about the growing menace of “internet trolls”: nasty, ignorant cyber-bullies who hide behind the safety of their computer screens and hurl abuse and harassment at politicians, celebrities and ordinary innocent people unfortunate enough to step into their sights.

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