Sunday, 1 December 2013

Quit It!

I wish y’all would quit changing bits of our common language. It’s bad enough that the fickle gods of planet www. keep us confused and pathetically helpless, struggling with endless program updates and new devices as we beg workers in Pakistan for tech help. It’s bad enough that long time favourite restaurants, mechanics and florists vanish into thin air. Change is the norm – I get it. But my mother tongue? Is nothing sacred?

For instance, it used to be that when we said we had the “flu”, we meant that we had a stomach upset, with the nasty feeling of nausea and its subsequent disgusting regurgitation.
A “cold” was the term for sinus congestion, a sore throat and/or a cough. 
In the last few years, however, we’ve been urged to get “flu shots” so that we won’t transmit our colds to vulnerable babies and elderly folk who might be prone to pneumonia. Who changed the terminology?

Have you noticed also a change in the phrase “a couple of”, referring to two members of a category? Even in edited and proofread books and articles, I have begun to see sentences like “He’d been there a couple times before.” and “She stuffed a couple shirts in the backpack”. Who decided to drop the preposition “of”?

The once precise and slightly esoteric expression, “begs the question”, has been trashed by its now common misuse. Casual listeners assume it means that something “demands” or “raises” the question that they are about to ask, and they proceed to use the phrase because, well, what a fancy new thing to say! Wrong. 
When the word “begs” is used in this expression, it means “avoids” and its particular use of the word “question” means “the issue at hand” or “the point under discussion”.
In other words, when Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, keeps saying in self-defense, “Well, everyone gets drunk and uses drugs” he is begging the question of his own guilt. He is avoiding his accusers’ argument that he has a  unique responsibility to be a sober, law-abiding mayor, regardless of what he mistakenly believes that everyone else does. It’s unlikely, however, that the phrase will recover its original meaning. Sigh.

It used to be that I needed to buy “running shoes” for my three children (please don’t ask them about the epic fit I had one day in a shoe department). Does anyone else still say “running shoes”? Nowadays it seems to be either “runners” or “sneakers”, although of course there are also the options of “trainers” and “jogging shoes”. Maybe I’ll start referring to them as “plimsolls” to completely confuse any fellow North Americans who don’t read British novels.

Cutting short this lament that I could easily continue, I’ll leave you with two last words that have been ripped out from under my… 
Women used to wear “slacks” and “brassieres”. Now we wear pants and bras. I still remember the boys in my high school English class snickering one day when Mr. Cole pronounced Shakespeare’s word for a barbecue, “brazier”, like we pronounced the word, “brassiere.” Fifty years later, my adult daughters snicker at me if I forget that the new word is “bra”.
Quit it!