English, we are often reminded, is a living language, always receptive to amended usage, new coinage and even modified pronunciation. Amen to all that, I say, but not to flagrant misuse. Admittedly the line between the two is a fine one, and open to debate. The following, I submit in that pedantic way for which I am well known, are not debatable – yet.
1. Indoors, what we walk on is the floor, but outdoors, we walk on the ground. Or so I always understood. Lately, though, floor seems to be taking over completely. Rugby commentators regularly use floor, as in “England players should know better than to handle the ball when they’re on the floor”. As a well-grounded person grammatically, I am floored by this development. What on earth is going on?
2. Why have we suddenly become ‘bored of’ things rather than ‘bored with’ them? Admittedly there’s a linguistic inconsistency here, in that we can be ‘tired of’ something, but not ‘tired with’ it. But then English is replete with such quirks. Or should that be replete of such quirks? Argue all you like, the correct preposition for use with bored is ‘with’, as it always has been.
3. How do you pronounce the word ‘says’ as in the present third-person singular form of the verb ‘say’. I say ‘sez’. Increasingly, though, I hear it pronounced as it is written, like stays. Is this just sloppy or are we experiencing a change in the way words are spoken of the kind that has occurred throughout history? Perhaps it is a reversion to a former manner of speaking. Who sayeth so? I don’t know. I’m sticking to ‘sez’.
4. The dilemma may be resolved for us. ‘Sez’ and ‘says’ are both under threat from enemies unrelated to pronunciation. Younger people, relating a past conversation in the present tense have fallen into the habit of using ‘go’ instead of ‘sez’ or ‘says’. “I go, ‘you’re crazy’,” then he goes, “No, I’m not, you are’” so I go, “Don’t you talk to me like that.” In the past tense, the ‘go’ is replaced by ‘went’. “I went, you’re crazy’, then he went, “no, I’m not….etc. Most peculiar, is all I can go.
5. Pardon the idiom, but what’s with the word ‘basically’ lately? It seems to have become an indispensable sentence-filler, as ubiquitous as ‘y’know’. On a radio chat show that I sometimes listen to, one caller after another insists on exercising the word, nearly always pointlessly and randomly. “And what do you do for a living?” the host will ask. “Basically, I’m a plumber,” comes the reply. “And what is your view on the rise in income tax?” “Well, basically, I think it’s wrong.” One radio host has banned the word, enforcing the rule by cutting off the caller the moment it is uttered. Basically, I’m all for that.
6. Some related words have been forever locked in a battle for supremacy, and these used to include ‘less’ and ‘fewer’. Sadly, the battle appears to be almost over, with ‘less’ emerging as the clear winner. So clear, in fact, that ‘fewer’ must now be placed on the endangered species list. Even BBC newsreaders and commentators seem unable to make the distinction between mass and numbers. At school, we were taught the difference with a simple sentence, “Less rain means fewer raindrops.” All I can say is that less is not necessarily more.