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Musings on Language

“I would agree with you,” a business
associate said to me yesterday, responding to some pronouncement I’d made.  “What are the conditions under which you would
agree with me?” was my response.  This
provoked a quizzical look, leading me to explain, no doubt irritatingly, that
the use of ‘would’ suggested the lurking presence of some kind of qualifier.  Otherwise, why use the conditional tense?  I was promptly assured that we were in
complete agreement on the matter under discussion.  A simple declarative “I agree with you” would
have sufficed.  But the present tense, in
this context, nowadays seems to be regarded as deficient, at least in business
circles.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s a passing linguistic fad.

Skip this paragraph if it sounds
familiar, but the Daily Mail today
has a story about a cricket umpire being thrown to the ‘floor’ of the car park
after a dispute about one of his on-field verdicts.  The car park, I should note, is
outdoors.  ‘Floor’ seems to be replacing
‘ground’ everywhere, even in the open air. 
Rugby commentators regularly refer to
players competing for the ball on the ‘floor’. The sacred turf of Wimbledon – on which a number of players in this year’s
tournament controversially slipped – was described by at least one observer as the
‘floor’.  Perhaps that’s what it is when
the retractable roof is closed, I concede, but the correct word in each of
these examples would have been ‘ground’. 
But ‘ground’ seems to be crumbling beneath our feet.  I recently helped a young couple move into a
ground floor flat.  Should it now be
‘floor floor’?

These days, participants in televised
contests, from cooking a pie to winning a cheesy dance competition, all seem to
recall the completed effort as a ‘journey’. Pie-cooking and ballroom dancing do
not, in my view, represent journeys, metaphorical or otherwise, however hard
the contestants may have worked to succeed. 
These contests may be defined as projects, or by some other word
suggesting the limited nature of the endeavour, but journeys they are not.  Journeys are the kind of expeditions that
Marco Polo, Vasco de Gama and Captain Cook used to undertake.  I’ll even allow ‘journey’ to be applied to a drive
up to Scotland
on our increasingly traffic-snarled motorways – but not to baking a pie or learning
a few ballroom steps.  

Getting stuck in a traffic jam,
by the way, is no longer merely a mildly frustrating inconvenience.  These days it tends to be referred to as a
‘nightmare’, usually accompanied by an adjectival expletive. “Sorry I’m ten
minutes late,” my lunchtime companion apologised yesterday, “but the traffic
was an absolute nightmare”.  If arriving
at a restaurant ten minutes late in traffic-clogged London
is absolutely nightmarish, what’s the phrase to use for those poor victims of last
week’s terrible train crash in Spain?

And speaking of ‘absolutely’, how
much pointless repetition can any word stand? 
It now seems to be the stock response to just about every
declaration.   “I think nurses deserve a
raise,” I say.  “Absolutely” comes back
immediately, but it’s not so much an ardent expression of support for the
nurses as a reflex to just about anything that’s just been said.  “I think I’ll take a walk tomorrow if the
weather stays fine,” is greeted in exactly the same way. “I’m absolutely
inundated,” my lunchtime companion said of his office workload.  He probably is, but inundated stands perfectly
well by itself.  The trouble is that,
deprived of ‘absolutely’, inundated presumably struck him as inadequate.  I for one have become absolutely fed up with
it.    

Or am I bored of it?  “I’m bored of television,” said my very
erudite and literate daughter the other day.  Shouldn’t she have been bored ‘with’ rather
than bored ‘of’?  Perhaps it’s
debatable.  I use ‘with’ with bored as I
always have, and always will, but bored ‘of’ seems to be gaining ground.  Is it wrong or merely a shift in usage?  I’ve no idea. 
The inconsistency is that she might have said that she is ‘tired of’
television, which would have expressed exactly the same sentiment and wouldn’t
have raised my left eyebrow. 

By now you may be absolutely
bored of all this.  I would agree.  It has become a nightmare to me to, so I would
suggest that you find something else to read.   

 

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