Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Rudeness dressed as Politeness

30 December, 2009 1 comment

I just heard a series of people say “How are you” in the most perfunctory way I’ve ever come across.

I’ve left off the question mark from that sentence because that’s an accurate portrayal of the interaction. None of the people waited for a response because none of the people posed a question. I heard three different interactions between pairs of people and in each case they couldn’t wait to move on to the thing they really wanted to talk about – which was to buy something.  WHAT’S THE POINT?? You don’t care how the person behind the till is – and that’s fine. They don’t really care about you either. So don’t go through the pretence of politeness just so that you can tick the pre-programmed box in your head which says you have to. Assuming that you haven’t got the empathy levels to care about other members of society (used to be called decency, i think) then either ask a question and have the courtesy to wait for an answer – even if you just pause long enough so that it sounds like you give a damn that there is an answer never mind what it might be. OR just buy the drink and skip it.

Perhaps this rant is because I’m working in Canary Wharf with the armies of soulless suits? or is it that this is a perfectly acceptable way to communicate? am i old fashioned? or just going soft cos it’s Christmas time?


Hitting the Tube

29 July, 2009 Leave a comment

How subtle our language can be  and how dangerous when used poorly.

Today I witnessed the wonders of the English language almost causing a cat fight between an earthy, white london lady and a robust nigerian femme fatale. perhaps that should be femme fatal.

Carriage isn’t full. Londoner enters, sits down next to Nigerian opposite me. Nothing remarkable.

“You Hit Me”, says the Nigerian. Imagine the very distinct, assertive tone with the stress on Hit. The tone isn’t aggressive or high pitched but nonetheless it cannot help but come across as robust and accusatory.

“I’m sorry? what was that?” says perplexed Londoner.

“I said, you hit me”

“What? what are you on about?”

“I thought you should know, you hit me. You should apologise”

“What?!? I didn’t touch you!”

“I am telling you that you hit me so that you can apologise”

“But I didn’t hit you.”

“You hit me”

“I’m not apologising for anything”

<frosty silence till I got off the tube>

In my mind they go on to talk about their cultural differences and by the end of the line they’ve realised how much we have in common as humans and that the world’s a better place if we don’t assume the worst, come out of our commuting bubbles and are a bit more careful with our language.

I almost intervened to suggest replacing the word “Hit” with banged, knocked, nudged, bumped into… or anything else that might more accurately have described the gentle collision of the kind we all experience every time we go into the tunnels. But then I think I would have been the one who got hit.

Imagine what it’s like working for the UN.


4 January, 2009 Leave a comment

If you’re going to bastardise the language – at least be consistent

From the use of the word Brewery, the Kiwis have decided that Winery is the right way to describe a vineyard which then goes on to make its own wine. I can go with the idea that there’s a difference between a winery and a vineyard, but only just. However, to add insult to injury, they add cidery to the list of linguistic crimes …. whereas we all know it’s a B&Q colour at best. an adjective, surely, not a noun. But, alas, i am a lone voice shouting irrately in the wind. But what really winds me up is that, on the same sign as Winery and cidery, they decide that the place where fruit juice is made into a commoditised drink is called a… yes, come one… a Juice Factory. I despair. Juicery is horrible – but consistency would have been appreciated.

Kiwi Advertising

4 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Today’s advertising gems from the land of the long white cloud were the following. You have to imagine that they’re being read in the classic shout-and-it-will-sound-exciting radio advertising technique as used in the 80s:

1. “Get down to your local movie rental store (sic) and hire two movies over two days and get one hot danish adult movie for just $1. Yes, that’s one hot adult danish movie for $1 when you rent two movies this weekend. That’s more pastry than you can handle!!” [ok, so i added the last bit myself]
Does anyone else think that sounds wrong?

I heard it on The Edge radio station, which is their equivalent to XFM, but that’s no excuse. Is there no Advertising Standards Authority?

You can add on top of that example no.2:

2. “Come to Calendar Girls – where there’s always something to see – Christchurch’s only venue for the discerning gentleman.”
Again – am I missing something? I mean, I know these Kiwis are studiously chilled – but have they no sense of propriety at all?

This was before noon, for God’s sake… not even the time to get a decent G&T inside you…

Sunburn addles American brain

23 December, 2008 Leave a comment

Bladen winery is a lovely little place run by Dave McDonald and we were just tasting the Pinot Gris when an american couple joined us at the bench. Sunburnt, oh yes, on having a) not allowed for rolling up your sleeves and b) not allowed for the thin ozone here. BUT that still doesn’t forgive the perversion that ensued.

Ready? the conversation goes like this:

“You have to remember to put on the sun cream all the time” says she

“Well I never leave home with out a factor 50 on” says I

“Yes, my brother is complected just like you” says he


For the love of all things holy. The English language is a wonderful thing and primarily because of it’s ability to be flexible and adapted in creative ways. But this isn’t creative. It’s just lazy.

To create a verb out of a noun – probably called verbalisationary changeification by Children of Bush – is fine if there isn’t already a good way of saying it. But there is a good way. In fact there are several ways and perfectly decent grammatical structures that would have achieved the same end. But that would have required him to think for a moment rather than open mouth, let noise come out.

I didn’t bite, by the way. Nor did I laugh, scoff, point, or slap.  I was, admittedly, quiet for a few minutes while i tried to process what he’d just done and then decided that  another glass of wine was probably the next best step.

For Joelle: a new story

28 November, 2008 Leave a comment

Dearest Joelle, two things

1. the oral tradition is something we don’t do enough of in our family, let alone in our country… the retelling of stories, and the acceptance of listening to them being told – and actively taking part in the telling of the story (almost as a performance interactive experience) is something that, i believe, would benefit us all. But as my sister will tell you, I do like to tell a story and I do like to get on my high horse about this kind of thing – so I’m not getting at you, just my view. If you disagree, I will enjoy the debate. BUT…

2. I don’t have to bore you with the scorpion story any more!!!!!! oh no, the scorpion, although about a foot long at the last telling, with pincers the size of shears and a bloodthirsty look in its eye… has been eclipsed. ” by what?” I hear you cry … and “where’s the evidence?” I hear Jack and Matthew shout from behind you… well, worry not, I have photographic evidence of the BIGGEST BEETLE you have ever seen –  by a country mile. this thing was the size of a small puppy ( a chihauhau or some other kind of pointless rodent/canine) and, worse, made an arial assault. I kid you not. At first, it got stuck on top of the canopy above the dinner table. I thought it was a bat and therefore harmless, right? nope. not a bat. I could tell by the way it was crawling towards the centre of the room… you could see eight points touching the canopy. i mean, it was about the size of a bat (i know because i came across some of them a couple of days ago, dangling on top of my hat as i went through the Mayan Labyrinth building in Palenque. Very dark and dank, they were right at home, I was invading and left quietly (and quite quickly)) but bats don’t have 8 legs. And, it turned out, neither did this beast. It had 6 legs and a couple of rather tasty looking mandibles – at least two inches long (that’s 5cm). I realise that this might just sound like another uncle richard story… boring… dull… lacking in detail. So I made sure pictures were taken [link added later]. but, alas, I can’t upload them here… technology has foiled my storytelling and i have had to rely on prose alone. suffice it to say that, until i can get somewhere to upload the picture, you will have to trust me that this prehistoric-hangover is the size of a fag packet. That’s about the size of your hand. and did i say it flew? it flew… in a mesmeric manner making the monstrous monotonous moniker of a maniacal mower. a mower of mens’ souls.

ok, so i got carried away, but you get the picture.

well, not yet, but you will when i upload it.

in the meantime, if the above doesn’t paint a picture in words, then i shall take a short-cut. It looked exactly like the evil scarab beetles from The Mummy. You know why? Because it was a scarab beetle.

And on that note, I shall leave you to google images and wikipedia. Don’t believe *everything* you read, but i’ll leave you to decide whether, or how much, you believe me.

with much love, Uncle Richard.

Chilling with the howlers

24 November, 2008 2 comments

Been chilling out at El Panchan near the ruins site at Palenque for a couple of days. Meeting a few people, chatting, hearing some interesting, and some phenomenally dull stories… oh, and having a debate about the biassed nature of the Blair Broadcasting Corporation. joy. why is it people are always more willing to believe in conspiracy and always want there to be a black and white. whereas shades of grey prevail…

Plus, of course, watching groups of younger travellers flirt and get over excited with each other over a Corona, or have in-depth debates about whether to take the colectivo bus or, like, the premier bus because it’s, like, three hours quicker  but costs two dollars more…

tomorrow at 6am get on a bus to go see Bonampak and Yaxchilan on the Guatemalan border. Then spend weds in the jungle with a Lancandon guide (indigenous indian community that has always lived in this particular jungle) – and then do the border crossing and get on a bus to Flores in northern Guatemala. Mildly concerned about the security issues here, and the chances of getting ripped off during the immigration process… but one takes ones chances. Surely a cheeky chappy smile or a rakish grin will get me by, right?

los gingeros extinctos!

14 November, 2008 Leave a comment

Today I had an amazing massage and sauna – which included a late middle-aged lady called Ana beating me with some wet, hot herbs and a lot of heat in the world´s smallest sauna with a lot of rose water – so my holiday must finally have begun.

However, it was slightly disconcerting that the lady booking my massage/sauna asked me

“where do you come from”,

“london” says I,

“oh, well i thought it might be ireland or scotland with your red hair”,

“well, I have some irish family” [dad, i know that´s irrlevant, but its the easiest way to respond]

“I see. Well I was reading an article the other day about how, in 5 years people with red hair will only be 5% of the population – that you are becoming extinct. ”

You can imagine my mouth dropped open on two fronts: firstly, the use of extinct, secondly, that the issue of red head recessive genes should have stretched so far round the world. And finally, of course, I think she was being very generous, bearing in mind the number of chinese and indian gingers.

Not liking “Like”

23 October, 2008 1 comment

For the love of, like, God, could we please stop saying, like, “like” every second word.

My friend Gary Krimershmoys mentioned it to me first some months ago when he noticed it in his own language – but then he’s a new yorker so I was mildly impressed at his approach to linguistic discipline. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the flexibility and the creativity of our wonderful language, but the word is being used in such a random space-filler kind of way that basically I actually don’t literally have time for it. hrmph.

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