Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Brain switch

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It seems there is a moment when the News Mammoth is rampaging so madly that it switches my brain into miniaturist mode. I can no longer ponder the big, important, moral and ethical arguments. I find myself concentrating on the very, very small.

Yvette Cooper, for instance, has just said ‘issues around’ three times on The World At One. As in: there are issues around medical records, there are issues around privacy.

It is rather unfair to pick on her. Issues around is included in the beginners’ pack of boilerplate handed out to all members of parliament, senior police officers, local councillors, and almost anyone who appears on Question Time. Except Hugh Grant, who must have pleased Her Majesty by speaking her English beautifully when he was on the panel last week.

Here is my objection. Surely it is issues about? I can’t work out if ‘around’ is actually incorrect, or just ugly. It manages to sound like a weasel word, even though it is not really an obfuscation. I cannot work out why. It is horrid, anyway, and it must be stopped.

Also, now I am deep in the weeds, I start to think that issues itself is stupid. When someone comes on the wireless and starts talking about issues, what they usually mean is: a problem, a horror, an outrage, a doing of egregious wrong.

Here is what I do not understand. Everyone loves plain speaking. I am trying to train myself out of the Generalised We. I am starting to get cross with writers who say: we all love this, or we all think that. It’s lazy and wrong. But I think that I can be quite confident about this Everyone. Did you ever hear a single person in your whole wide life say: oh, but what I want more of is evasive, vague, knotty, jargon-littered language? Of course you did not. And yet people in positions of power go on speaking it, day after day. They are not stupid. Some of them are very nice. Many of them are kind to children and animals. Why can they not call a spade a spade?


Some pretty pictures, to take your mind off it:

12 July 1

12 July 2

12 July 3

12 July 4

12 July 5

12 July 6

12 July 6-1

12 July 7

12 July 8

12 July 9

The Pigeon had great excitement today: she put up a rabbit. This is her post-chase, on watch face:

12 July 10

And her no little critter shall eat your violas and get away with it face:

12 July 11

The return of the hill:

12 July 14


PS. Small howl for help:

My landlord’s dog is staying. The poor little thing is obviously missing his humans, and is whining and pacing, which means I find it hard to get any work done. I have never had a whining dog, and do not know what to do. Do any of you dog behaviourists out there have any idea? I’ve tried comforting strokes and treats to cheer him up, but the minute I turn back to the computer the plaintive noise starts again. I know I should not really use this blog as a dog agony column, but I am slightly at a loss.


  1. In the US, anyway, that language is rampant and unlikely to go away-- in part, oddly enough, I think it is because for some people it has come to signify the language of Intelligent People. Additionally, there are people in politics whose entire careers rely upon making very certain that black is called white (the Palinites come to mind, of course). The glorious trick in the US, at least, has been in making that language of obfuscation sound like the language of deep, rational thinking. When Obama comes along and speaks words with actual meaning and grammar, he is called an elitist; so.

    I love the Alert Pigeon.

  2. And in my own comment I am agrammatical. Forgive please; I meant to say "the glorious trick ... has been TO MAKE"

  3. Ellie - so interesting. One of the things I have always admired in President Obama is his use of clear English. The oratory is lovely of course, but I notice that in normal unscripted remarks he never falls into that awful managerial-speak. So glad you like the alert Pigeon. That face made me laugh so much.

  4. Yes!! A few hours into the day of the Royal wedding, I realised how often I was hearing "A sense of pageantry...", "a sense of occasion", "a real sense of pride"...

    Though during a marathon like *that* day, I suppose you can forgive the correspondents for leaning on a few vague phrases. It's less forgivable when it's people in power, and about important matters.

  5. I was so relieved to hear James Naughtie say "privacy" this morning instead of " pr-eye-vas-ee" this morning. I had been wondering if I'd been brought up speaking a different language from others who dwell in these isles!

  6. Oops! I repeated this morning, not concentrating, I'm still recovering from the dentist!

  7. I'm going to risk sounding ridiculous here, especially as my knowledge of dog behavior is a little on the sketchy side. I would try taking the dog to the spot where he last saw his master, and talk to him enthusiastically, using his master's name, and sort of do the Lassie-thing in reverse: a little pantomime of how his master went away and how he is going to come back. After that, I'd try ignoring him when he whines and telling him what a good dog he is when he doesn't.

    Good luck! How long will you have him?

  8. Oh no! The poor pooch is pining. When my partner went to Mexico, Alfie barked from the moment he stepped out the door and stopped the minute he walked back in. I took him to the vet, as I couldn't bear to see him so stressed and he was prescribed valium! After buying some rubbish collar-thingy that was meant to release some scent and no sleep, I was desperate. It did give us a little respite. I just wanted poor Alf to chill. It cost £26 and I found out it is the diazepam that is prescribed for us mere mortals...Perhaps his master wouldn't appreciate his dog being doped up, but as none of us are experts, maybe a visit to your dear vet? Good luck.

  9. I cannot bear, 'As we/I have already made absolutely clear' as the preface to another obfuscating answer. I have never yet managed to pinpoint that previous moment of absolute clarity so confidently alluded to.
    I'm sorry I can't help with the dog, I've never owned one. Might he like some Mozart?

  10. Hannah - oh yes. And sometimes it's even a VERY real sense.

    A Trifle Rushed - and what about controversy? No one can ever say that properly.

    Razinah - such a sweet idea. He's here for five days, so it is definitely worth a try.

    Anon - have to go to the dear vet for boosters anyway, so will consult.

    Lucille - Mozart is GENIUS.

  11. They are all too frightened of being blamed for something, but what that smething is, I have no idea. Thus they speak in circles and I think they think it makes them sound clever...as for the dog; a bone?

  12. I love this post, because I love knowing other people have these thoughts. This type of poor English drives me absolutely crazy. I work in a business environment as well, where it's almost as bad as in the news. My current annoyance is "relative to". "I was speaking to Mary relative to that issue..." How about "regarding", or "about"? Why do people have to do that? And when did invite become a noun? Is it that hard to say invitation?

  13. Perhaps "issues around" are for those too timid to dive into the fray?
    There's a great song by The Offspring about a woman who "has issues". (It may even be called "She Has Issues"!) Of course I can't remember the lyrics! Something about leaving "your baggage at the door" is all that has stuck...

  14. Lovely lovely photos of Pigeon. I would take the poor pining dog for a long long walk to take her mind off things. Hopefully afterwards she will be too tired to pine. Fresh air and sunshine and a walk always makes things better.

  15. What I have to say to you all is this: try living in Texas and having small knives of "fixin's" slashing your sanity on a daily basis. "I'm fixin to go to the store", and "I'm fixin to eat". Where did this originate? They have no "ideal". argh.

  16. Lovely photos of Pigeon. We have MOVED!!! the office is right next door to home and Googly can hear my voice over the wall. He is also whining and complaining. I should bring him over but it is an office! even though a small one I do not think everyone shares my love for dogs.

  17. SuperVet may have suggestions, here are a couple of options. Rescue Remedy (direct on the nose). Horrid as it is - the whining is for attention. It ceases when he gets food or pats. The faster you give in to it, the faster the dog is training you.

    This is a fairly good link (www.dogproblemsolutions.com/how_stop_dog_whining.php) that covers the standard bases. Try absolutely stuffing him (food is a great soother for dogs) and having him fall asleep in your study. Wear him out on a walk with the Pigeon.

    Good luck!

  18. oops. Add a php on the end of the URL.

  19. I heard an annoying phrase on the radio the other day, which made me exclaim out loud. Of course, I didn't write it down so now I can't remember what it was!

    Re the dog, I am less kind-hearted than other readers; I would shut him in another room, one far enough away that you can't hear him. I know, I know, I'm cruel.

  20. Manager-speak is insidious, and even the best of us can be sucked in. My darling daughter has had the title manager in her job description for about three years now (she works for a major, globally well- regarded NGO) and it's gradually spreading like an oil slick over what was the brighty foamy ocean of her Good English. She has a good honours degree in English, and she's been polluted already.

    I think if she were asked she'd blame report-writing conventions, and meetings (most of which, for most of the time, she finds tiresome and energy-sapping) and The Prevailing Cuture. The trouble with The Prevailing Culture is that it PREVAILS.

    If anyone knows how not to make this last the case, please tell me!


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