Language Gripes in the Media

by Craig Evans

As language students, we are all probably quite sensitive to the form of words and utterances, as much as we are their meaning. Of course we are not alone. People who work in entertainment and the media, particularly comedians, reviewers and commentators, continuously use language to ply their trade. Little wonder then that the forms that make up meaning frequently become a theme in their work.

Here are my picks for language gripes in the media over the past week or so:

  1. Mark Kermode vents his frustration with certain adjectives when reviewing ‘Holy Motors’ on BBC News 24: ‘I hate the word ‘wacky’ … for me ‘wacky’ and ‘zany’ … mean really annoying and really irritating. It’s a little bit away from ‘quirky’ which is the worst of all possible ones. No, [the film] is genuinely strange’.
  2. Hugh Dennis, on Room 101, expresses his frustration with what to write in cards secretly passed around at work, when the reason for the card has not been made clear: ‘You’ve got a choice generally between: is it their birthday or are they leaving the company? So you try to cover both bases by putting things like: have fun, enjoy yourself!‘ Then afterwards ‘you realise that the reason they’re having the card in the first place is because they’re having one of their kidneys removed’.
  3. On the same Room 101 episode, Mel Giedroyc’s gripe is with hyperforeignism as used when people over-pronounce the names of Italian food items. The impersonation she does of a softly spoken friend uttering words like funghi alla messicana, straciatella alla funghi  and tiramisu in an exaggerated Italian accent is well worth a look if you can find it online.
  4. A language gripe that anyone who has worked in an office will probably identify with is that of business language. You know the kind of thing: going forward, close of play, the bottom line, face time, thinking outside the box. On BBC Question Time this week, James Delingpole (novelist, writer for The Spectator) observes how this kind of thing is spreading: ‘on the train on the way here … there was an incredibly annoying person sitting opposite me on his mobile … he was running his office on his mobile, he was doing sort of executive boast-speak, he was sounding like David Brent, briefing his staff, buoying up his sales team’.
  5. And finally, a list of complaints about language use wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of at least one euphemism. This week’s comes from Mr Mockney wannabe gangster himself, Danny Dyer, as observed by Sarah Millican on her self-titled TV show: ‘I quite like watching Danny Dyer. They seem to be sick of using the word ‘dangerous’ in his programmes. So they’ve started using softer language, but saying it in that gruff voice. They say people have been: ‘naughty’. No Danny, he’s a murderer. He needs to go to prison, not on a bloody step’.

Please email any ‘gripes’ you come across in the media for next week’s list, or tell us about your own personal language annoyances in the comments below.

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