Posts Tagged 'communication'

Well, well, well!

Those who read this blog – if there are any – will know that I am prone to grumble about the way our English language is changing. In part, this is the routine reaction of an old pedant who sees ‘rules’ that he learnt as a boy being flouted and disregarded by the young. And I am, of course, well aware that such changes will continue long after I am gone, and that any living language is bound to change over time. I just find it regrettable that so many of the current changes are, in my view, changes for the worse  in terms of clarity of meaning.

Even when I am not grumbling, though, I remain fascinated by questions of how, when, where and why such changes arise.  The use of the word ‘cool’, for example, to indicate approval (as opposed to low temperature) still sounds alien to my aged ear. I believe it originated in the jazz culture of the American South – but how did it acquire this new meaning? And why has it been adopted by almost every English-speaker under forty?

Again, I am puzzled when I ask someone how they are and they reply “I’m good!” – as though I had enquired about their moral welfare. What’s wrong with the “I’m well, thanks!” that I grew up with?

And talking of the word ‘well’, I find it equally odd to hear it used as a qualifying adjective in place of ‘very’ – as in “He was well angry!” To me, that sounds wrong; but then I sheepishly remember that there are precedents, even in such an authority as the King James bible: “… in whom I am well pleased.” And, come to think of it, I have written ‘well aware’ in the first paragraph of this post. So I must declare myself  a ‘logophage’ (a word I have just invented, from Greek roots, to signify ‘one who eats his own words’.)

I suppose, then, I must accept that I am fighting a losing battle on the language front. I will continue, however, to man the ramparts, and decline to adopt what I consider inappropriate usages. Ah well . . .

Striking the happy media

Time for another of my moans about linguistic infelicities.

Many years ago, man had really only one way of communicating – the spoken word. Then came writing, and printing; a few centuries on came the telephone, and then radio, and then television. Soon there arose the need to have a single word that would embrace all these different methods. Each was – is – a medium of communication; so it made sense, when referring to all of them, to use the plural of medium, which – because of its Latin root – is media (though it could be argued that mediums would be equally acceptable, and even perhaps preferable).

Anyway, the media soon became part of common parlance. But far too many people nowadays (including some journalists who should know better) seem to forget that it is in fact a plural word, and come out with remarks like “The media is to blame” – which seems to defeat the whole purpose of having a word that refers to  many entities.

I know there are words – such as the public – which can take a singular or a plural verb depending  on the context; but I don’t think this applies to the media. Anyone want to argue?

Obscurity rules?

I was reading some modern poetry the other day. At least, that’s what it called itself. Frankly, to me it was unintelligible. A jumble of words – some of them misused – without any apparent structure and making no kind of sense.  I tried speaking it aloud, to see if the sheer sound of it would strike sparks. Nothing happened

In this particular instance, I made a comment. I didn’t say the piece was rubbish (though that may have been what I thought); I just said that I didn’t understand it. The author’s response was that he didn’t give a damn whether I understood it or not .

This is what irks me about so much modern art. Surely the purpose of art, in any medium, is to communicate?  Art isn’t created in a vacuum. Nor should it, in my opinion, be created purely for the gratification of the artist.  If it fails to communicate – to arouse some emotion in the viewer or reader or listener, or to provide some new insight into human experience – then surely something is wrong. And I think it is deplorable for the artist to be indifferent to that failure.

Yes, of course some people are too thick, too unimaginative, too insensitive to respond in the way the artist would wish. But if a majority find his work incomprehensible, should he not worry? Should he not wonder if he is saying what he is trying to say in the right way?

I am not for a moment suggesting that everything should be ‘dumbed down’, to be accessible to the lowest common denominator. But obscurity for its own sake leads, in my view, to incomprehensibility being seen as a virtue; to rubbish being sold for thousands simply because rich men want to pose as connoisseurs.

There is modern poetry, modern art, that is mind-blowing, life-enhancing; but beware the man who doesn’t care whether he connects or not.