Destroying English with media-speak

2008-08-01 00:00

Not long ago, before my husband and I were connected to DStv, we discovered with a degree of relief that we could tune in to Classic fM through our television. Being seriously technologically challenged, I can’t tell you how, but that’s how we get SAFM too, for what it’s worth. Our listening on the latter never extends beyond AMLive and that only until 8 am. After that, with mostly phone-ins that are generally knee-jerk platitudinous twaddle, the wireless stays off until the news bulletin.

And guess what? We discovered with joy that Classic fM not only gives us good music but good news bulletins as well. There is also a delightful hour of Classic Business anchored by the refreshingly irreverent John Fraser, whose breezy interviews with economists make good listening, even for financially challenged people like me.

There’s more. Even before we got DStv we discovered e-News. So, in the evenings, we switch from radio’s Classic Business at 6 pm, to eTV at 7 pm. What a pleasure it is to hear understandable English, spoken properly, whether as a first or second language, regardless of race.

Mostly, even now that we have the much-vaunted DStv, our television stays off. We are newspaper addicts. We prefer to read. If the way forward for media communications is going to be electronic, with no books, newspapers and magazines, then I’m glad I won’t still be around. There have been predictions for years that radio (wireless!) will disappear, but it hasn’t yet. Hopefully books won’t either.

This marvellous weather has made being outdoors imperative, and because there’s now not so much to do out there, there is time to meditate. Lately I’ve been pondering on what I hear on the radio and what I read in the papers. It’s not so much the content, it’s the words and phrases. One can’t help wondering how journalists, in print or, particularly, over the air, managed without words and phrases like: leverage; impact (how has the oil price impacted inflation?); cutting-edge; and morphing. For leverage, I might have used bargaining chip; for impact I could have used affected; for cutting edge … well, you get the drift. Now the word interrogate is used for investigate, and unpack (which I thought was done after a holiday) is used for explain. Colloquialisms are shortened: the “on” has come off impact; and I’ve heard just “pear” instead of pear-shaped. Colloquialisms have also been lengthened: “on the back of” has replaced the childhood-inspired “piggy-backed”.

This new jargon is all about going forward (nothing to do with rugby) to the next thing as rapidly as possible. (It’s catching, as you might have noticed.)

Reporters, and those they are interviewing, sometimes make memorable howlers in their hurry. I have heard of a rugby player’s selection having not yet been officialised (was the reporter searching for the word announced?) and an economist wanting to problemise an issue (haven’t we got enough already?). Another economist was non-plexed at someone’s decision (non-plussed or perplexed?). Lookers-on weren’t simply looking on but spectating (is that a word?). There is too much information, and not enough time to sort out the language. No wonder they say up-to-speed.

So, “nouns become verbs and adverbs, and adverbs become adjectives”. That might well be my personal take (comment?) on this new jargon, but the words are not mine. Neither is this: “Where would we be without them?” Nor this: “Novelty blows through the English language like a spring breeze.” They are plucked almost verbatim from Bill Bryson extolling Shakespeare’s immortal contribution to the English language. Can media-speak’s input compare favourably with the profoundly expressive language introduced and immortalised by Shakespeare?

Just one of the the bard’s new words was beautify — a noun becoming a verb. Trying to think of a contemporary analogy representive of our current materialistic view of our world, I could only come up with quantify. Doesn’t really compare with a summer’s day or a spring breeze, does it?

• Phyl Palframan is a retired farmer’s wife, a mother, grandmother, gardener and freelance journalist.

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