Monday 3 October 2011

An analogy about language

I posted this on someone's facebook status when they made a comment about a report that Tayside Police had issued a diktat that Officers could no longer talk about "manning" the phones, but now had to refer to "staffing" them.  

Once again, a reading of the first (and while negative, this is still the closest to a balanced report the story got, seemingly) story published, indicates that this isn't in fact an instruction (or, as at least one tabloid report suggested, a "law" for the police), but rather a suggestion of best practice.

Which is a little less sinister, really.   Anyway, this analogy was my take on it.  I welcome any comments, but they're probably likely to go unread because I'm rubbish at checking back on here, so tweet or FB me instead.

The English language, as it stands, is the linguistic equivalent of a farmhouse built up over a vast period of time - the original stones were borrowed from older structures, and every year a new lean-to is fixed onto the side, made from a mixture of new material and stuff that is imported from further off.

Its mode of construction - the different materials, the clumsy joins - mean that it lets in drafts and creaks and groans at night. In parts it has rusted and some fine carved detail has worn away in wind and rain.

If someone were building a new farmhouse on the spot from scratch, it would look very little like it does, but the energy required to knock it down and start again is massive when, for the most part, it serves its purpose fine. So every year, whilst adding on lean-to structures, repairs are also carried out to try and ensure that where there are leaks and drafts these are minimised, or better still, stopped entirely.


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