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Sunday, May 04, 2003
The variety of language

The variety and euphony of the English language frequently strike me. English has the shameless ability to add words from foreign languages when there is no current equivalent. We have obtained the words 'verandah' and 'bungalow' from our erstwhile empire and 'restaurant' and schadenfreude' from nearer home. If there isn't a word, we'll steal it. We'll change the functions of words too: I can even just about accept the development of 'stretcher' from a noun to a verb - as in 'the player was stretchered off'.

A few years ago, before I moved to Bagshot Mansion, a French neighbour of mine put a notice on his garage: 'Please use the little gate at the side.' The grammar was perfectly correct yet I felt unhappy about the notice - I'd have used 'small' instead of 'little'. Subtleties of this sort make English so expressive. Connotations matter. We have 'little' and 'small', whereas the French have only 'petit'. Our potential vocabulary is about double that available to the French.

However, when there are serviceable English words that are replaced with corrupt alternatives, I get irritated. During the last few days, I have come across three examples. Firstly, the use of the term 'rendition' when referring to the performance of a song. What's wrong with 'rendering'? Suggestions about confusion with 'a coat of mortar or plaster' ignore context.

Next, there's 'envision' instead of envisage. Envision ought to relate to something that happens at the optician (yes, the optician, not the oculist).

Finally, there's 'upcoming'. For no apparent reason, this seems to be replacing 'forthcoming'. If we are to use the word 'upcoming' at all, could we perhaps reserve it for that special, nasty moment when you are about to vomit?

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