I have just seen the political journalist Andrew Neil use the 'word' 'totes' (for 'totally') on Twitter. This would be excruciating enough from a teenager but from a grown man - not to mention a former editor of the Sunday Times - it is quite distressing. This is something up with which we should not put. Fortunately someone has his 'eye on the ball', so to speak. Or rather, so not to speak.
The Independent journalist John Rentoul seeks to do for clichés, jargon, waffle and other crimes against the English language, what Lynn Truss sought to do to bad punctuation in Eats, Shoots and Leaves
. To give writers and speakers a 'wake-up call' and force them to 'smell the coffee' and leave their 'comfort zone' - but not in those words. Not on his watch.
"My experience is that people care about language; pedantry is also popular," he says, in the entertaining fifty-page polemical essay that precedes the list itself. He is not the first person to try to uphold standards in English language usage, of course, and he does acknowledge his eminent predecessors: Henry Fowler (Modern English Usage
) and George Orwell (Politics and the English Language
) - whom he admires "mainly because his real name was Blair." (Adding a little more evidence to my theory that his Blair veneration is a long-running satire.)
The list itself includes a variety of horrors, few of which I would be sad to see thrown into the 'dustbin of history'. As you might expect from a political journalist, it includes many of those slippery phrases found in the repertoire of politicans, like 'going forward', 'crunch talks', 'moral compass' and 'social mobility'. He also debunks some ill-considered metaphors: "Catalogue of errors. (Does it have glossy photographs?)"
Then there are tautologies such as 'added bonus', 'job of work' and 'any time soon' - which, as he points out, "is not a different way of saying 'soon', just a longer one." Also on the list are many of those phrases that begin to grate the moment they become fashionable, if not sooner. ('Epic fail' is a 'no-brainer', 'end of.') Plus "Full Stops. When. Used. For. Emphasis."
All banned, and rightly so. Although I think some of the more abominable entries ('normalcy' and 'problematise', for example) should not be given the 'oxygen of publicity'. As for 'render inoperative', I really did laugh out loud at that one. I wonder who came up with that, and why they thought it necessary. Rentoul wisely leaves such etymological archaeology to Susie Dent, and simply bins it. *Sorted*.
The problem with a project like this is that it will always be a work in progress. More expressions that have 'jumped the shark' will keep springing to mind. Best not to set the bar too high though, eh? Journalists, politicians and others who 'bandy words' for a living will find this an instructive text. Amusing too.