Sorrows of a Language Lover

“The Shakespeare & Company Bookshop” by gadl is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The purpose of language is communication.  Anything which muddies the language is the enemy of communication, and something which deliberately obscures the meaning of the words is the work of the Devil.

I want to start today by examining the language spawn of Satan. It has been described as, “The language of evasion, prudery and deceit” and in a more flowery mode, “Unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne”.

They are both describing the increasingly prevalent use of euphemisms, spreading their misinformation like green slime across MSM, and, I guess, social media.  Like the poor, euphemism is always with us, but, boy, have I had a belly full of sport newspeak over the last few weeks.

Sport Newspeak

First, we had the Euros and “taking the knee”.  Apart from asking where the knee is being taken to, we do have to examine the real meaning of this phrase, designed to cover the reality of kneeling to pay homage and swear fealty to a king, lord or similar, which was a key aspect of feudalism that could never be broken.

When Edward the Confessor sent Harold Godwinson to William the Bastard to confirm that William would become his heir, Harold (allegedly) swore fealty to William, thereby giving him the excuse to invade these Isles after the death of Edward.  Whether this is, in fact, true is open to debate, but it gave William a good excuse and “the rest”, as they say, “is history”.

This latest BLM manifestation of kneeling is simply a modern version of swearing fealty to a Marxist organisation in disguise.

Moving on to the Olympic Games, we were faced with numerous athletes, led by the publicity seeking American, Simone Biles, withdrawing from events for “mental health” reasons. She was rapidly followed by others including the British Dina Asher-Smith.  This euphemism was designed to cover the real reason for the multiple withdrawals, which you can either interpret as the complete opposite of the euphemism – mental illness, or, alternately, sheer gamesmanship.  It was more than satisfying that both failed to win gold in the one event they did deign to enter.

To date a plethora of other sports has been affected by the same phenomenon, including tennis and cricket.

Euphemisms have been with us since the Greeks, but the reasons for their use have changed significantly in more recent times.  Initially used to hide profanities and coarse or upsetting language, their use is now primarily political.

Other Words Used to Deceive

While euphemisms will always be the worst culprits, since their whole rationale is to deceive, other words have their meanings changed after repeated and deliberate misuse.  We had the outcry at Digby Jones’ “racist” criticism of a “woman of colour” (Alex Scott) for lazy speech – to whit, not pronouncing the “g” in words ending in “ing”.  The fact that she joined the illustrious trio of Sadiq Khan, Priti Patel and “Beff” Rigby, was apparently irrelevant.  Alex was alleged by her apologists to be speaking with a South London accent, but I have to say that it was not an aspect of the South London twang that I ever noticed when I lived there for 6 years.  No, it was simple laziness, and should be called out.

While we are on the subject of colour, the word “black” is frequently used to deceive.  Lewis Hamilton has a black father and a white mother: he has not lived with his father since the age of 2, yet he identifies as “black”.  It seems to be very fashionable these days – see also the Duchess of Sussex and Barak Obama, both allegedly “black”.  It must be a severe disappointment to their “white” parents.

Early in the Olympics, we were faced with the issue of the New Zealand “transgender” weight lifter, Laurel Hubbard, who had to withdraw because of an inability to lift the required weight.  The use of “transgender” has undergone subtle, but important, changes: originally, it simply meant a person who felt he or she had a mismatched body: it has come to be used as though it is a reality, conveying legal rights to live as someone of the preferred gender.  I will not dwell on some of the unfortunate results of this ill-conceived change and its acceptance by the political class.

While we are on the subject of changing the meaning of words in order to deceive, we cannot ignore “woke”. Originally the past tense of the verb, “wake”, woke changed its meaning to “racially and socially aware” (an adjective) in African American patois.  The spread of this meaning was thanks to our old friends, the BLM movement.  It is now pleasing to see that those of us of a different persuasion are gradually changing the meaning again to a term of ridicule of those who hold this view.

Along the same lines, we have the impressive sounding “critical race theory” (CRT). Coined by our old friends, the Americans, in the 1970s, it seeks to challenge traditional “liberal” views in favour of racial redistribution of just about everything.

Similarly, we cannot ignore our old friend, “progressive”. The cynic in me defines this as “anything the left wants it to mean”.  It does however, have a reputable history: originally coined in the Age of Enlightenment to express the necessity of lifting people out of slavery and abject poverty, it has come to mean “redistributive”, as applied to any new tax or raid on the wealth of those of us who actually make a financial contribution to the running of the State.

Finally, we must highlight the bête noire of many of us, “white privilege”.  Despite all the contrary evidence, it is now spouted as evidence that all white people everywhere at all points in history prosper at the expense of black and brown people.


Today’s language rant over, I would now like to turn to some of the more mundane aspects of the English Language and accompanying common errors.

To recap on schoolroom learning, there are eight types of word which constitute the language:-

  • Nouns (names of things)
  • Pronouns (words used in the place of nouns)
  • Adjectives (which describe nouns)
  • Verbs (“doing words”, as my spinster teacher used to describe them)
  • Adverbs (which describe how things are done)
  • Conjunctions (which join parts of a sentence together)
  • Prepositions (which show the relationship between nouns or pronouns)
  • Interjections (exclamations which have no relationship with other words)

I was prompted to look at this topic by an “in your face” misuse seen on GP, which I will not quote here, but which rocked me back on my heels.  What is wrong with this sentence, “No-one wants freedom more than us”?  Everybody there?  A clue: the only pronoun in the sentence is “us”.  So, what is wrong with “us” in this sentence?  In any sentence there is (to follow my naïve teacher) a noun or pronoun which does the “doing” (nominative) and a noun or pronoun to which the doing is “done” (accusative or object).   For most nouns, the form of the word stays the same, but for pronouns it does not.  To return to the sentence, what it is trying to say is “No-one wants freedom more than we do”, and that is precisely what should be written.  The reason is that the pronoun (“we”, in this case) is a doing word, not a pronoun to which something is done (“us”).

The same applies to other pronouns, such as “who”, “whom” and “whose” (note: no Oxford comma – I don’t use them!).  “Who” is the “doing” pronoun, “whom” is the pronoun “to which something is done” and “whose” is the genitive (belonging to).  What is wrong with “Farage is someone who I used to respect”?  Quite simply, “who” cannot be used because it is the doing pronoun, whereas the sentence requires the pronoun to which something is done.  The sentence should read, “Farage is someone whom I used to respect”.

The only notable thing about “whose” is that, although strictly speaking it should only be used to refer to people and other animate nouns, it can also be used for inanimate objects (because there is no possessive case derived from “which”, generally used to stand in for names of inanimate nouns).  Thus, “SB’s bash whose date is now known” is perfectly acceptable because there is no such word as “which’s”.  Academics throughout the ages have argued against this, and suggested that sentences should be rewritten to avoid the use of “whose”.  Fortunately, they have lost the argument.

On the subject of possessive pronouns, attention needs to be paid to the use of “its” (singular) and “their” (plural).  Consider this sentence, “Team GP will pack their tents in September”.  Right or wrong?  I suspect that we may have another “subjunctive moment” when I state that it is wrong.  The reason for this is that “team” is singular, whereas “their” is plural.  It should read, “Team GP will pack its tents in September”.

© Chrissie 2021

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