Campaign For Real English

Every now and then one hears things that jar; things that grate on the nerves; well, mine, anyway. There are at least two types of bastardization of our language going on.

I was preparing to collect Carol from her return easyJet flight to Luton airport and had pulled in to our local Tesco filling station to top up the tank  I like to use the “pay at pump” positions and avoid the kiosk. There was a Nissan Joke Juke at the pump in front of me. I had inserted my club card (the scanner never seems to work) and had just inserted my payment card when the lady standing beside her Joke Juke addressed me.

My brain had trouble processing the message and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I asked to repeat herself. Again, I had trouble. Cogs turned and eventually I figured out what she had said.

I’m sorry; I’ve released my hood accidentally. Do you know how to put it back down?

Hood? You’re not wearing a hood, I thought. For some strange reason, though she seemed to have not a trace of an accent and sounded English, she was speaking American. Evidently, in trying to release the filler cap, she had mistakenly released the bonnet.

Timing could’ve been better, having just introduced my payment card. I withdrew it and went to her assistance. I re-seated her “hood”. I desperately wanted to say, “3000 miles across the northern Atlantic, they call this a hood but in this country, it’s a bonnet”, but I thought better of it.

Is this the latest descent on the slippery slope towards the Americanization of our language? I do hope not. There seems to be at least one new descent every year.

My delicate nerves were assaulted by the other form of bastardization when we were out for a meal on the evening before Carol left on her trip. A family was seated at a table near ours. At one point I heard the mercifully well-behaved daughter say

Mum, could you itch my back?


No, nobody can itch anything, itch is not a transitive verb. Verbs are either transitive or intransitive. Itch is intransitive, it doesn’t operate on something else. Your back may itch but it can’t be itched. If your back itches, you want it scratched for education’s sake. What are we doing?

There’s another similar example that really makes me cringe.

You must be joking me

Arghh again!

More mixing up of transitive and intransitive. You may be joking but you cannot, in any way, shape or form, joke something or someone else. You can kid them; to kid is a transitive verb, or you can simply be joking.

This is just plain ignorance. That phrase sounds belittling, I know, but it shouldn’t. Without learning stuff, we’d all be ignorant. I imagine it’s become unfashionable to correct people these days. How else are they supposed to learn, though? It doesn’t have to happen in an unfriendly fashion. We can bottle up our screams. 😉

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13 comments on “Campaign For Real English
  1. BlasR says:

    What about “Eat Local”? It really annoys me.

    • JC says:

      Ooh, I’ve not heard that one. Adverbs in the trash can, then? Trash can being an acceptable Americanization. 🙂

  2. Steve says:

    I always call the front of the car hood. Mainly to wind up R.

    I did discuss language with Rosemary. My thoughts are we are getting old. We learnt English in the 60s. The language is dynamic and not owned by one country. It has moved on in the last 50 years. Those who learnt English in the 1910s sounded odd to me in the 60s.

    • JC says:

      I agree that some of it can be put down to that dynamism. We adopted cool as meaning good rather than cold, some time ago. I still think constructs that are plain wrong should be discouraged. There’s no excuse for itching something or joking somebody, or that disgusting “bigging it up”.

      We risk obfuscating meaning sometimes. Cool could have.

  3. Tony Diserens says:

    I screamed when a presenter on a british property show mixed up renting and letting. Why would you ever want to rent your house that you already own!
    Can they find a presenter that knows at least a little about the subject. Is there no Editor on the program?

  4. Bill Percy says:

    With regard to the front part of the car not being called a “hood”, surely when it is referred to as a “bonnet”, one might equally say, “but you are not wearing a bonnet (type of hat)”. Please come to terms with the reality that only a small number of english speakers around the world actually use “British english” and, in reality, Britons no longer have legitimate claim to primacy over the language. In reality, those like yourself are, in fact, essentially using what is now just a quaint dialect.

    I would also add that Britons using collective nouns as though they are plural – “the government are…”, when you are actually referring to a single entity, just grates on everyone else around the world. Sauce for the goose and all that……..

    • JC says:

      [JC: I had to reconstruct the above because somehow it went missing while I was in the wilds of Scotland, even thoug hI received the email. Curious.]

      Oh my, where to start? I am perfectly happy for American English to refer to the hood of a car, where it has always been a hood (as far as I know) and where it will probably always remain a hood. What I don’t care much for is American terms supplanting perfectly useful British terms. The fact that hood and bonnet may be regarded as synonyms is irrelevant, save for the fact that it may have something to do with the reason for the differences on either side of the pond.

      So, yes, I believe we already recognize different dialects of English with phrases such as British English and American English, and that’s fine. For some reason, I don’t recall references to Australian English or to South African English but they are certainly also different dialects. I can’t help but wonder quite what Her Majesty might make of the Queen’s English being described as quaint, though. Britons and HM in particular, most certainly should be allowed some ownership of their particular dialect.

      No, the hood/bonnet incident was merely the catalyst that made me remember other more critical ungrammatical constructs, which are ungrammatical in whatever dialect of English. There is absolutely not excuse for “itch my back” or for another of my modern pet hates, “a big ask” (whatever happened to “tall order”, which is what we would normally have said?), or, “bigging it up”.

      Like you, I confess that I also tend to cringe when I hear the “government are” type of phrase. I have a virtual rubber brick to throw at the TV screen for such occasions – it’s usually the BBC. Speaking of virtual, though, here is an interesting quote from The Virtual Linguist:

      “There are a number of words like government, e.g. company, team, department, committee, which can be followed by a singular verb or a plural verb. It depends on how you perceive the noun, whether as a unit, or as a group of individuals. Formality also comes into it. Generally it would be more formal to use a singular verb agreement (as the Queen does). For instance, you would use a singular verb in a sentence like “The average family eats three portions of fruit a day” but a plural verb in a more informal sentence from someone who sees a family as individuals, such as “My family are great lovers of fruit and vegetables”.

      So, perhaps both you and I should cut them some slack on that particular issue.

  5. Bill Percy says:

    Sad to see that you deleted my post where I took you task for:

    1. Failing to note that “bonnet” (a type of hat) is not a better description of the front part of a car than “hood”, since they are both references to clothing….

    2. Not accepting that British english is now just a quaint dialect, given the much larger number of english speakers around the world who don’t observe all of its quirks and inconsistencies…

    3. The annoying British use of plural verbs with collective nouns that are actually singular – “e.g., the government are..”, when “the government” is a single entity that acts in a unitary fashion.

    Surely opening the debate up to an opposing views is not going to diminish the strengths of your arguments? (of course, perhaps you fear displaying opposing comments because deep down you think you might not be right……)

    Maybe you are only in favour of free speech as long as it’s delivered in British english?

  6. JC says:

    Oh dear, as if “quaint” weren’t deliberately provocative enough, we now have this apparently deliberately insulting correspondence based upon an incorrect assumption.

    As I explained by email from the wilds of Scotland, I did not delete anything. Comments do, however, have to be moderated, which is common practice on websites. I was unable to do that given the communication facilities available to me in the wilds.

    You are reacting as if I attacked American English. I didn’t. I stated a dislike of British English adopting American English and mainly to ungrammatical constructs. Your tone is not one one of constructive debate but of aggressive offense.

    #1: quite why interchangeable references to items of clothing makes one better than the other, I fail to see. [I think you have your sentence around the wrong way, BTW, apparently preferring bonnet.]

    #2: I certainly accept, as stated above, that British English is a dialect though I reject your deliberately belittling use of the term quaint.

    #3: I do not believe that use of plural verbs in relation to collective nouns is either a British habit (it may be a BBC habit) or, indeed incorrect, as the reference in The Virtual Linguist supports.

    I am quite happy to show the way in which you make your opposing views known so people, should they read it, may come to their own conclusions.

  7. Tony Diserens says:

    A phrase I just read ‘High net worth individuals’ is an expression that really annoys me. One individual is not worth more than another – this expression should be replaced with the either rich individuals or wealthy individuals.

  8. T.m.h. says:

    I make jc rite or is it right or maybe I should say correct because right is opposite to left and that could be confusing but he is correct,the English language is being murdered mostly by outside influences and don’t even mention pronunciation,interesting word most people can’t pronounce it.

  9. T.m.h. says:

    What about,can I get,instead of may I have .Yuk

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