Good to see Hampshire County Council are spending my taxes wisely. In the propaganda brochure accompanying their latest letter demanding 800 pounds for rubbish collection and clogged roads, I find this item: These pages have been checked for clarity by Plain Language Commission [sic]. Sometimes I’m ashamed to live in a socialist country.
I’ve been interested in languages for a few years (despite only being able to speak one with any fluency) and consider myself a bit of an amateur linguist. It’s long been a standing question as to how to determine ‘correct’ English. Linguists divide grammar into two competing factions: descriptive (30% people speak like this, 70% people speak like that) and prescriptive (thou shalt speak in this way, as others have since time immemorial).
A quick Google search for “common myths about” turns up ~315,000 hits. Apparently, there are a lot of myths about: Sex Atheists Copyright Science Gifted Students The Apple Mac Web Design Earthquakes West Nile Virus The last one is the most surprising. I’m not even sure what the West Nile Virus is. Perhaps that’s why there are myths about it. But at least as regards the other subjects, it seems to be a slight cheat, and writing cliché, to ‘correct’ a set of myths without demonstrating that they exist.
Marchitecture. I shamelessly stole this from a presentation I attended the other day (names withheld to protect the innocent). If it resonates with you, it probably doesn’t need explaining, but marchitecture is IT architecture that is used for marketing reasons rather than technical ones. Sometimes the marchitecture looks the same as the ‘real’ architecture, sometimes not. Wikipedia’s definition seems a bit narrow (I’m not sure what electronic architecture is anyway), but hey.
(Using big words gives me a cheap thrill). Has anyone else noticed that the word ’expert’ is changing its meaning, becoming more generous? It seems like the bar for becoming an ’expert’ is lower than it once was (good examples can be found on the 6 o’clock news). Of course it’s hard to measure this other than empirically, but it’s fun to play the mental exercise - are you an expert in anything?
Economists often use words differently from other folk. Words such as ‘profit’, ‘wealth’, ‘rent’ and ‘cost’ all have subtle, but important, differences from the way many of the general public use them. Such words can easily get tied to particular value judgements or politics - for example, the word ‘profit’ conjures up images of fat cats and greedy people in the minds of many. In the minds of economists, profit is almost always a good thing - partly because they don’t tie the word just to money.
Kleptocracy - where government steals from the public purse. I came across this term the other day in a podcast from Econtalk in which Bruce Bueno de Mesquita discussed his most recent book, The Logic of Political Survival - a cynical look at how and why governments stay in power. It’s well worth a listen.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis basically states that there is a relationship between the language that a person uses and the way they think about the world. Although it’s controversial, many linguists believe there is at least some truth in it: as Wikipedia says, ‘The opposite extreme—that language does not influence thought at all—is also widely considered to be false’. The theory has implications, such as that the value of improving one’s vocabulary or learning another language are even greater than they would be otherwise.