back to article El Reg decimates English language

It's official: the English language is going to hell in a handcart and if drastic measures are not taken to halt the destruction of our beloved mother tongue then all of the efforts of Nelsonian Jack tars and Spitfire-borne officer pilots to defend this Scepter'd Isle against the forces of barbarism will have been in vain. That …

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Black Helicopters

Good article

Well put! Wait...do I mean "put well"? Oh, God...oh, God! They're coming for me!

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Easy tiger

The internet, serious business. Not really. Remember that arguing on the internet is like winning the Special Olympics.

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Coat

Greengrocers' Apostrophe's

Nice reference...

Spelling, incorrect usage and general grammatical incompetencies do get my goat (and I want it back!), but language is evolving, and those who do not evolve with it will soon be left to the pages of hostorical dictionaries. Or something.

The golden suit with the winged hat, thanks...!

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Nucular

At last someone else has noticed that GW can't pronounce nuclear. I thought I was the only one. It gets on my nerves but nobody else I know is bothered by it.

I recently saw a TV program about a crisis where the Soviets came close to launching missiles because they thought the wargames NATO were conducting at the time were a build-up prior to invasion of Eastern Europe. As you might expect this meant the word "nuclear" was said a lot by the narrator who pronounced it "nyucyular" every time. Had to change channel about half way through because I couldn't stand it.

Let everyone know! Make sure GWB is aware that he sounds like an idiot *every* time he gets it wrong!

And don't get me started about apostrophes.

Flame icon because there's no mushroom cloud.

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Alert

Ignorence?

'Ignorence' or 'ignorance'?

This chap seems so learned I was almost inclined to doubt my own spelling ability.

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language

Be that as it may, in your official capacity as language police could you arrange to severely chastise all those who mean nothing but say nothink.

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Coat

"Mind you, a plucky few are still using the word as *God* intended"

Surely not? Caesar, Cicero or some such!

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Pedantry

It's interesting that this latest outraged pedant couldn't even check his own spelling - to wit:

"...with such ignorence at the helm."

ITYM 'ignorance'. Also, in other instances, 'ignorant'.

HTH, HAND.

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Alert

Poor Pedant

Does he not realise that the English Language has ALWAYS been developing and changing.

I forsee the opening of a large, metal, food storage recepticle filled with lumbricids for both this subject and the unfortunate (rather crass) comparison by Chris Collins!

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Unhappy

@Chris Collins

Offensive and patronising at the same time, must've taken some thinking about..

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Paris Hilton

Coat, Hat, Gloves, scarf.... Where's the door?

Who care's about where apostrophe's go. It's all a shamble's anyway!

Lets continue to decimate the english language, thats my two-penneth anyways (as we used to say in the olden days of proper english like.....)

Paris probably wouldn't care either!......

:)

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Not too bothered about the meaning however...

It would be nice if some reg articles had a read through before being posted. Some articles have such bad flow of grammar and countless spelling errors that it makes it difficult to enjoy them.

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"ignorence"?

Is he seriously commenting on other people's literacy?

Cretanism, usuage, predominently... sigh.

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Happy

Octomate...

Isn't that a friendly octopus?

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Coat

Decimation is all relative anyway

For example, if 10% of clinical trial subjects died then every effort would be made to reduce this loss and even a reduction to 9% would be considered an achievement.....but if you paid 10p for something out of your £1, not many people (reg hacks excluded) are going to try and hammer the price down to 9p......so the meaning has not just become obfuscated, but has been given greater and more grandiose impact than that originally intended. In this light, surely then one must exercise even greater control over the word given the ease with which it can be used to overstate losses.

Pass me the vinyl-coated flasher-mack......

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Coat

Would 'churlish' be the correct term?

What would I be if I pointed out that, in keeping with the highly variable and generally dire quality of spelling on the Internet -- regional variations are presumably still allowed, so I like to see Americans use 'color' and 'program' (as in TV) and British use 'colour' and 'programme' -- Tony selects a variation on 'ignorant' that to my knowledge cannot be explained by history or any cultural nuance:

'Ignorent'

Is that a word?

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Tut, tut, tut

When having a pop at someone else's grammer. Don't ever f**k it up yourself

"What chance does anyone else onboard have in USA with such ignorence at the helm."

Me thinks it should read (but then again, I'm crap at English)

What chance does anyone else onboard have in THE USA with such ignorAnce at the helm?

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Paris Hilton

"It's official: the English language is going to hell in a handcart"

If I go to hell when I die I'd be happy to go in a handcart as it would, presumably, take a very long time to get there. Better that than, say, travelling by luxury jet.

Paris 'cause she'd definitely choose the jet.

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F*ck the language Nazis

Sorry to upset you, you jackbooted protectors of a hallucinatory pseudo-reality, but in fact Language IS forever changing, and it MUST and WILL forever change.

To decry this process is a foolish position, akin to insisting that sun remain in the sky at a fixed position.

In fact, if it was a valid point of view, everyone on the planet would speak one language.

Since this is clearly not the case, and there are significant variations of grammar and vocab even within languages that share the same root, the Romance languages for instance, the argument for prescriptive grammar and vocabulary vs descriptive is a tad foolish.

It is interesting how many of the language Nazis (that's twice already, so I invoke Godwin's on myself) seem to have little or no knowledge of the phenomenon of language diversification, suggesting that they have, in fact, never even taken a fairly basic course of study in English Language (AFAIK this is still on the A-Level curriculum). Had they done so they would have been exposed to these arguments early on, and it would save them for making tits of themselves all the time.

The OED bases its definitions on common usage, if it's good enough for them, it's most certainly good enough for you.

Come on guys, the days of RP, Standard English and everyone on telly wearing evening dress are long behind us, and good riddance to them. There are far more interesting things to be pedantic about. Like the internet not having been designed to survive a nuclear war, or the true progression of windows version numbers :-)

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Paris Hilton

Finally...

...someone else annoyed - or at least concerned- with the recent abandonment of rules, guidelines and other such structure in the English language.

Surely basic punctuation and elecution are still taught at a primary school level, and standards maintained- if not increased- through secondary and tertiary education?

Perhaps an enforced quality of written and spoken English work (in addition, of course, to a skill with numeracy) could be made a prerequisite of progressing through the years at school? Of course there would be some leeway for different dialects or accents in day-to-day work, but assessment and progression criteria should be based around "proper" English.

Paris since she's good at getting her tongue around things...

I mean complicated words and phrases, guttermind!

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I hate people like this

The apostrophe is a stupid thing.

Tell me why I should use don't instead of dont. I say don't instead of do not because its quicker, I want to write it more quickly as well.

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Unhappy

Sorry ........

....... for being pedantic but within the lead item should it not have been "sceptre'd" ? *We* this side of the pond have a preference for words ending in "re".

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Coat

@ Charlie Clark

Julius Caesar was deified in 42 BC. Does that count?

Ok, I'll get it. Mine's the red cloak with the combed helmet on top of it. Ave.

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Gates Horns

Decimation of the English Language

I can accept that language evolves, but it's now in a nose dive, spiralling downwards because of plain ignorance. It's not just "decimate" - many other words are abused, such as "Draconian" (Draco would put people to death for the most minor of offences). "Battery" is a collective noun and should never be applied to a single cell. "Aerosol" means a sol in the air, not a pressurised container that produces a coarse spray. That brings us to "pressurised" v "pressured" ... I could go on :)

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Anonymous Coward

Pot, kettle, black

It seems that this correspondent is only out to cause trouble. On the one hand his very point regards the use of these other meanings. On the other he denies the existence of these very meanings despite the that he himself cites examples of their use. Decimate has long had other less literal meanings attached to it like countless other everyday terms.

We don't the the language of Chaucer anymore - language changes, and this particular change is not particularly recent. For example, the acceptability of the word "you", when addressing an individual rather than a group is much more recent, and that usage is now dominant to the extent that many are not even aware of the historical use (in the singular, the term was thou).

Finally, I refuse to take advice on the finer points of the English language from someone who consistently demonstrates their "ignorence" by spelling it that way.

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"...Spitfire-borne officer pilots..."

Akcherly, that's a myth: most of them were Flight Sergeants.

(I wonder if we're more at risk from an outbreak of ill-informed pedantry.)

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Happy

@Stu & Adam

May I draw you attention to your use of the words "grammer" [sic] and "elecution" [sic], respectively, for a moment?

Thanks.

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Prepositions

Everything went to hell as soon as Capt Kirk was first to boldy split an infinitive as none had been split before.

I just want to round up all those who forget that a preposition is something you never end a sentence with.

Oops.

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someofus

aresmartenoughtoreadagramaticallyincorrectimproperlyspelledandbadlypunctuatedblockoftextasnottobeatallworiedperplexedorphasedbyit

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Pedantry it may be, however...

... there's no harm in striving for accurate usage of English. Just using UK newspapers as an example, I've observed spelling to be more slapdash since the advent of all-pervasive spell-checkers, mainly because the onus is now on the word processing application rather than the author to proof-read their own content.

Yes indeed language is evolving and new meanings are ascribed to old words, however the original purpose of good grammar and punctuation was to assist the reader in understanding what was meant by the author. Unfortunately, my overriding impression is that there is less emphasis on grammar and spelling in schools, so kids are less likely to be able to interpret and use them to their benefit.

I am often embarrassed when I encounter someone whose second language is English and whose use of spelling and grammar is better than a native speaker or writer. My own writing is by no means completely accurate all of the time but at least that's what I'm aiming for. That's not a bad objective, surely?

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Flame

Decimate the pedants

Your correspondent's notes on use of language would have carried far more weight had (s)he been capable of stringing together a sentence that, while observing grammatical and semantic rules, read well.

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Paris Hilton

"incorrect usage"?

oh dear, another mention of "incorrect usage".

there's no "correct usage" - it's just people trying to communicate their ideas. it doesn't matter if they do it less than clearly or even in a way that you were taught was wrong when you were a kid (and if you don't believe me, what about the rules your grandparents were taught? how come everyone defends just the set that they were taught as a kid, as if that precise era is in some way the "right" one? why don't you use "thou" as second person singular, like your predecessors did and a few oop north still do, hey it adds a distinction to the language, surely we shouldn't lose that?)

the screw-up is that we get taught in our formative years that there are "rules" that are "right", but there absolutely are not such rules. however you speak, you'll be understood (typically by most), but also ridiculed (typically by a few) -- up with which i will not put (yes, i was taught that particular lie). with English insinuating itself into a position as the world's shared language, please lay off the "right and wrong". a couple of hundred years ago "a napron" (as from the French) turned into "an apron". unless you propose returning to this, shut up and let people try to get their ideas over, even if your spelling and grammar succeeds with slightly more of the audience than theirs does.

and yes, that means if someone says "ignorence" it's you sad smirkers who are the fools. there's no "right spelling", it's just that you were taught that there was. there's the commonest spelling, sure, but that is not the same thing at all.

(Paris, for the Academie Francaise.)

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Anonymous Coward

masterful

I rather liked the humour value of the Doctor Who "Sound of Drums" episodes where the (John Simm) "Master" character explicitly killed a tenth of the human population to viloently emphasise the classic meaning of decimate.

However as mass genocide is not a viable option for language pedants, and moaning mails to the reg are in the chocolate tea pot realm of effectiveness then the pedants may as well give up and resign themselves to language being ever changing.

Alternatively they could just say "ug" and nothing else (or whatever guttural utterance may have been the first human "word") as the farcical extension of language purity would have been to preserve the first one in its pristine one word form.

Sans icon (purely so Mr. pedant can see a fine example of English usage stealing words from elsewhere)

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@ By Richard Porter

>"Battery" is a collective noun and should never be applied to a single cell<

When exactly was the last time you bought a single cell battery?

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OTOH

Of course English (in common with all 'living' languages) is constantly changing, but change is not always an improvement. There are already sufficient synonyms for 'devastate' (I suspect decimate is misused because it sounds vaguely similar) - we should endeavour to retain 'decimate' together with its unique meaning of "to reduce by one tenth" - otherwise, when I use the word correctly, others may misunderstand me.

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Anonymous Coward

With in

"The word 'decimated' seems completely irrelevant to anything with in the serpentine article ..."

So, as a traditionalist, does this go back to Chaucer, or is that not far enough? When was "within" written as two words? It's one word in modern German, so I'm guessing it's been one word in English since before written record, but that's just a guess.

There are too many obvious errors in this complaint to be accidental. To make a mistake on a basic word that has not changed in ages while complaining about an obscure detail on a word that evolved a new meaning four centuries ago is too much to accept. I think he's trolling for responses like this one. And I just fell for it. Oh well.

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AH

Hate to Bring up History in an Amusing Thread

Decimation has a literal meaning and an emotive attachment. Those who criticise the use of the word to mean "destruction" are ignoring its emotive power in the historical context it was used.

Decimation derives from the punishment meted out to a Roman cohort (not a legion). Each group of ten men would draw lots. The loser would then be beaten or stoned to death by his nine comrades. The punishment was rarely administered as the cohort would be fairly useless thereafter: its morale was destroyed. The punishment appears to have been rarely used, only at times of dire emergency "pour encourager les autres". The cohort was effectively destroyed by the "decimation".

The word's use to denote destruction derives from its impact on Roman legionnaries - if they ever performed so badly as to merit decimation, it would be the end for them as career soldiers, even if they survived the decimation itself.

So it's not just a case of adaption in modern useage: it's always meant the destruction of a "unit" by the infliction of casualties.

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Anonymous Coward

Typos

Someone's already pointed out "scepter'd".

Also, "has resisted the temptation to the bore the arse off".

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Learn basic maths as well

"Good show, although we suspect the inclusion here of "nearly" might not satisfy purists. If the total of job losses is in fact less than anticipated, might we suggest the use of inkhorn neologisms "nonimate" or "octomate"?"

"Nonimate" suggests 1 in 9 and "Octimate" suggests 1 in 8 - which suggests more employees that the 1 in 10 that would be specified by decimate, not less. Elevimate or twelvimate might be more appropriate.

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Boffin

Olde wurlde

If the original complainant was going to stick to traditional English, then surely his missive should have started...

"Good daye to thee merrie gentlemen of thou rogister,"

and gone downhill from there. With a hey-nonny or two.

Unless, of course, he accepts and uses the evolution of English after all

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One in ten

So, when they came to the end of the line of mutinous legionaries, and found only 6 left. Did they have to beat one up a bit; 6/10th to death sort of thing?

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Pirate

@ Richard Porter

Battery:

I presume you are referring to the majority of self-contained DC power sources here. If you actually look at the construction of these devices, you will find that each "battery" as we like to call them, is indeed made up of a collection of individual charged cells, connected in series to produce the desired voltage.

Aerosol:

From Greek. aero- "air" (combining form) + solution

Physical Chemistry. a system of colloidal particles dispersed in a gas; smoke or fog.

A liquid substance, as a disinfectant or deodorant, sealed in a metal container under pressure with an inert gas or other activating agent and released as a spray or foam through a push-button valve or nozzle.

Tube (colloquial Scots):

Someone who should check what he's saying before posting rant on El Reg.

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Anonymous Coward

Derived from idiots...

Why use American sourced dictionaries to play semantics with the English language? It makes no sense. Why not use Cambridge or Oxford? These still stand in favour of your overall meaning though.

I do agree with the original message, decimate is only considered "correct" because of people assuming it is correct over time. Sadly these days the dictionaries are full of "offical" meanings derived from idiots.

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Paris Hilton

Dictionaries report usage

See for example, the word "bimonthly" which is reported as meaning both "twice a month" and "every other month," making the word useless. That also means if enough people say "nukular" instead of "nuclear" it will become acceptable and the dictionary will report it as true.

I teach College Writing and I believe in the validity of shifting meaning. I even teach my students that emoticons are the next horizon of punctuation. But the "language changes" argument is actually a way of disenfranchising students by making it more and more difficult for them to understand the work of past thinkers, since they can't really understand the langauge being used. And in fact, teaching them about structure and rules of something like language actually helps them become more logical in a way that Western society values. Not teaching them proper grammar, syntax and usage materially hurts their ability to think. Trust me, they want to learn how to think, but society is making it difficult.

If we don't start piling up the sandbags on the shores of langauge, English will erode to the point where no one will be able to get the witty repartee of The Register and its readers. Surely a tragedy?

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Surely all the words in the english language

are made up!!.

or did someone suddenly someday in the past .... etc.. etc..

i believe it was William shakespeare who just made up half* of the english language in his plays.

in fact heres a quote "The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original"

from http://shakespeare.about.com/library/weekly/aa042400a.htm which contains a list of words.

imagine if someone decided then to disallow these words into common usage!.

*used as accurately as decimate

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Anonymous Coward

What is important is..

that the writer is understood by the reader. I think it fairly unlikely that anyone other than a history teacher is going to use "decimate" in its original sense, and so its common usage is perfectly acceptable.

On the other hand, use of an apostrophe can change the meaning of the sentence, and using a word which means one thing to say another thing is bound to lead to confusion, when the reader does not know the meaning the writer intended. In everyday speech that isn't a problem, but in the press it rather defeats the point, which is communication with the reader. When drafting documents that might have legal implications, that confusion can have serious effects on the wallet as well.

It's not about pedantry; it's about ensuring that people understand each other. The best way of ensuring that is to make sure that everyone sticks to the same definitions and the same rules of sentence construction. Language does change, but slowly, not on a whim that leaves others in the dark.

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@Nucular

You're worried about one (or a few more) Yanks not being able to pronounce this word, but then the entire Yank nation can't pronounce "aluminium"

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Anonymous Coward

@OTOH

If this particular word were to be used only in its original sense (that being the sort of collective punishment banned by the Geneva conventions, yet tame in the context of modern genocide) I'm guessing the syllables would be available for recycling in fairly short order. I'm told that Samurai once had a word for "to test a new sword on random passersby." Is that still used in its original sense? Do modern speakers remember what the word is/was?

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Coat

Coolwhip?

So, is an 'aspirated "wh"' what Stewie was using when he asked Brian for the 'CoolwHHHip'?

Enquiring (sic) minds want two (sic) no (sic)...

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Paris Hilton

Cretinous indeed:

He either incorrectly doesn't capitalise Cretanism (although why he has something against the inhabitants of Knossos is a mystery) or misspells cretinism (which is particularly blundering as, like nouveau, it is a French loanword).

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