Sunday, 10 August 2014

A couple of linguistic beefs

Devotees of sports programmes last winter could not get away from the application of "pedigree" to any half-decent athlete or footballer. (I watched the Football League Show last night and did not hear it used once, so one hopes that the fad has passed.) But as this definition among others shows, it relates only to someone or, especially, some animal that demonstrates qualities inherited from a bloodline. So the Ferdinands and, as I see from this article, Jessua Cruyff have footballing pedigree, but not most footballers.

The degradation of the English language as used by politicians is not new. It was a growing blight in the 1940s as this key essay by George Orwell exemplifies. Orwell attacked the dishonesty of extremist apologists, whether communist or fascist. However, in recent years, mainstream parties have been infected, led, it seems to me, by the Blair/Mandelson spin machine of the 1990s. For instance, "fact" usually means "assertion" and "it is clear" means "this may or may not be true, but I want you to believe". "Refute" has come to mean little more than the "tisn't" side of a "tis/tisn't" dispute. Anyone who has any experience of mathematical proofs or chess analysis knows that the word has a more precise definition. However, I checked with Nuttall's, a standard family dictionary of my grandfathers' days. It couldn't be more firm: "to prove to be false or wrong" [the only definition].

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