• Monthly Archives: December 2020

Further to Linguistic Dross in American Media Language

December 17, 2020

There have been several previous posts regarding what Y-H-B has called “linguistic dross” in contemporary American English, especially with reference to media language. One locution that now needs special mention is “let me be (perfectly) clear/to be clear,” heard ad nauseum from persons being interviewed or making public pronouncements.

Of course, one could simply write this particular piece of dross off as an example of needless emphasis, a species of linguistic hypertrophy characteristic of contemporary American speech in all domains. What raises Y-H-B’s hackles everytime he hears it, however, is its undeniable superfluity. What has preceded its appearance in the speech of those who insert it typically requires no clarification at all. In the legal jargon that resorts to Latin this phenomenon is what is called res ipsa loquitur.


When English Just Won’t Serve, French Comes to the Rescue

December 7, 2020

English has a huge vocabulary, only matched to some extent by French and Japanese (because of all the Sino-Japanese borrowings). However, there are times when English simply won’t suffice, and one must then have recourse to French. Such is the case with an English designation for inconsequential repartee or chit-chat, where French has the word badinage, defined in the OED as follows:

Humorous, witty, or trifling discourse; banter; frivolous or light-hearted raillery. Also: an instance of this; a witticism, a sally.

This kind of inconsequential discourse also comes under the compass of the French word causerie, for which again English has no exact equivalent:

Informal talk or discussion, esp. on literary topics; also, a chatty article or paragraph.

Much of what passes for linguistic behavior these days is to be captured by the French words badinage and causerie, for which there are no good English equivalents. Tant pis!


Buzz Phrases (“in terms of”)

December 4, 2020

Every contemporary adult speaker of American English is sure to know what a “buzzword” is, which is commonly defined (e.g., by Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary Online)as

1: an important-sounding and often technical word or phrase associated with a special group or activity and used chiefly to impress others;
2: a word enjoying a popular vogue.

However, the adjective ‘buzz’ can also be applied to phrases. Such is the case of the buzz phrase “in terms of,” which is heard ad nauseum by speakers on both sides of the Atlantic instead of “regarding,” “on,” etc. as a way of specifying the domain of whatever verbal material precedes it. Accordingly, one incessantly hears such locutions as “My opinion in terms of that action . . .” instead of the traditional “My opinion regarding/on that action,” etc.

One is tempted to explain this development as yet another instance of American English’s penchant for hypertrophy.