Common Peeves re: language

This is the general discussion area of the canadiansoldiers.com website; a forum in which issues pertaining to 20th Century military history from a British and Canadian perspective can be discussed freely. Posters are asked to please do others the courtesy of posting with their name rather than a pseudonym.

Common Peeves re: language

Michael Dorosh
Michael Dorosh

November 3rd, 2008, 4:30 pm #1

Thanks to John Maybin for suggesting this by his post on the 16th Battalion history.

I'm wondering if we can compile anything like a "standard" list of things we can agree are "incorrect" in common usage.

John's pet peeve, and one I agree with, is authors who say that an individual "won" the Victoria Cross or any other award. To my mind, the correct terminology would be that they are "recipients" of such a distinction, or as John points out, that honour was "awarded" to them. Words mean things.

We've had discussions on "World War II" versus "Second World War" so I doubt we will agree on a "correct" terminology, and there may well be other peeves that produce equally fruitless discussions, but I'd be interested in other suggestions in any event.

Another one the late Art Johnson suggested was "the kilt" as being plural for "kilt." I attempted to suggest this on a couple of other sites and was immediately shot down, was told that "kilts" was perfectly acceptable English usage, they had never heard of any such usage of "the kilt" as plural for "kilts", etc. Some usage slips away with time. In retrospect, I suppose if I were to walk into stores and tell one of the privates I wanted him to "take that box of the kilt off the shelf" it might draw funny looks...

Others?
Quote
Share

Joined: February 5th, 2005, 4:07 pm

November 3rd, 2008, 5:54 pm #2

One of the many wonders of language is that it is constantly evolving.
Would you have us stuck with Elizabethan English? Would you have Canadians speaking
with a London Cockney accent?
Heck, even the Brits now refer to lorries as trucks, and whoever uses the noun
aeroplane nowadays? Language evolves over time.
Do we really need the Language Gestapo?


Quote
Like
Share

Grant Rombough
Grant Rombough

November 3rd, 2008, 7:13 pm #3

Thanks to John Maybin for suggesting this by his post on the 16th Battalion history.

I'm wondering if we can compile anything like a "standard" list of things we can agree are "incorrect" in common usage.

John's pet peeve, and one I agree with, is authors who say that an individual "won" the Victoria Cross or any other award. To my mind, the correct terminology would be that they are "recipients" of such a distinction, or as John points out, that honour was "awarded" to them. Words mean things.

We've had discussions on "World War II" versus "Second World War" so I doubt we will agree on a "correct" terminology, and there may well be other peeves that produce equally fruitless discussions, but I'd be interested in other suggestions in any event.

Another one the late Art Johnson suggested was "the kilt" as being plural for "kilt." I attempted to suggest this on a couple of other sites and was immediately shot down, was told that "kilts" was perfectly acceptable English usage, they had never heard of any such usage of "the kilt" as plural for "kilts", etc. Some usage slips away with time. In retrospect, I suppose if I were to walk into stores and tell one of the privates I wanted him to "take that box of the kilt off the shelf" it might draw funny looks...

Others?
On the "kilt" quandary, at least, rather than say something like "Highlanders wearing the kilt" (the usage you are referring to I assume, Michael) ..... or (God Forbid) "wearing kilts" ..... I've always played it safe, avoided trying to use a plural at all, and fallen back on "kilted Highlanders" ....
Quote
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 3rd, 2008, 10:18 pm #4

One of the many wonders of language is that it is constantly evolving.
Would you have us stuck with Elizabethan English? Would you have Canadians speaking
with a London Cockney accent?
Heck, even the Brits now refer to lorries as trucks, and whoever uses the noun
aeroplane nowadays? Language evolves over time.
Do we really need the Language Gestapo?

Are you suggesting to me that it is a natural evolution of language to commit to writing that Lieutenant Colonel Merritt "won" the Victoria Cross at Dieppe as if it was a carnival prize?

Please explain to me your rationale for why you feel the English language in all its richness and glory is improved by permitting this "evolution" to proceed unchecked.

Michael Dorosh
Webmaster
canadiansoldiers.com
Quote
Like
Share

Monty
Monty

November 3rd, 2008, 11:38 pm #5

I hope you won't be too upset if I agree with you Mike on "awarded" vs "won" and that such nuanced distinctions in words are very necessary.

Quote
Share

Joined: February 5th, 2005, 4:07 pm

November 3rd, 2008, 11:42 pm #6

Are you suggesting to me that it is a natural evolution of language to commit to writing that Lieutenant Colonel Merritt "won" the Victoria Cross at Dieppe as if it was a carnival prize?

Please explain to me your rationale for why you feel the English language in all its richness and glory is improved by permitting this "evolution" to proceed unchecked.
Michael, you're splitting hairs here. Yes, we know the VC is "awarded" but we also know that "ain't" is improper grammar even though it's widely accepted. Ain't it?

Who knows what words will be common a hundred years from now? Hey, some old terms even made it into the dictionary, words such as "turncoat". Many years ago, somebody over here started calling the pavement a sidewalk. That probably put a few die hard Elizabethans into cardiac arrest. Sidewalk?

This (your) forum is a forum for those with an interest, whether it be serious or passing, in things military and Canadian during the previous century. Some of the members are obviously well-educated and extremely articulate. Some are virtually illiterate. (Or their keyboard is is in dire need of a software upgrade.)

Why impose standards on all? Each has something to offer. That's what makes this forum work.
Every member has something to contribute. That's why folks frequent this forum. We all gain from each other.

If you want to differentiate between "awarded" and "won" then may I respectfully suggest that you inscribe the appropriate wording beside an image of the appropriate medal on your website.

Speaking of images, in this day and age most of us know what an "image" is on the web. A hundred years ago or fewer, one would have conjured up an "image" as something out of the Sixth Sense. In fact, one might have been burned at the stake for mention of an image.

I still maintain we're not ready for the Language Gestapo. Firewood ain't cheap these days.


Quote
Like
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 4th, 2008, 2:05 pm #7

Why have standards?

Standardization obviously carries both benefits and drawbacks. To my mind, though, standards make possible an open system of communication - it's what makes English the powerful language it is. If there were no standards, we'd be unable to communicate effectively. As someone who routinely points out his status as a soldier, I'd think you'd be aware of that. Think of a fire control order. Group, Range, Indication, Target. Sure, it happens otherwise. A Cameron Highlander in the Second World War is reported to have yelled out to one of his machine gunners "There's the son of a bitch! Nail him!" upon spotting a German bomber in the air. The message was still communicated. We're not arguing over absolute means of transmission or whether or not you can get the message there in the end.

In fact, in the news not long ago, it wsa poervn taht ouy cldou upt lla eth ovwels otu fo rdero nda istll egt eth emssage crossa. Does that mean it is desirable to do so?

Standards are viewed as restrictive, or somehow holding back innovation. That may be true when discussing software development, but has little to do with the writing of history. We don't need to "invent" new words to describe events from 60 years ago. The words of the past are probably more important in understanding what they did - in fact, they are vital to our understanding of their mindset. "Battle exhaustion" is far more evocative of what a 1944 doctor felt towards his patient than the current psychiatric terms like "post traumatic stress disorder." Language is revisionism, and worse, changing the language makes us change our perception of their world.

Why do we have standards?

Clarity

So we all know what is being said. The VC is not a prize. The language "won" suggests it is, however subtly. Words mean things. They have cascading effects on understanding of other things. A single incorrect word in a sentence can change the entire meaning of an entire book.

Michael Dorosh
Webmaster
canadiansoldiers.com
Quote
Like
Share

Michael Dorosh
Michael Dorosh

November 4th, 2008, 4:02 pm #8

Here's an example of a single word carrying great meaning:

"Hitler's orders to remove the Jews of Europe had major consequences in the Russian campaign that was launched on 22 June 1941."

"Hitler's desire to remove the Jews of Europe had major consequences in the Russian campaign that was launched on 22 June 1941."

"Hitler's orders to exterminate the Jews of Europe had major consequences in the Russian campaign that was launched on 22 June 1941."

One of these sentences is "historically correct" or at the very least the meaning of these sentences could be debated at great length (and has been). I would argue that two of these sentences are not "correct" or at the very least can be disproven by facts in the historical record, or generally accepted as being in the historical record. The differences between these sentences hinge on the selective use of a single word.

Words mean things.
Quote
Share

Monty
Monty

November 4th, 2008, 6:53 pm #9

Michael, you're splitting hairs here. Yes, we know the VC is "awarded" but we also know that "ain't" is improper grammar even though it's widely accepted. Ain't it?

Who knows what words will be common a hundred years from now? Hey, some old terms even made it into the dictionary, words such as "turncoat". Many years ago, somebody over here started calling the pavement a sidewalk. That probably put a few die hard Elizabethans into cardiac arrest. Sidewalk?

This (your) forum is a forum for those with an interest, whether it be serious or passing, in things military and Canadian during the previous century. Some of the members are obviously well-educated and extremely articulate. Some are virtually illiterate. (Or their keyboard is is in dire need of a software upgrade.)

Why impose standards on all? Each has something to offer. That's what makes this forum work.
Every member has something to contribute. That's why folks frequent this forum. We all gain from each other.

If you want to differentiate between "awarded" and "won" then may I respectfully suggest that you inscribe the appropriate wording beside an image of the appropriate medal on your website.

Speaking of images, in this day and age most of us know what an "image" is on the web. A hundred years ago or fewer, one would have conjured up an "image" as something out of the Sixth Sense. In fact, one might have been burned at the stake for mention of an image.

I still maintain we're not ready for the Language Gestapo. Firewood ain't cheap these days.

how about "celebrate" vs "commemorate"

How many have heard on the radio or TV that we will be "celebrating" Remembrance Day on June 11..I will be commemorating that day, not celebrating.

Quote
Share

Michael Dorosh
Michael Dorosh

November 4th, 2008, 7:15 pm #10

That's one of my own bugbears, too.

"Guard of Honour" vs. "Honour Guard" and half-staff vs. half-mast have been discussed on the forum before; they may be purely technical but commemorate/celebrate is in a different league as we're talking about usage in a non-formal way. I think we can definitely "celebrate" the achievements of our soldiers, but to my mind, you would be most appropriate in "commemorating" the notion that men died, were maimed, suffered psychological stress and that families were torn apart as a result of massive collective sacrifice.

Again, a single word can convey a million different things to people, and form a picture in the mind that is unique to every individual that hears it. It behooves one to select the best word for the task.
Quote
Share