Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ten Thousand Words That the English Hate

The Guardian (UK) newspaper book blog has created an astounding bestseller by inviting readers to contribute newspeak (and some oldspeak) English words and phrases that make them wince or, simply put, angry - because of their misuse or abuse.

Most are politically motivated, many go onto the hate list because of their use in marketing, a lot are 'flips' - words that changed their straightforward meaning in group slangs. And some of the choices are very personally motivated. People remember their emotional experiences, their own little hates and worries.

The brilliant idea came to Michelle Pauli, deputy editor of guardian.co.uk books and herself one of the regular authors of the Guardian books blog. Poets participating in the Ledbury Festival this year were asked 'What word do you hate and why?' Pauli, in her blog about poets' choices, suggested that readers send in their most hated words. The result was an astounding 1750 contributions! And still counting. Even more, the comment section is laid out in a way that allows readers to 'recommend' certain entries - support them without actually posting their own suggestions. Some entries have over a hundred such recommendations.

It's not that the usual number of comments on the Guardian book blog hardly ever reaches a dozen. It's the passion, the linguistic sophistication - and the effort that people went through to post their words (you have to register with the Guardian web-site before being allowed to post comments) that impresses. Who would think that in our age of clipped words of 'texting' and the ramshackles of marketing lingo there are so many of us who still care for the clarity of plain English?

The Guardian has also inadvertently created a treasure trov of cultural references of the modern language fit to go straight into any academic paper or dictionary. If you are a translator, do go to Pauli's post and check the entries and comments. It will enrich your feel for the language like no lectures or seminars would.

And if you have one yourself, hurry up, post a comment before they close it.

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