Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Benchmarks of Language

Time was when the writer or speaker of the English word could rely upon two sources to enable him or her to get it right. They were the Oxford English Dictionary and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

When visiting the UK nowadays, I occasionally look at the BBC programmes and when here in my office, look at their website each morning. Sadly, one must now cross them off the list as an arbiter of our literary destiny. It’s hardly surprising that the youth of Britain are essentially incoherent, since most of the presenters on the BBC (and, of course, the other channels) are equally badly spoken. When visiting, I feel that I have strayed into a strange country (well, it is now!) as many of the conversations I overhear are absolutely incomprehensible to me.

The rot seems to have set in when, in what I felt was an admirable move at the time, the Beeb decided to incorporate regional accents into their programmes. Local dialects are a fascinating part of the make-up of the British Isles and deserve to be preserved. But this does not mean that they are in any way an excuse for sloppy use of the language.

One of the first announcers to take the plunge was Wilfred Pickles, one of whose great merits in my view was that he saw no need to change his name! He had a wonderful balance of a genuine regional accent, which he also saw no need to modify, along with an excellent delivery. It is no accident that he also turned out to be a consummate professional actor as his performance in Billy Liar was to prove.

But few have maintained his standard and the speech on some of the programmes directed at the “yoof” of the nation, is simply beyond belief.

And when it comes to the written word, the BBC proves to be little better. It seems to feel that it has a need to popularise itself by incorporating the latest gimmicky words in use.

As a cricket lover, I cringe to see that a wicketkeeper “gloves” a catch – how he manages to catch a ball using a noun beats me! But he is, of course, now a “glove-man” according to the BBC (and a few others in the media world).

Frankly, I’m stumped for words.

Which means that, for me, it’s close of play for today - should I say "stumps"?.


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