The Irritations of Modern Life 64. Weatherspeak

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HELLO. IT'S been a lively few days at the annual party conferences. Next week sees much of that activity continuing, with the parties competing to dominate the agenda... hang on a minute. Stop everything. Cut. This sentence isn't going to work.

What's all that "continuing" nonsense? If you ask me, "continuing" is way too floppy a word for the job it's been given. It can barely support itself, let alone a mouthful of blather about agendas, party reform and manifesto promises. How did it get there? My guess is that someone left a window ajar, and "continuing" floated in from the Weather Room. Oh yes. That's definitely how they talk over there. Just listen to this.

"Tonight," they say, "that patchy fog moving across the East Midlands..." Excuse me; don't they mean "will move"? Is this a weather report or a tone poem? OK, so they may mention that this is all part of the "general outlook" or "tomorrow's picture". But that's all the help and support these poor little "ing" words get. After that, they're left to their own devices.

Here comes another one. "A bright start to the weekend, then, with temperatures around the seasonal average. But by afternoon, winds freshening and, in some coastal districts, becoming fairly moderate to strong."

Nobody else speaks like this - with the possible exception of racing commentators, who may be belting out extracts from Little Women, for all I know.

If a judge said: "Sentencing you to 14 years' imprisonment for this despicable act of indecency", there would be the briefest, most pregnant of silences before some barrister popped up and asked: "With respect, m'lud, does m'lud perhaps have something more to add?"

The closest thing to weather-speak can be found in estate agents' details. But while these frequently use the "benefiting from" and "having easy access to" formula, even they take care to bung in something like "is offered for sale" to hold the whole sad contraption together.

Now, unlike some people, I need more than a hanging participle or split infinitive to get my barometer rising. It's not that I crave grammatical correctness, you see. Rather that I detect a worrying message in all these quirky utterances. Modern meteorology is serious stuff. The science is made visible, too, in all those satellite pictures and swirling arrows. But this is the age of Mystic Meg. There's a groundswell of superstition out there - of crystals and herbs, folk remedies, megaliths and paths of psychic energy. And if there's one thing a weather person knows, it's which way the wind is blowing.

If we want to sound credible, say the Weather Room chiefs, we'd better go with regional accents. Everyone knows that country folk feel the weather in their joints. They watch their animals; can measure the sparkle in a moorhen's eye. And it's wiser, while we're about it, to echo the language of mystics.

Sort of vague. Like a sea mist that drifts in, then vanishes. Or hoarfrost that appears by magic on bone-dry Tarmac, making driving conditions hazardous on exposed stretches of road.

"Tomorrow," says the weather man, becoming somewhat irrational. And the outlook? "Returning slowly to the Dark Ages, with outbreaks of violence in many parts, and tears before bedtime."