Black beasts take a rain check in the ball park of today

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The Independent Online
Dear Dr Wordsmith, Why, oh why do people insist on using foreign expressions like "de nos jours"? Why not just say "the Dr Johnson of today"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: There are several reasons why people use foreign expressions. These include arrogance, snobbery, exhibitionism, pedantry, playfulness, superiority and a desire to show that one has had the money to spend time abroad. Nothing wrong with any of these. It's what keeps a pedant like me going. But I also think that there may be an age-old desire to spice our conversation with exotic flavours. As far as meaning goes, nothing is added by saying "comme il faut", "de rigueur" or "de trop", but it certainly adds a little welcome flavour to our conversation, like slipping in a bit of garlic. And remember one very odd thing: we actually get most of our foreign expressions from an English-speaking country! Yes, most foreign phrases come here from the USA, but as the Americans speak another variant of English, it never occurs to us that "taking a rain check" is just as foreign as "Zeitgeist" or "en suite". We talk about ball parks. We have no idea what a ball park is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, What IS a ball park?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I have no idea. Incidentally, if you ARE going to use a foreign expression, can I beg you all PLEASE to pronounce it right? I get mightily irritated by all those people who pronounce "macho" and "machismo" as "macko" and "mackismo". They are pronounced "matcho" and "matchismo"! Even the top people get things wrong. The other day on Desert Island Discs Miss Sue Lawley pronounced the Spanish composer Albeniz as "Albenits", making him sound like a Pole or Czech. It should of course have been more like "AlbAYnith". Pah !

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I sometimes get the impression that Sue Lawley is your black beast. Is this so?

Dr Wordsmith writes: My WHAT ?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I meant your "bete noire", but I was putting it into English for you.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Oh. No, I have no particular animus against Sue Lawley (or should I say "animum", being accusative?) No, my current "bete noire" is the word "strand", a term which has been adopted by the BBC and other media to suggest that they know what they are doing. There are many words like this today, including such dreadful words as "community" and "agenda" and "empowerment" and the even more dreadful "tranche", but "strand" is one particularly adopted by the BBC. "Our education strand" they will say, or "our drama strand", as if to suggest a strong network of education and drama programmes. Very often it is the opposite. Very often they talk about a "live drama strand" just when live drama is dwindling. But it gets worse than that. One programme in the Radio Times the other day advertised itself as belonging to "the strand that listens". We now have a listening strand! Libby Purves on Midweek the other day started the programme by wondering if there was any strand that linked all the guests. So a strand is just something that joins things together, is it? No, of course it isn't. It is just Libby Purves not thinking about how to use language properly. Perhaps her mind was elsewhere. Perhaps she was planning writing another article defending Rupert Murdoch for The Times...

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Calm down, calm down, old chap! Might I suggest that Libby Purves is another of your "betes noires" Or should I say bugbears?

Dr Wordsmith writes: You may say anything you like, sir, but you will never convince me that there is any such thing as a "bugbear". It is a very common mistake, sir, to suppose that because a word exists, therefore the thing exists also. People talk about unicorns, but they never lived. People may talk about the peace process in Northern Ireland, but that is all they can do, for there is no such thing, depend on it.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Why have you started talking in this strange way?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Why, sir, because I am the Dr Johnson de nos jours. Because, sir, I feel in my bones that the pubs are open and because I think it is time for us to adjourn for the first drink of the day. Ciao, signori !

Drunk or sober, Dr Wordsmith will be back again soon to tackle more of your linguistic posers.