Fed up of creaking pedants who hamper change

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The Independent Online

I am delighted to announce the return of our language expert, Dr Wordsmith, to answer more of your queries on the way the English language is developing today.

I am delighted to announce the return of our language expert, Dr Wordsmith, to answer more of your queries on the way the English language is developing today.

Take it away, Doc!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I am getting fed up with the way people have started to say "fed up of". I always believed that if you were fed up, you were fed up "with" something, not fed up "of" it. But nowadays people say they are fed up of something, and even worse, reputable newspapers have started using the expression. Why, I have even seen 'The Independent' print the expression "fed up of"! Is there any excuse for this sloppy usage?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Hey, there! Steady on now! Whoa a bit! Take it easy! It's quite easy to see how this has come about. It is actually not so very easy to say "Fed up with", at least not so easy as it is to say "Fed up've", and people have come to believe that the easier version is the correct version. This is an example of language changing before our very eyes.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, But I don't want it to change! I want it to be the way I learnt it!

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, and I expect you want long hot summers the way they were when you were young, and you want more tries scored in rugby, and you want poetry that rhymes and you want elms back in the English landscape!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Yes, I do!

Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, tough titty! Anyway, you don't get upset when people say "I'm tired of" instead of "I'm tired with" or "I'm sick of you" instead of "I'm sick with", do you?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, No, but...

Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, then. Next, please!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I am puzzled by the word "nymphomania". When people have a "-mania" it's usually about the first half of the word. A kleptomaniac is mad about stealing ("klepto" is the Greek word for "I steal"), a megalomaniac has a mania for bigness ("megas", the Greek adjective meaning "big", etc) but a nymphomaniac is NOT mad about mymphs. Actually, she is mad about men, which is the opposite. Or at least about sex. But...

Dr Wordsmith writes, Yes, yes, I catch your drift and I must stop you right there since I fear we are drifting towards pornography. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Funny you should mention pornography, because I looked that up the other day to see the derivation, and it comes from a Greek word meaning writing (the "-graphy" bit) about harlots (the "porno-" bit). Well, I have two objections to that. One is that pornography is used to refer to lots of things that aren't writing - films, etc. The other is that the people in them aren't prostitutes.

Dr Wordsmith writes, Hmmmm. But they're paid to indulge in sex. Doesn't that qualify?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Yes, but what I was getting round to was that there have been several quite serious historical works written recently about famous courtesans. Katie Hickman's book, for instance, and the life of Harriet Wilson, and one or two more. Now, these are writings about prostitutes. Therefore, they are what the word "pornography" was invented to describe. But the word has changed. Therefore there should be a new word meaning something "a respectable kind of writing about the unrespectable".

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, there should, shouldn't there. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I was getting some tickets for a play the other day and as I waited for the phone to answer, I asked myself: "What is the difference between a 'ticket booking number' and a 'ticket hotline'?" Do you know?

Dr Wordsmith writes, Yes. There is absolutely none. This is the application of spin doctoring in daily life. When something becomes a "hotline" or an "action line" or a "care line" or a "direct" line, the thing hasn't changed, only the name. This is not a case of language changing, it's a case of language being debased, and I can't tell how bored with it I am.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Don't you mean, "how bored 'of' it I am getting"?

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