Miles Kington Remembered: The English language is a slippery, deceptive thing

What about 'self-drive cars', which no more drive themselves that 'self-catering holidays' cater for themselves?
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The Independent Online

In the days when Communism was flourishing, there used to be countries that gloried in names like "The People's Democratic Republic of Outer Manganesia". We loved this in the West, because it gave us great pleasure to point out that none of them was a republic, nor the people's anything, nor by any stretch of the word democratic.

How ludicrous, we used to think. But we do the same thing ourselves. Explaining our educational system to an American, we are reminded that a "public school" is not a public school at all. It is quite the opposite: a private school.

When a medical expert is explaining how the National Health Service works, he tells us that it has nothing to do with teaching people how to stay well, only with trying to cure their (often self-inflicted) ills. "Really," he says, "it should be called not the National Health service but the National Sickness Service!"

We go on to motorways by what we call "motorway exits", there being nothing in existence called a motorway "entrance".

At which point we probably think we have exhausted the list of these false opposites. No fear! The English language is so fertile that there are still plenty more to discover.

What about "Reality TV", which has no contact with recognisable reality at all? What about "self-drive cars", which no more drive themselves than "self-catering holidays" cater for themselves?

But we have hardly started. Here are just a few other misleading terms still current:

Doctor's waiting room: You know what a doctor's waiting room is. It is a waiting room in a surgery. But who are these sad, bored people flipping endlessly through old Reader's Digests? Doctors? I do not think so. I think they are patients. Suggested new, more accurate, term: Patient's Waiting Room.

Life Insurance: Fire insurance is well named. It insures you against the dangers of fire. Life insurance is not well named. It does not insure you against the dangers of life. New, more accurate, term: Death Insurance.

Credit cards: New, more accurate, term: Debt Cards.

Drug Abuse: Any time people take a drug which a doctor has not specifically recommended, it is called "drug abuse". But they are not necessarily abusing the drug, unless they are taking too much of it, too often; they are, surely, just taking it. New, more accurate, term: drug use.

Gin and Tonic: This implies, falsely, that gin is the main component of this drink. Suggested new, more accurate, term: tonic and gin.

Compassionate leave: New, more accurate term: grudging leave.

Happy Hour: New, more accurate term: Manic Moment.

Ministry of Defence: When did we as a nation last defend ourselves by staving off an attack? Suggested new correct term: Ministry of Attack.

'Radio Times': New, more accurate term: "Big fat magazine with TV listings, some of them BBC, an enormous amount of profiles of and interviews with TV actors, chat show hosts and transient comedians – oh, and some radio listings as well".

Leisure Centre: "Leisure" is a word meaning "relaxation" or "taking your ease". A "leisure centre" should be a place where people sit around reading, chatting and playing cards. But what people do in a "leisure centre" is quite the opposite: sweat, grunt, heave and pull muscles. Suggested new, correct term: "Stress centre".

If any readers have other candidates for this double-speak category, I would be glad to hear from them.

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