Michael Williams: Readers' editor

You win some, you lose some, clever clogs
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The Independent Online

It's always struck me as a bit unfortunate that one of Oxford's top academics should be entitled "Rupert Murdoch Professor of English and Communication". Sounds a bit like the McDonald's Professor of Nutrition, or the British Nuclear Fuels Professor of Environmental Studies. Yet there's no real contradiction here. You may not like Big Rupe's world-view, but his newspapers have done no more disservice to the English language than the rest of us. And the old boy is an Oxford graduate himself.

I thought about this as I listened to a talk on the new language of the media, given by Murdoch Prof, Jean Aitchison, at the ICA last week. "English is alive and kicking in all its aspects. It's in excellent shape," Professor Aitchison declared. Hmm... Not a view that many of my correspondents this week would sign up to.

Here's reader Michael Davison from Kingston upon Thames, who is less interested in the hot politics of the Lisbon Treaty than the way we reported it: "The distressing habit of turning verbs into nouns grows apace. In your report on Ireland's rejection of the treaty, we learn that 'there is a distinct disconnect between Irish voters and the current EU... [and] a further disconnect between voters and the major Irish political parties'. But perhaps it is me who is suffering a disconnect with current English usage!"

Who should we blame? Reader Hans Norton from Maida Vale thinks he knows: "Could you please help your starving sub-editors slaving away at the oars, unthanked, unappreciated and invariably wrong. One appreciates educational standards are not what they were, but should we be reminded of the fact so regularly?" Ouch! But it's not just English that's bothering Mr Norton.

"It is sad," he writes, "that Nicholas Lezard should inform us that Cicero started every speech to the Senate with the words 'Carthage must be destroyed'. As most people know it was Cato (the elder) who started every speech in the Senate with 'Carthago delenda est' – when he wasn't speaking in English, of course!"

I promise to polish up my Latin next time, Mr Norton. But you clever clogs out there are not always right. Reader Peter O'Neill complains: "I'm surprised to see a malapropism in a recent piece by such a polished and entertaining writer as Alan Watkins when he refers to the 'assignation of specific taxes'. In popular usage 'assignation' generally refers to a liaison of some sort. Surely the better expression would have been 'assignment'?"

Wrong, I'm afraid. A check with the (admittedly Orwellian-sounding) Office of Public Service Information reveals that "assignation" is an accepted synonym for "assignment" in Scottish legal usage. Since we have both a Scottish Prime Minister and Scottish Chancellor (for better or worse), I think we must deem it allowable. You have to be up very early indeed to catch out wise-owl Watkins!

Message Board: Should young people take anti-psychotics?

Children as young as seven are being prescribed psychiatric drugs. Our story on the use of strong medication for such young patients gave rise to this debate:


We medicate everybody and everything far too fast. It's time to stop and think about what we're doing and what the long-term effects are going to be.


The problem more often than not is with the inadequate adult and not the child. Children need guidance not abuse, and forced medication is abuse.


Where is patient choice? I feel this is where the mental health trusts let the patient down. They seem to have an ethos of "do to" rather than "work with". Learned helplessness is a very dangerous place to be in.


It is far easier, and cheaper, to dish out medication than pay for psychotherapists. It's all to do with what is cost-effective.


I was forced to take anti-psychotics at the age of 13. I was not delusional, not psychotic, not manic. I hoped these barbaric practices had gotten better. It makes me sick to hear it's becoming more common.


Maybe these are not for everybody, but they've been rigorously and clinically tested. We're not talking about quacks giving this stuff away at the fairground: it has a positive effect for many people.


When my daughter was given the medication I knew different. My honesty in the part I played in her upbringing has really benefited our relationship... more than any drugs.


The dire side effects of psychiatric drugs put children at high risk. It is lazy, irresponsible treatment that keeps certain cats very fat. Those psychiatrists that are quick to prescribe drugs to children ARE quacks.

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