Author Topic: Contemporary discourse in English gets plagued with “verbal eczema”  (Read 10396 times)

Joe Carillo

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In “How modern life distorts the way we speak English,” a feature article that came out in the December 18, 2015 issue of, novelist and biographer Philip Norman bewails the rise of subtly insulting and patronizing English expressions in contemporary discourse.

Norman presents, among several others, these three cases in point:

—“When you explain or describe something to someone, they are likely to answer, ‘Oh . . . OK.’ The ‘oh’ expresses surprise and the ‘OK’ signifies acquiescence despite the listener’s better judgement. In other words: ‘You’re obviously raving mad but I’ll go along with it.’”

—“How often have we heard a government minister declare that such and such a thing will never happen ‘on my watch’…? How often have ministries and agencies been called on to ‘step up to the plate’, and MPs, caught out in lechery or dishonesty, pleaded hopefully that it’s ‘time to draw a line under’ their misbehaviour?”

—“Today’s news broadcasts consist almost entirely of clichés bolted together in blithe unconsciousness of the surreal mixed metaphors that can result: ‘After the bubble burst, a lifeboat operation was launched to shore up the system . . .’ [and] print journalists…with calm deliberation reach for ninth-hand coinages such as ‘a perfect storm’, ‘fit for purpose’ or ‘the usual suspects’.”

Norman calls such expressions “verbal eczema” and observes with dismay: “Most annoying words and phrases don’t even have the virtue of newness but, as T S Eliot said, are like old copper pennies, worn smooth with overuse.”

Read Philip Norman’s “How modern life distorts the way we speak English” in now!


Old-fashioned but surviving. In “Christmas, Inc.: A Brief History of the Holiday Card,” a feature story that came out in the December 20, 2015 issue of the JSOR Daily, Ellen F. Brown reports that Americans still purchase approximately 1.6 billion Christmas cards a year and looks into why this old-fashioned tradition continues to appeal to so many people despite the conveniences of the digital era. Brown observes however: “While many are holding on to the tradition of sending physical cards, it is fair to question how long it will remain a part of our culture. The answer, of course, ultimately rests in the hands of young people. The coming generation will have to decide for itself if the time, energy, and expense of the gesture offer enough benefits to justify the exercise.”

Read Ellen F. Brown’s “Christmas, Inc.: A Brief History of the Holiday Card” in the JSTOR Daily now!
Tickling the funny bone. In “Snunkoople: What makes a word funny,” a feature story on language that came out in the December 18, 2015 issue of magazine, Michael Hingston reports on the finding by a Canadian psychologist that the inherent funniness of a word, or at least non-words like “snunkoople” that are free of context and associative biases, can actually be quantified. In a new paper published in the Journal of Memory and Language, Chris Westbury of the University of Alberta’s psychology department has determined that the less likely a non-word is a word of English, the funnier it is, so when fluent English speakers come across clusters of letters or syllables that are unusual, their expectations are suddenly violated—and the by-product of that violation is laughter.

Read Michael Hingston’s “Snunkoople: What makes a word funny” in website now!
« Last Edit: August 19, 2016, 07:31:16 AM by Joe Carillo »