Archives for category: Language

The Irish have a great word: passremarkable. It’s used to describe someone who is wont to pass remarks, usually of a personal nature, about someone or something.

You could say it means being judgemental, but that’s not quite right. It’s having no filter – or choosing to ignore the filter – between thought and speech. You usually associate it with, and I’m generalising considerably here, younger people and older people.

I always avoid being judgemental if I can. And especially being passremarkable. Better to give a feeling or opinion some thought and phrase your comment constructively than blurt out something that will probably offend. What are you hoping to accomplish?

And this, of course, applies in business as well as our personal interactions.

 

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I was renewing my driving license the other day, which necessitates a personal visit to the driving license centre to bring paperwork and get one’s photo done.

The chap that served me was a trainee, but he wasn’t a young chap, bright-eyed or bushy-tailed. He handed me back my old driving license, telling me I ‘could keep it for prosperity’. I mention his middle age because he must have heard that phrase, or something similar, a good number of times in his life. He wasn’t recycling it having heard it for the first time.

I let it go, after all, he meant ‘posterity’, didn’t he? I guess you could argue he meant prosperity, but maybe he either thought the phrase was prosperity or that it should be. One could claim that the old license could indeed influence my prosperity, but I’m not buying it, though I did buy the license, for a darn higher amount than I was expecting.

This is a malapropism I think, if it was for the former reason, where you mistake a word for another word, sometimes with humorous consequences.

He then took the old license back again to make a copy, but forgetting to return it to me. When I reminded him that he said I could keep it, he apologised, took it out of the copier and said, ‘yes, sorry, I said you could keep this for prosperity.’

He must have meant it then…

Referendum leaflet and interloper

Our household, along with a million or two other households, recently received a document on the upcoming referendum in Ireland concerning the regulation of the termination of pregnancy, more commonly known as the 8th amendment to the constitution.

The document is billed as an independent guide, produced by the government to explain citizens’ rights and options. It is a superbly written document, with clear, plain languages – English and Irish starting at each end of the booklet and joining up in the centre pages with an illustration of how to complete the ballot paper – and very well laid out.

This is no mean achievement, to summarise impartially what is involved and how the voting process works in what continues to be a most emotive, divisive and political issue.

What I found most incongruous was this. The leaflet came with an insert advertising a credit card service from the state-owned postal network ‘An Post’, supported by a well-known supermarket chain. I don’t know what’s going on here. Maybe the government decided to defray the cost of producing and distributing the document by getting one of the state bodies to part-fund it and do some fancy cross-charging. Perhaps they felt this was the perfect opportunity to market a service within a document that was benefitting from near total and national distribution.

Either way, it felt inappropriate to me. In my view it detracts from and denigrates the importance of the guide, regardless of the financial benefit. It could be just me though..

The English language is, according to our good friends at wikipedia, one of the three official, ‘procedural’ languages of the European Union, used in the conduct of daily business and in written and spoken proclamations. It also seems to be the most commonly used as well.

The UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and so did the Republic of Ireland. The UK also agreed by referendum to stay in the EEC in 1975. Then, in 1993, the EU was formed.

Some 65 million speakers of English as a first language are about to leave the body whose main language is English. That leaves the Republic of Ireland, with a population of somewhere between 4 and 5 million, depending on whether it’s in an economic upswing or downturn, as the sole native-English-speaking country representative of a group comprising a third of billion people.

To further muddy the waters, the official language of The Republic is Irish.

Am I the only person for whom this linguistic arrangement in the EU seems touch ironic?

About twenty years ago, newly moved across to Ireland from England and getting used to the differences in the language – and acquiring immunity to a new national set of bugs and viruses the hard way –  I was in a conversation with a fellow executive about an initiative we were contemplating.

‘Nah,’ he said, ‘I haven’t a baldy’s notion about that.’

I laughed out loud and asked where that phrase came from, since we don’t use it in England. He looked at me rather sheepishly, having realised too late that I was in fact a ‘baldy’, and said that he wasn’t sure where it came from but it was a relatively common phrase. It’s also used in Northern Ireland too.

Does this imply that a person who is follicly challenged is dafter than someone otherwise hirsute? As if the notion of a haired person is better than the notion of his hairless counterpart?

I didn’t take offence – or offense, depending on where you’re from –  the first time, and don’t whenever I hear it or use it myself these days. Apparently there is the variant ‘a baldy notion’ which seems to deflect ownership away from the baldy and onto the notion itself, perhaps suggesting that it is the notion itself which is baldy, which I suppose is marginally more PC.

 

I was making some calls to potential customers in the UK the other day, and I made a tactical blunder. I hadn’t realised that the UK schools were not back from Easter break the same week as the Ireland schools. A lot of the people I was calling were parents taking time off with their families, and not ready to take my call.

An expression I heard a lot was that someone was ‘on annual leave.’ It’s quite an old-fashioned term to my mind. You hear it a lot in the UK but not that much in Ireland. I would just say that I was on holiday, or that I was taking a day’s holiday, not that I was taking a day’s annual leave.

Leave in this sense is quite an old word and it just means permission not to be at working, a leave of absence from the workplace. It got me thinking that there are many uses of annual ‘leave’, not just a holiday away, nor a ‘staycation’. Even though I may be at home getting a few projects done, or taking my child to an appointment, or even attending a funeral, I would still call that a holiday, since it’s a holiday from work, or at least regular paid work.

Of course, another important distinction is that annual leave is paid time away from work for the employee. For the self-employed of course, time away from work is unpaid time.

To wear the trousers: to be in charge, to be the one making the decisions…

Is this sexist, or at best chauvinist? Probably both. Apparently the phrase originates from the convention that men always used to wear trousers, whereas women always used to wear skirts or dresses, and the trouser-wearing man made the decisions. These days you’ll still hear variations on: ‘Yeah, Paul does talk a lot but it’s wife you need to talk to. She wears the trousers in that relationship.’

I assumed, wrongly as I’m sure you’re thinking, that the phrase originated in the fact that the male adult wore trousers and the male child wore shorts, so it was the senior person who wore the responsibility-laden garments. The parents are in charge, and supposedly one parent in a two-parent family is more in charge than the other.

How far are we from this scenario: ‘Yeah, it looks like his wife is in charge but it’s Paul who wears the skirt in that relationship.’

I know, there’s 3 ways to think about that conundrum: the sexism, the sartorial aspect and my ability to be in charge of anything…

 

 

In the last of this week’s cluster of posts on the spelling and meaning of a couple of words in this glorious language, I want to touch on the application called Grammarly, about which I profess to know very little.

I often see ads for Grammarly playing before I watch a video on the BBC international website, and by the American accents on the ad and the American base of the company, I assume the application helps with US-English phrasings, spelling, meanings, syntax and so on. There may well be a UK-English version too, though I doubt there’s an Irish-English version, or a Scottish-English, Welsh-English or any other variant that blurs the edges between language and dialect.

Two lads from the Ukraine founded the application, so perhaps its real benefit is for those for whom English is a second language. For many of us, however, we already have a lot of this functionality built into our office productivity applications and our browsing applications. For instance, if you erroneously search for ‘Grammerly’ – presumably an easy mistake to make if you’re the person who might need and want to use the correctly spelled version – on Chrome, you get returned suggestions for Grammarly.

Those of us who already get help from our everyday software and have a decent command of the language are using our skill and judgement on the grammar and phrasing side of things anyway. We use the tools to correct typos and omissions, and we use ourselves to correct the other more subtle areas of the language.

Which possibly explains why the application is probably very successfully catering to the vast numbers of people who need to converse in the dominant language which is not their dominant language.

Hmm, discrete os discreet? Tough one.

Just when you thought there wasn’t a difference – or should I say just when I thought there wasn’t a difference, lo and behold there is. The root Latin word is the same, but the spelling and the meaning has diverged. I’m not sure why.

Discrete spelled this way means separate, as in the map can be split into discrete parts. In that sense, ironically, it’s the opposite of concrete.

Discreet spelled with the double e means careful, circumspect, delicate almost. It means something completely different to discrete. You could say they have discrete meanings :-).

And then, to further confuse, there is the abstract noun discretion, which is not connected to discrete as would make sense, but to the double e version. I must exercise proper discretion with these two words in future…

‘Always learning’, or so they say. Well I am, anyway.

Do you know the difference between cache, caché and cachet? I thought I did. I was quite confident in fact.

Cache – pronounced cash – is a hiding place, most commonly known these days as the place where your cookies, Internet and browsing history files reside until or if you clear it out.

Caché – pronounced cashay – is the past tense of cacher, to hide in French, so it means hidden. OK so far I think. It is not the correct spelling for the next meaning, however.

Cachet has a bunch of different meanings. It originally refers to an official seal or stamp on something, like a document, but lately is most commonly used to denote prestige, as in ‘her job carries a certain cachet’, or ‘this food has a cachet within the fitness community’. In this sense, it is not, as I thought it was, spelled caché. D’oh!

Speaking of which, who decided that d’oh! should have an apostrophe? What’s missing or owned there do denote such a mark?