Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Living in the past (tense)

The more I write, the more I am aware of language around me in all forms: written, verbal and visual. Sure, nobody gets it right all the time (myself included). But when it goes wrong, it  can go terribly wrong.

Of all the plain English sins a speaker or writer can commit, passive language is one of my biggest bugbears. Using the second person when talking about yourself is also incredibly annoying. Not sure what I mean? Think about the last post-match interview you listened to, when a sports person was asked to comment on their performance. It probably went something like this:
"You know, it gets hard but you've just got to get out there and give it your best [110%!] and when you finish you feel so good bla bla bla ..."
It's not just sports people who flout plain English. Speaking or writing in past tense when asking a question in the present makes no sense at all. Here's a conversation I had with a shop assistant last weekend when buying stationery as a gift.
Were you in our loyalty club?
No and I don't think I am now either.
I can check on our system. What was your last name?
The same as it is now.
I can't find you. [No surprises.] Did you want to join our loyalty club?
No thanks. I didn't then and I still don't.
Were you wanting any cards or wrapping paper for this gift?
No thanks, I wasn't.
In case you're wondering, I didn't actually answer her questions with those exact words. Not only would it have been rude but the points would have been entirely lost on her.

So what is my point? Why am I being so pedantic about language? Does it even matter?

If you shuddered while reading this,
you'll know what I'm talking about.
Yes, it does. Seriously, who speaks like that??

Apparently more people than I realised. Here's an excerpt from a phone conversation I had yesterday with someone trying to help me retrieve my password from a government agency account. I'd set it up some time in the early 2000s and was locked out for increasing lengths of time at every password attempt.
What website were you wanting to access?
When? Now or back when I first set up the account 15+ years ago?
And so the pattern was set.

Please, do yourself and those around you a favour: say what you mean and mean what you say when you say it.

*steps down from soapbox*

1 comment:

KezUnprepared said...

Oh dear. I am so guilty of this! Well, the 2nd person thing. I see myself doing it on my blog all the time and I just can't stop myself! I try to edit things better but I know some slip through! x