Alan Duncan MP: I’m not being a grumpy old man by insisting on standards
I HAVE a confession to make. Despite being a Government Minister, I do not ever want to “impact” anything, I do not want to “mainstream” my work or “showcase” it, and feel no need either at the beginning or the end of anything I say to add the words “going forward”.
I am on a permanent hunt for the missing or misplaced apostrophe and am easily displeased by the use of a comma in place of a full stop and capital letter. If I am to be labelled a grammar fascist so be it.
This is because I have declared war against jargon, sloppy grammar and punctuation. It is a crusade that I have been waging for many years, but since an internal memo that I issued to my civil servants found its way into the public domain last week, I have been inundated with supportive letters and e-mails spurring me on.
Everyone has their pet peeves - the words they love to hate. Management-speak has undoubtedly burdened us with ugly and careless concoctions such as “touch base”, “push the envelope” and the “close of play”.
Too often words like “to action” and “to leverage” are casually bandied about to suggest a sense of purpose and progress but when you scratch beneath the surface are illusory. I would like to ban the lot of them.
It is not just buzzwords that have been getting under my skin either. It is the poor standard of grammar the lack of respect shown to apostrophes (when used either too sparingly or in the wrong place) or the confusion about when a full stop, a comma or a semi-colon is appropriate.
It is no laughing matter that so many students are unable to distinguish between “you’re” and “your” or “their”, “they’re” and “there”.
It is vital for anyone working with the written word to have a proper appreciation for their own language, not just for their own education and career, but for their cultural lives.
I do not believe, however, that I am being a grumpy old man in insisting on standards. It is important that we insist on people expressing what they mean properly and in good English.
I find that when someone uses vague and ambiguous language it is usually a clear sign that they have not really understood what they are trying to say in the first place.
Shakespeare wrote that: “brevity is the soul of wit” and I would argue that when combined with clarity it is a powerful and persuasive tool.
The use of overlong and convoluted sentences that try to wear the reader down and insist upon their own importance is self-defeating and more often than not entirely ineffective.
I believe that English should evolve and change, not remain stuck in some sort of “golden age” that didn’t really exist.
In any case, language is a living entity with a life of its own - we could not cage it if we tried.
When it comes to the fundamentals, however, I believe that it is worth putting our feet down and insisting on high standards.
That is exactly what I intend to continue doing.
Alan can be contacted at email@example.com
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Weather for Oakham
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 4 C to 9 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 9 C
Wind Speed: 26 mph
Wind direction: North east