Sunday, 1 September 2019

Shudder Anew

There has been a bit of back and forth on Twitter of late about horrible modern usages in English. It is an inexhaustible topic, even if, like me, you are quite open minded and think that the English language's great advantage is that it is changeable. Thus, while I mourn the loss of the original meaning of "disinterested", I recognise that it is now used interchangeably with "uninterested" and that this is an example of the language's splendid adaptive powers (although I do still wonder how the original meaning will be expressed - whether a new word will replace "disinterested" or whether we just won't be disinterested any more).

While my husband, only recently released from Brussels bureaucratic servitude and therefore a little post-traumatic linguistically, launched himself at the topic with the energy of a butterfly bursting out of its dry and papery chrysalis, and Lord Steerforth - late of this parish of blog, but recently gone over almost entirely to the Instagram/Twitter dark side - cast in his two bob's worth, I hesitated, unable to decide which of the many newly-minted cliches I hated the most.

I've always found such questions extremely difficult, which was frustrating for my children when they went through that phase all children do of asking their parents, "Which is your favourite food/book/music/country et cetera et cetera". My answer was always, "Hmm, I don't know".

Anyway, this morning I was reading The Times online edition and at last it came to me - the phrase that at present I hate more than any other is this one, used often by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and now, I realise, also in the British press:

"Join the conversation"

I think my main aversion is to the use of the word "conversation". Whatever it is that you are being enticed into - in the case of the ABC, I think you are supposed to tweet madly in the hope that one of your tweets might run along the bottom of the screen during a current affairs programme; in the case of The Times, I suspect you type in your opinions and some fiendish machine somewhere uses what you say and how you say it to target advertisements at you with greater precision - it is not a conversation.  And as for joining, what is it you are joining? A databank? A competition? A black hole?

All of the above, I suspect, which means the phrase should really read not "Join the conversation", but "Join the con."

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