What planet? . . . . Planet Word


At the moment I am reading a book Planet Word by J.P. Davidson and I am almost finished.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and I have also found out that tonight the B.B.C. series, upon which this book was based, will be commencing on Australian television.  I thought it would be best to share my thoughts on the book before I start to watch the series.

The book is divided into five chapters: Origins, Identity, Uses and Abuses,Spreading the Word, The Power and the Glory.

Each chapter heading really describes what is contained within but I would like to share some parts with you.  In talking about uses and abuses of our language there is discussion of the use of expletives and how in the 1980s when swearing on television was still uncommon there were only a few bloodies and damns.  Today, after 9pm the use of expletives is widespread.  As a teacher I found it interesting how, over my years of teaching, the language used by students seem to change drastically.  I am sure an outsider would find that the playground language would turn the air blue yet teachers seem not to notice.  We accept that the students are reflecting the change in their society.

In discussing euphemisms and medicine there is certainly much room for humour. eg. “I’ve had a lady come in and she’s said, “You’ve lost him, what d’you mean you’ve lost him, have you got a search party out, where is he?” And we’re going, “No, no, no.” . . . .” eventually they sit the lady down and tell her that her husband has died, not that they have lost him.

In the part discussing plain English in the workplace, so much of what is discussed is meaningful to the reader.  On corporate speak and jargon . . .

“A wadge of gung-ho transitive verbs are favoured; to action, to incentivize, to leverage, to strategize, to downsize.  Everything is upbeat.  Problems aren’t problems, they’re challenges, commitment is 110 per cent; anything done in the future is on a go-forward basis.  Other monstrosities include I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the siuation rather than ‘I don’t have the time’; end-user perspective instead of ‘what the customer thinks’; cascade down information for  simply sending a memo.”

I  particularly liked the example given from a newspaper advertisement for a teacher:

“Proactive, self-starting facilitator required to empower cohorts of students and enable them to access the curriculum.”

There is a wonderful section on the use of slang and cockney rhyming slang.  You are given the opportunity to try your hand at translating.

“I had a Jane down the frog with a septic, his trouble and their dustbin lid. Would you Adam and Eve it?  My old china was wearing a syrup under his titfer, a whistle, a Peckham and a pair of churches. ”

You will need to borrow or buy the book to check your translation.  Perhaps the translation will be in the TV series.

If you enjoy language and the origins and use of language this is certainly the book for you.  It is written in an entertaining way and very easy to read.

(I have now seen the first episode of the series.  Well worth watching.  The first episode was the first chapter in the book.)

One Comment Add yours

  1. I think that was shown here but I didn’t see it. The book sounds very entertaining. One of the things we all have to accept about language is that it’s constantly changing, even if it seems to us to be for the worse.

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