There was I in the middle of one of my lessons which focused on choosing just the right word for a situation or context.
I was encouraging my pupils to think about the nuances of difference between the words available. A youth stood up and left the room so I thought I should illustrate my point on his return.
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As he re-entered the room I fired a volley of synonyms/euphemisms his way: "So you've been to the bathroom, have you? Spent a penny, passed water, relieved yourself, taken a tinkle…."
I was quite proud of my breathless volley of vocabulary shots and quite surprised at just how many ways there were of referring to the simple act of visiting the washroom. But his answer shot me down.
"No, I just went to blow my nose," he replied in the most matter-of-fact tone he could muster.
Pupil – 1 Teacher – nil.
About a decade ago in a similar lesson, I was delighted to see the young people engaged by all the options available for "fracas" or "ruckus".
We came up with about 10 and listed them on the board in descending order of intensity. What fun! One young man particularly liked "brouhaha" and "kerfuffle" and threw down a challenge to me to incorporate both into the next week's newspaper column.
I complied. I still remember his wry smile as he entered the classroom next lesson.
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A young friend once went to wine appreciation classes and, soon after, on a winery tour, he had his first chance to use his new knowledge.
The winemaker asked the group for a word they thought could be used to describe the wine they were tasting.
Our friend uttered the one word he remembered from the classes. "Astringent," he offered.
The winemaker's face crumpled. Those were positive and light-hearted examples but now it's time once again to return to Language Gripevine, the forum in which Drabble voices his displeasure at language injustices.
First there's the matter of correctness; getting the right word not for its nuance of meaning but for its correctness.
"Underestimate", for example, is commonly misused in situations where I'm sure the speaker means "overestimate". "The potential danger of this intersection cannot be overestimated" makes sense.
"Underestimated" would convey a completely different meaning and surely not the one intended.
It matters though I admit it matters only to pedants. I accept that the wider public might not grimace when someone refers to an "amount of people".
I do and the old less/fewer lessons from high school run through my head. "Recur" and "reoccur" is another example.
They are different. If something reoccurs, it might happen again just once. If it recurs, it keeps happening a number of times as illustrated in the mathematical .999 recurring.
A nice distinction, yes, but a distinction all the same. And there was "nice" used in a way you seldom hear these days – subtle or slight especially with reference to a difference.
One could easily go on and, because one usually does, one will. The overuse of "one" can certainly appear pompous, for example. Complement/compliment, bought/brought, imply /infer, draw/drawer, disinterested/uninterested, defused/diffused are other common offenders.
There are many more. Then there's diction. Perhaps nobody else cares that the weather man refers to the "South Ine" and the "North Ine". Perhaps nobody cares enough to tell Matt Preston that Masterchef has three syllables.
For years he has referred to the "Marchef kitchen". And I've just read, "Electric cars are our future moving forward."
Yes, I've had a grumble but, ah, it's only because our language is such a rich treasure! We are its custodians. We must look after it.
Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.