Lazy language: some questions


Think of this is an immediate followup to my last post, where I bemoaned the "ability" of journalists to draw from a well of boring and often-nonsensical 'stock phrases'.

The following is an excerpt from a fantastic book about the English language called Many a True Word.  It's written by Richard Anthony Baker, a man who spent 30 years as a journalist at the BBC.  His writing is brilliant and I really do recommend the book.  It's one you can actually learn something from!

Under the subtitle LAZY LANGUAGE: SOME QUESTIONS Baker writes the following:

Why are readers so often avid?  Is a beautiful speaking voice not just a beautiful voice?  Has anyone heard of a dirty bill of health?  Does anyone aspire to be just a pianist, rather than a concert pianist?  Why is a hoax so frequently elaborate?  Why do we talk about free gifts?  Aren't gifts always free?  What is rude about good health?  Shall we banish light entertainment until someone invents heavy entertainment?  Need an old age be ripe?  Are you allowed to be a recluse or must you always be something of a recluse?  Are campaigners always tireless?  Is it possible to be unaware without experiencing bliss?  May we talk about obscurity rather than virtual obscurity?  And will you allow me to be inadequate rather than woefully inadequate?

First of all, you can see where some of the inspiration for my last posting came from!

But Baker is so right.  Ripe old age... woefully inadequate... blissfully unaware... tireless campaigner... elaborate hoax... these are all phrases which we lean-on in our writing for no real reason.  Sure there's nothing technically wrong or incorrect about them... that is, except for their overuse... and it's that which turns them into those lazy stock phrases.

Richard Anthony Baker has another section in Many a True Word called SOME WORDS AND PHRASES THAT DAILY TELEGRAPH JOURNOS MUST NOT USE... but I'll save that for another time!