Why do they have to use such Language?

...In which I consult the 'authorities' on matters of interest or debate.

Section 1: Excellent linguistic jokes
Section 2: Words that get on our tits
Section 3: Thorny Issues NEW STUFF!
Section 4: Excellent but Archaic Words
Section 5: Words that are unaccountably amusing
Section 6: Cussing

Section 1: Excellent Linguistic Jokes

Maddy: "I'm fed up with your pedanticism."

Jonathan Creek: "The word is pedantry."

Jonathan Creek by David Renwick

Section 2: Words that get on our tits

1. Normalcy

This one voted for by Simon H Scott, who sees it as the worst kind of Americanism. Let's see what our chums have to say:

"...more American than English, but it is catching on in Great Britain." - Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage.
"...widely, and wrongly, believed to have been coined by Warren G. Harding, the American president. It is in fact much older. Although most dictionaries accept it as standard, it is still derided by many authorities, who suggest normality instead." - Bill Bryson, A Dictionary of Troublesome Words.

So, its provenance is still uncertain - but nevertheless, a decided thumbs down. More investigation needed, I feel.

Section 3: Thorny Issues

1. 'ize' vs. 'ise' endings.

This one brought to our attention by Hugh Routley, who furiously corrects the former to the latter whenever he can, with a cry of 'We are not Americans!' But what's the truth?

"...this suffix comes, whether direct or via Latin or French, from the Greek -izein: to employ -ise is to flout etymology and logic." - H W Fowler, Modern English Usage.
"Where there are, in dictionaries, the alternatives -ise and -ize, use -IZE." - Partridge, ibid. (1947)
"The advice given here is to end them all in ise." - Sir Ernest Gowers, The Complete Plain Words. (1947)
"The classic rule is to use -ize when it relates to the Greek zeta root: organize, realize, trivialize... An easier rule is to use -ise in all cases, for that will never be wrong." Godfrey Howard, The Good English Guide. (1993)

A difference of opinion on the two-to-one shot, then, Geoffrey... Note that only in 1990 did The Times 'reluctantly' give in to using -ise across the board.

Anyway, we can see which way the tide is turning, and also from where Hugh's confusion arises (not arizes). But what is certain is that to blame our American (or Antipodean) cousins for this phenomenon would be wide of the mark. In this case, it seems that their fondness for obvious phonology coincided for once with the historical root of the formation, with the result that they retained a British spelling which then steadily lost popularity at home.

2. NEW! 'inquiry' vs. 'enquiry'.

This used to cause a surprising amount of trouble in the office when I worked for Orion Insurance. Our database system, which was of Australian origin, used 'inquiry' throughout, but all additions to the system made by our staff quite pointedly used 'enquiry'. The belief persisted that 'inquiry' was a vulgar Colonialism.

Gowers (ibid) notes that the two have "long existed together as alternative spellings of the same word ... In America inquiry is dislodging enquiry for all purposes." Forty years later, Godfrey Howard confirmed this trend: "In America, inquire and inquiry have taken over for both meanings". (The Good English Guide).

Comparing the two, Sir Ernest also noted that "in England, a useful distinction is emerging", while by Godfrey's time it was clear that "in Britain these words have been moving apart in recent years... ." Gowers sums up the distinction nicely by positing that "you might enquire what time the inquiry begins." My correspondent Jackie Flynn clarifies:

"[It is] generally accepted that enquire = to ask and inquire is a formal investigation. My sources (Concise Oxford, Fowlers, and Oxford guide to English usage) do not give an explanation, but it seems that the above has now become the acceptable usage. An example of how language develops, rather than correct meanings from the roots of the words (which are not given anyway)."

So that's the present state of play, and Sir Ernest is clearly correct that can be a "useful distinction". However, where such a fine distinction is not important, we may prefer simply to follow historical precedent. It seems that every nineteenth-century novel I read uses 'inquire' across the board - as indeed do the majority of educated writers to the present day. This implies that the 'enquire' variant may in fact be the interloper. Partridge, writing at the same time as Gowers, thought so, stating that "certainly inquire / inquiry are etymologically preferred" (though not explaining why). He did not recognise the emerging distinction, but noted ruefully that "enquire is superseding inquire". Thus the seeds were sown for another entirely artificial UK/US divide - which is where we came in.

So, as a contrary git, I've chosen to take my lead from the novelists and use inquire in formal writing. In this I am, incidentally, also backed up by Bill Bryson, who states that "inquiry is preferred by most dictionaries in both Britain and America" (ibid). My hope is that the inverted snobs among us will accuse me of propagating an Americanism - and then I can have a good argument, with Jane Austen as my chief witness.

Section 4: Excellent but Archaic Words

1. tittup: v.i. To prance about, canter, generally act the giddy goat. Possible root of 'make a tit of oneself'.

2. mattoid: n. Person of erratic mind, mixture of genius and fool.

3. keck: v.i. Make sound as if about to vomit.

4. doryphore: one step up from a pedant

Section 5: Words that are Unaccountably Amusing

1. Feast

2. Yogurt

3. Gibbon.

4. Nostril

Section 6: Cussing and Profanity

I can't do better than point you towards this website which contains an entertaining and informative guide to British swear-words. (It's probably been cribbed from somewhere else, but hey ho.)


Nuns! Reverse! Reverse!