English as she is wrote…

…or Bad Language Part 4.

I was reading the Guardian this morning and I was struck – not for the first time – by the sloppy English usage that’s so prevalent these days in the paper.

In the article “Bush bashed as satirists stick to familiar targets,” today, journalist Dan Glaister used “nemesis” in a way completely opposite to its real meaning. For example, Daily Show presenter, Jon Stewart is the nemesis of Cheney and Bush not, as depicted, the other way round.

Nemesis, by the way, was the Greek goddess of divine retribution. Jon Stewart, then, in visiting retribution on Bush and Cheney, was indubitably their nemesis, not they his, as Glaister seems to think.

The Guardian has a section called Corrections and Clarifications, where journalistic errors would be corrected, including the all-too-frequent buggeration of the language by hacks. These days  it seems to concern itself only with errors of fact, and it seems mangling the English language no longer matters at the Guardian.

The person responsible for Corrections and Clarifications is the Readers’ Editor, and in the past this was an extremely erudite man called Ian Mayes. Over the years “begging the question” has come to mean something entirely different**, something that Mayes fulminated about on a regular basis (and, I think, would have had offending hacks publicly flogged if he could), among other, less egregious, errors (homophones were a particular weak spot for harassed hacks rushing to meet their deadline, or who just didn’t know any better), literacy, among journalists is, often, not as high as one might hope.

The current Readers’ Editor (I know not who), seems to care not one iota for the English language, and it was a dark day for those of us who do when Ian Mayes decided to move on. And that’s the reason why I’m writing this post rather than emailing the Readers’ Editor, which would be an act of futility, as I know from experience. Plus, I get a post out of it! In fact, since the Guardian can’t be bothered, I may make this a regular feature – a sort of Pedant’s Corner); we’ll see.

** For the record, begging the question means avoiding the question, though it’s been buggered up so often, for so long, it’s now come to have almost the opposite meaning – posing the question (the true opposite, of course, would be answering the question).

Addendum: Today (Saturday, Jan. 24), restaurant reviewer Matthew Norman commits a similar crime against the language (and he’s a serial offender). In his review of Bocca di Lupo (in the Weekend supplement, today), he says “What golden times for the popularity of the most beautiful and afeared of canine species.”

Afeared is not bloody well synonymous with feared (or fear-inducing), it actually means afraid. I have, on this occasion, succumbed to the temptation to write to the Weekend letters page – pointing out Matthew’s cock-ups, and excursions into pretention, is a popular pastime among Guardianistas.