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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Speaking in tongues 

A few postings ago I was commenting on trans-atlantic language issues. Shortly after I wrote that, I read a magazine column by someone who originates from Yorkshire (which is also my homeland) on unexpected language issues. Yorkshire, and the rest of northern England, still maintains a healthy dialectical tradition, and although you tend to know that some words and phrases are dialect rather than standard English, there are others that you only become aware of when you get a bemused look from a southern friend or are challenged when trying to use them in a game of Scrabble. In the case of this particular writer he'd refered to someone 'giving backword' and been met by total incomprehension on the part of his wife. (Anyone wanting to try to deduce the meaning, please feel free to do so via the comments section.)

What brought all this to mind was a blog entry I read recently about the misuse of the term 'scientist'. On my less serene days I get annoyed by similar misuse of 'charity worker'. I have a friend who is on the music staff of an opers company, another who teaches in one of thecoutry's more exclusive schools, and another who's a medical research scientist. The organisations they (and I) work for are all registered charities, which makes us all 'charity workers', yet what we do and who we do it for are very, very different. There's also a horrible overtone of 'pious do-gooder' which comes with the phrase and implied value judgement about what 'charity workers' are meant to be like. Still, I suppose 'businessman' gets abused just as much.

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