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English as she isn’t spoke (Part 4) (the-tls.co.uk)
73 points by pepys on July 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

The title is a reference to an (in) famous 19th century Portuguese to English translation guide that was so unintentionally bad it remains in print.


Many of these all examples of what Language Log terms "nerdview" (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4509), using in-business jargon incorrectly with outsiders because you either don't know or don't care that they won't really know what you're talking about.

It's held up as an example where your use of language, whose purpose should always be to be understood by others, shows an explicit or implicit contempt for your listener.

Or maybe your brain has just gone full Sapir-Whorf and you can't think about the concepts except in jargon terms.

The vendors of PC Matic, a product aimed at the computer unsavvy, run TV adverts in which they mention a "single pane of glass" as a feature. I had to look up what it meant: apparently it's a buzzword for integrating information from multiple data sources into one window. No one likely to buy PC Matic is going to know that. Then again, given PC Matic's sterling reputation, maybe they do hold their customers in contempt...

Link doesn't work for me :(

Genteelisms are a curse in Italy, where bureaucracy reaches levels unknown in the UK. One of my favourites, because of its utter, revealing stupidity, is the sporadic usage by some overzealous bureaucrat of the verb "to implement" (recently brought to Italian from English) with the wrong meaning of "increment". As in:

"We're working to implement the number of bus rides from A to B".

It's fun because you can clearly see the mechanism in action: the person who wrote the sentence decided to replace the too understandable verb "to increment" with something so obscure he himself didn't know what it really means.

I would like to bring to your attention (as an Italian) the recorded voice message now in use on highways when you pay the toll via credit card/bancomat (they are changing the readers from reading the magnetic band to reading the chip, so you have to insert the card in the reader and keep it inserted a few seconds until the flashing yellow leds become green) while a (very serious and authoritative sounding) female voice says:

"Attendere, validazione in corso."

[english]Wait, validation is under way.[/english]

Soon followed, as soon as the leds become green, by a (much higher pitch and happy sounding) different (still female) voice:

"Ritirare la tessera"

[english]Pick up the card[/english]

How does this relate to his point about genteelisms or using words that don't mean what the user thinks they mean?

>How does this relate to his point about genteelisms or using words that don't mean what the user thinks they mean?

"Validazione" is not a word used by anyone outside some specific tech sectors or bureaucrats, a number of people would be perplexed about its meaning.

I guess in English is the same, would you use "Wait, validation is under way" or "Wait, reading the card" or "Wait, checking the card info".

There is an old (by now noone notices it but it was a thing when it was introduced) precedent with the verb "obliterare" which noone knew at the time it was introduced on buses.

A sign "E' obbligatorio procedere all'obliterazione del biglietto" is (was) something that noone could understand. [english]It is compulsory to proceed to the obliteration of the ticket[/english]

Obliterare is a perfectly valid verb, but it means - literally - to cancel a writing by drawing a line over it, and it was used only by academics and people of letters, while by extension it has a more common meaning of completely destroy/delete something/someone (from existence or from memory), etc.

At a given time it was "invented" to mean "insert the ticket into the machine so that it will be timestamped (or only stamped) and/or punched or have a corner cut in such a way that it won't be re-usable".

The same meaning of "to obliterate" for "to stamp" or " to punch" a ticket is in English as well, I believe.

And "the machine" was called "obliteratrice" of course.

Reminds me of George Carlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdPy5Ikn7dw

I went and read parts 1, 2, and 3 as well as I quite enjoyed this. However, I think "part 4" is mainly just a rehash of part 3, as most of the examples were the same or very similar.


Archived copy, which doesn't require JS:


This mostly seems like "English as I don't like her spoken"; only pt. 2 (thanks to tapanjk (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14780499) !) seemed to describe any actual wrong language, as opposed simply to phrasing of which the author disapproved. With that said, I don't understand the complaint from pt. 4, recapitulated (as morinted (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14780372) points out) from pt. 3, about:

> you may hear that your train was “originally due to depart from Platform 4”, but “will now depart from Platform 6”. What’s “originally” doing there?

Surely 'originally' is serving exactly the purpose it claims to serve, of describing the state of affairs before the alteration? What would be a better word?

If the suggested alternative is to omit the description of the 'original' entirely: though I'm not much experienced with the London Underground, I know that, on the Amtrak, if I paid attention to every announcement I would go mad, so I have a subconscious routine that perks up conscious attention only when it detects something that seems likely to me. If I am waiting at Platform 4, I probably won't notice a random, unprefaced announcement about Platform 6; but I am much more likely to notice it if it points out that those of us at Platform 4 should be paying attention to it.

The announcers at my station bafflingly repeat the automated announcements word-for-word!

"This train is no longer in passenger service" may be long-winded, but at least it's reasonably clear. Much better than the military equivalent, "the train has suffered an engineering casualty".

Oh I dunno - I kinda like the engineering casualty turn of phrase :-)

it also preempts the upset when the train leaves empty to go off to the depot/siding

Might be the announcements are so long winded to give people a chance to notice their train was mentioned and to start paying attention?

In France, there is a similar issue with the SNCF. More details in this (French) article:


> And I simply don’t know what this means: “This is a booked four-coach service”.

Does it mean that the service only has four coaches and that each seat has already been pre-booked? (That is to say, good luck, you'll probably be standing.)

Any other possible meaning I'm having a hard time divining.

I think it means it's the four coaches that they intended to have. Rather than three because there's a problem with one of them, for example.

I'm reminded of the word de-plane, which replaced the perfectly serviceable disembark as the term of choice for telling passengers to get out. This happened shortly after the TSA took over and is a depressing reminder of such.

At some point also post-TSA, they started referring to us as "customers" instead of "passengers", which is similarly irritating and unnecessary. It's also less accurate, since I am always a passenger when I fly, but often not a customer, since someone else (perhaps an employer) purchased the ticket I'm flying under.

Another "plane word" is lavatory. While this is certainly an English word for a bathroom, I don't think I've ever heard it outside the context of an airplane.

I think we as a society should go back to the simpler "get out".

The OED says "deplane" goes back to 1923.

While reading this article it gradually appeared to me that it just HAD to be about UK English, not US English.

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