Words On Words.

 

Spoil yourself and join me for a bit of a rant on the use of words and phrases in our brave new world.

 Arousal Stillskin

 

“For I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.” AA Milne

NO APOLOGY

As Constance Wu once put it: “You’re never going to please everyone, and if you do, there’s something wrong”. Although the sentiment of her words may have been drawn from the Book of Proverbs, they are no less relevant to what follows. This rant is a personal offering and I have no reason to hope or believe that many will agree with me. However with the impending possibility of the State taking control of the nation’s primary means of communication – the Internet – it seems sensible to exercise the right of public freedom of expression now rather than later.

INTRODUCTION

Being a proven a bear of little brain I approach the subject of words with a degree of humility and will certainly not stray into the issue of grammar. As far as syntax is concerned I have absolutely no idea of what an ablative absolute is or, for that matter, could I explain a gerund. The only possible area of knowledge that might accord me some credibility is the split infinitive.

There are three reasons for dwelling on the split infinitive. First, I can actually understand what it means. Second it seems perverse to split an infinitive if it is likely to upset the reader; indeed, my erstwhile boss became so irritated with my frequent split infinitive offerings that I began to worry about my career prospects. Third, and most importantly its use can lead to confusion…..consider this possibility:

“…..to effectively discharge his duties…” Does that mean “in effect to discharge his duties” or “to discharge his duties effectively”?

Regardless of their accuracy, words possess the power to create alarm and, as the nation was warned during World War II, ‘careless talk costs lives’. President Reagan implied that, even with the best of intentions by an initiator, words can seem threatening: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”. Of course a perceived threat to one person may be seen as great news to another; consider Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of free Broadband to all. Many have greeted his announcement with unalloyed joy whereas, the more questioning among us, are not enamoured of the prospect of the primary means of future communications being in the hands of the State – be it of a Left or Right flavour. Should Mr Corbyn’s promise (threat?) bear electoral fruit he may rue the day he ignored Anthony Trollope’s stricture: “Certainly, if a man wants to quarrel with all his friends, and to double the hatred of all his enemies, he had better become Prime Minister” -Chapter 72 The Prime Minister.

Enough shallow theorising – let’s get on with this latest diatribe.

BACKGROUND DISCUSSION

The following claim, without any attribution to any study, let alone studies, appeared recently as a LinkedIn Post:

“People who use a lot of swear words tend to be more honest and trustworthy human behavioural studies suggest”.

That said, I will dignify the claim by not treating it as fake news and argue that the thought is absolute balderdash or in the vernacular – bollocks….

Bollocks

There are probably at least four reasons for swearing. First, uttering an expletive allows for an instant unthinking emotional response to a crisis such as hitting a thumb nail with a hammer. Second, a swear word is very effective in emphasising or stressing a point but that impact quickly evaporates if over-used. Third, a person in authority can deploy a swear word as a tool to demean or bully a subordinate which is an unattractive trait of too many alleged leaders[i].  Fourth, those who repeatedly utter swear words have a limited vocabulary with nothing stored in their adjectival Db. Most reasonable people will accept the first two uses while probably being prepared to confess to doing it themselves – myself included. It is the limited vocabulary option that irks me which is why I no longer find Billy Connolly amusing and would never watch Gordon Ramsay in, or out, of a kitchen.

It would be unwise to underestimate the importance of choosing the right word or, for that matter understanding a word[ii]. Often, the inability to make the appropriate word selection is a vocabulary deficit but there are other reasons such as laziness and a curious imperative by those in pseuds corner to impress by using a ‘clever’ word. For example too often one reads that something has been ‘perused’ when ‘read’ would have been OK or that ‘apprised’ is preferable to ‘told’. As a tactless communicator, I frequently regret my choice of words but that should not prevent me from offering an opinion on the issue – indeed this author is replete with opinions.

When we hear a Radio 4 professional communicator using the word disencourage some might pause to wonder whatever happened to discourage; another recent example is admirance which I took to mean admiration. In similar vein why do people now say administrate rather than the rather simpler administer? Equally from where has normalcy arrived? How often do we read respected journalist confuse elegy with eulogy?

An inadequate education means that I could never claim to be a linguistic purist, however it is disappointing to hear public figures repeatedly say ‘at this moment in time’ when ‘now’ seems to be a more succinct option. All that said, my favoured example of linguistic complication is a US Tennis Commentator who asserted that a player was loaded with ‘intestinal fortitude’ in an age when most of us would have said ‘guts’. Before moving on to some joined up words that irk, let’s have a look at some of the many words that might be in the front rank of irritators:

Progressive. I am never quite sure what progressive means but am in no doubt that not to be progressive, as W.C. Sellar & R.J. Yeatman in 1066 And All That might have suggested, is certainly ‘a bad thing’. I rather identify with Dean Inge’s thought on progress: “There are two kinds of fools. One says, ‘This is old, therefore it is good’; the other says, ‘This is new, therefore it is better’.”

Modern/Modernisation/Upgrading. Decision-makers seem obsessed with modernisation; they claim that when something is modernised it always represents an improvement. But is that really so? Consider our local Post Office with its mellowed mature wood panelled walls that was recently closed for modernisation; with some dismay we witnessed the replacement of those fittings with chipboard and glossy metal fixtures, all illuminated by bright overhead lights giving the feel of lying in the Dentist’s chair. Of course, chipboard has a limited life and we can anticipate a repeat modernisation programme in the not too distant future. Oh goodie.

The temptation to offer two other examples – both military – cannot be resisted. First, by the late 1950s the MOD realised that the day of the horse had passed and that Aldershot Barracks, being framed by the need for stables, was deemed to be no longer fit for purpose. Accordingly the entire solidly built Victorian barracks were razed and replaced by flat-roofed concrete slabbed monstrosities. Within a few years the rusting metal ties showed through the concrete which soon led to safety concerns and, in turn, led to evacuation in preparation for a repeat new build. With a working life span of some 50 years the modernisation of Aldershot Barracks can hardly be described as a triumph; with prescient irony the Barracks had been re-labelled as Browning Barracks after ‘Boy’ Browning, who many would argue, became the luckless fall guy for the Operation Market Garden debacle.

In the late 1960s, long before Blackadder, Lieutenant General Darling unveiled the foundation stone for the Headquarters Barracks in Wilton. Flat rooves throughout were the order of the day which, aside from being displeasing on the eye, proved to be an expensive cost-saving measure. The roof of the Headquarters Block had to be refurbished three times between the 1960s and decommissioning in the early 2000s. However, the windows proved to be the real challenge for the incumbents. The drive for natural light resulted in a building that was more akin to a greenhouse than an office block and by the 1980s two important facts emerged. First, in summer, the Staff could not concentrate in the blistering heat – exacerbated by the Army-issue plastic trousers of the day. Second, the winter heating bills were astronomical. As is always the case when tricky financial decisions are necessary, the MOD deployed a Work Study Team which concluded that: The building suffered from solar gain in the summer and severe heat loss in the winter (a conclusion that any of the occupants could have thoughtlessly declared without recourse to a study). So it was that, at a cost of C£350K the old windows were removed and replaced with smaller ones. Bravo for modernisation.

[Only two military examples have been offered but there are others; in particular the razing of Chelsea Barracks and replacing it with tacky modular boxes  was a tragedy. After all, most of the nation’s infrastructure has been gifted to us by the Victorians so why should the same not be applied to rock solid barracks of that era? Sometimes, happily, military incompetence can have a rewarding outcome for example a raft of bungalows, with associated stoops, designed and planned for India, ended up being built in Aldershot – a town that, architecturally, deserved such a lucky break]

So far the foregoing has focused on the more trivial aspects of indifferent communication skills and unsavoury words but now is the time to consider the utilisation of some words that have deep societal impacts. Many would contend – myself included – that we live in a world in which such words as rights and litigation are used too frequently. In response to those two over-used words allow me to suggest some that might be more helpful in oiling the wheels of a decent society: Personal responsibility; parental responsibility; duty; respect; fairness; tolerance; honesty; and privileges – as opposed to RIGHTS. Needless to say I would never dare to include the word discipline or the equally contentious self-discipline. It is deeply depressing that, as our politicians rampantly introduce more rules and regulations, society is become increasingly intolerant. Could it be that the demise of those oiling the wheels words has played a part in our intolerance? Let us dwell on one of them – honesty.

“Oh my God Mummy you were young once” – Overheard on a SW Train from Waterloo               15 September 2019

It has always been the case that children are more honest than adults; their naivety and innocence has yet to be polluted by life but with the lowering of the ‘earnesty’ threshold even those endearing qualities may be under threat. The joyful childhood period is becoming ever more compressed via such actions as the discarding of traditional rites of passage and the trendy imperatives of teaching children at an ever younger age about all forms of sex. Without any memories of such rites, the route to adulthood has transmogrified into seamless move to that status. It may also be that this leapfrog over the childhood years is being undertaken at the expense of developing more important life-long skills such as numeracy and literacy. In combining rites of passage and sex, I can recall with absolute clarity my one, and only, sex lesson. In the first term at Secondary School our Class of 13-14 year olds were herded into a darkened room in the old stable block for the compulsory sex lecture which was conducted by a uniformed Chief Petty Officer (CPO). Armed with a billiard cue and an Aldis Slide Projector the CPO pointed out parts of the female anatomy from the mons veneris to the mammary glands in such a clinical way as to suppress any interest in sex for many a day – mission accomplished for a boarding school I guess.

Despite the professed clamour for a more tolerant society, backed by ever stringent legal measures, it is hard to be convinced that intolerance is being eradicated which may seem a counter-intuitive observation. After all, Society is obsessed with talk of teamwork and leadership (in the Top 10 of Google searched words) and given to mass emotional hysteria in a world of High 5s, virtue-signalling, fist pumping, public blubbing et al. My generation is not given to such actions and it was particularly dismaying to witness the wild whoopieing as the final winning put of the Solheim Cup disappeared down the hole; that’s not what golf is about I thought. Yes, in the overt cuddly modern world, the stiff upper lip and self-restraint are history. Hearts on Sleeves is the name of the game.

This melange of factors offer the backdrop of a society whose participants demand (not hope for) instant gratification; powered by Reality TV Shows we all want to be rich and successful[iii] and are unhappy with any form of criticism constructive or otherwise. Everyone is a winner is about as credible as the offer that something is free; not everyone can win and nothing is free. The ‘everyone is a winner’ culture is now so ingrained that a Judge on Strictly Come Dancing is heckled if he/she offers a criticism or a school prize giving lasts for hours as each pupil collects a prize or, worse still, sports events are cancelled on the grounds that there might be a loser. In the round, are we preparing the young for the cruel real world? I think not and the tragedy being that the cruel world is becoming crueller by the day. So on the one hand our education system and societal ethos decries the concept of winning while on the other we factitiously applaud successful sportsmen/women, National Lottery winners, Rock Stars etc. Is it any surprise that the young grow up confused and, in many cases, are tormented with feelings of inadequacy? Probably not.

ANNOYANCES AND CONFUSIONS

“The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid. Turn to her straightaway”

Yugoslavian Hotel Announcement

Apology. This bear of little brain has thus far been diverted from the original purpose of this rant – to share some words and phrases that really do annoy me. This section is intended to get us back on track although, in all honesty, the battle to maintain the original aim has been lost.

One Word Will Do. As previously stated Jack Kramer offers my favourite example of complicating a simple message when he declared, on air, that a Wimbledon competitor was “loaded with intestinal fortitude” whereas many of us thought ‘guts’ might have sufficed. It is perhaps accepted that our American friends have always favoured at this moment in time or right now over now presumably for two reasons. First, filling a space with ‘er’ or ‘um’ somehow seems to degrade the value of the speaker’s utterances. Second, the ‘er’ or ‘ums’ allow others the opportunity of leaping in to say something. Radio 4 Woman’s Hour offers a more worrying development in this category by describing an actress as a female actor; surely actors and actresses are both in the acting profession and de-gendering the latter merely complicates life. How far will de-gendering go? Can we anticipate Female Widowers? In a more practical context, many will applaud the Republic of Ireland’s preference for Yield at a road junction as opposed to the UK’s Give Way. Not only is one word easier to absorb when driving but less paint is required for the signage – a win win for the single word. Sad to say Southern Rail have not seen the merits of the one word option and have re-branded their Guards as On Board Supervisors – Oh dear.

Top of my current public announcement irritation list is this fatuous South West Trains security announcement: See it, Say it, Sort it (or is it Sorted? Hard to tell). The irksome status of that announcement is exacerbated by the cheerful delivery of the recording; yes all communications on modern trains are recordings and doubtless the police we are invited to call will also be a recording – the virtual world gathers pace. Consider also such platitudinous advisory announcements dispensed on TfL and trains in general: It’s slippery when wet; In hot weather carry a water bottle; hang on when the bus is moving; don’t leave your personal belongings behind etc. Good grief are we no longer capable of making such common-sense judgments for ourselves? Perhaps such axiomatic announcements flow from the various legal departments in order to pre-empt litigation. But trumping all those so far discussed is the re-branding of Passengers as Customers which, I suspect, is a change introduced on the recommendation of a high-priced Management Consultant as a wheeze to create the illusion that the service has improved. Au contraire the core function of a train service is to deliver someone from A to B and that seems to have been overlooked; indeed, it would seem that the railways went off-piste from that re-branding moment and have never recovered.

It is reassuring to observe that, in the midst of a pandemic, the Probation Service is busy tidying up any loose ends in the pursuit of its role. Today (21 March 2020) the papers tell us that Criminals are no longer to be called “offenders” since a requirement to “reset” our culture has been identified and that necessitates the illusion sorry the creation of an inclusive culture. Wait for it….wait for it….Criminals are now to be referred to as “a person subject to probation services”. So that’s all settled and all’s well with the world although I do feel our society would be more inclusive were there to be no criminals.

Media Announcements/Information. Accents and dialects are brought into play in the world of public announcements, facilitating wide scope for confrontation since both offer a frisson of class and racist warfare. Despite the clarity that the intentionally ‘classless’ Received Pronunciation (RP) offers, there has been a move away from its use – much kooler to talk mid-Atlantic or Essex or, post the 2019 General Election, Northern . The politically correct inspired demise of RP has arguably degraded the clarity of public announcements; for example, on a recent succession of Radio 4 News broadcasts, listeners were told of a problem with ‘Boing’ which, this listener, eventually determined was ‘Boeing’.

Overused/Misused Words (Excluding Brexit). Allow me to digress briefly to start this section with this:!!!!!!!!!! Yes, like the lauded swear word, the exclamation mark is so widely used as to dilute its impact. In many cases it is about as productive as trying to explain a joke. As for words, rather than punctuation, here are some that are overused and, as a result, are beginning to annoy:

  • Terms and Conditions (Ts&Cs). Ts&Cs are merely a pre-emptive strike on potential litigation and are deliberately lengthy and complex to eliminate the possibility of anyone understanding them.

Medals are important!

  • Heroes. Everybody is a hero nowadays and the word has lost its meaning – “a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities”. I can confirm that not all Ex Forces folk can claim those qualities and   the indiscriminate use of the word hero diminishes the status of the real heroes;  no doubt to the appropriate chagrin of the latter.
  • Veterans. For the life of me I cannot understand why someone who has spent 3, or even fewer, years, in the Services is described as a Veteran. There is a secondary reason for my discontent – it makes me feel old when the appellation is levelled at me.
  • Smart. So many things, especially in the electrical and communications world, are described as smart. My experience is that smart=far too complicated and sophisticated for me to work or understand; after an hour of following the instruction manual for a new Radio, I managed only to connect to Radio Sussex and I have now abandoned all hope of improving on that. Atop the list of annoyances in this category is a mystery lady called Alexa who persistently  interrupts my Kindle Fire workings – I do wish she would leave me alone.
  • Passionate. In our brave new world where all emotions are on display in the front window, it is perhaps no surprise that a word like passionate, and its derivatives, is suffering from over-exposure. Passionate slots nicely into the new age of virtue-signalling which makes it a common unconvincing addition to a CV/Resumé.
  • Inclusive/Inclusivity. Many applaud the concept of teamwork and it may well be that ‘inclusive’ and all its derivatives is merely an arm of that concept. However, I have a suspicion that, in practice, inclusive provides cover for another spoonful of sugary social engineering which, itself, embraces a lowering of standards. While adjusting oops lowering standards may seem attractive in the short term, the longer term impact is the blunting of aspiration; after all why should one work hard for high grades when the University has kindly agreed to lower the entry standard to accommodate the mantra of inclusivity. In similar vein, what is likely to be the long term impact of throwing tarmac at natural pathways in a National Park as a means of attracting the young and ethnic minorities to the area? Nobody knows but I would hazard a guess that the intrinsic appeal of the Park will be lost forever. Does it not occur to the social engineering geniuses that the young, of whatever colour or creed, tend to prefer the bright lights? However, with the passing of the years the young apparently become older and then seemingly prefer a soupçon of peace and quiet……but wait that will not be an option since the natural habitat has been covered with tarmac.
  • Activist. The word activist has, to me, taken on a threatening hue. It is curious how many people claim to be an ‘activist’ while not making it entirely clear what the word means. Perhaps it merely reflects the menacing mission of Baader Meinhof’s Rudi Dutschke who’s aim was the creation of a world that is ‘the opposite of what exists today’.
  • #metoo. Having degenerated into an all-embracing mantra for exploitation by the virtue-signaller, like many bandwagons it is beginning to lose its appeal.
  • Home Made and Hand Crafted. On ordering a Home Made roll at a supermarket recently I was bemused when told that the   rolls were off the Menu because of a problem with the manufacturer; since then my faith in such claims has diminished.
  •  Your call is very important to us. Insincerity writ large.
  • We are experiencing particularly high volume and all our operatives are busy at the moment. This is the norm, generally supported thereafter for umpteen minutes by music of limited appeal and poor reproductive quality. In some cases mythical waiting time guidance is offered: “One of our operatives will be with you in 5 minutes”. Who are they kidding? Us punters know that such a so called service is under-manned in an attempt to drive us onto the Internet only to find, once there, that the organisation’s E-Mail address is so well concealed  that we give up – that’s their plan.
  • Superlatives/Overstating The Case/Flying Under False Colours. As with swear words the excessive use of such words as: Crashing out; super; unique;  fantastic; innovative; stunning; passion; thrilled/thrilling; progressive; game- changer; inclusive; high value; outstanding; contemporary; exciting; cutting-edge; incredible; empathy; unfair; Live at the Apollo (death might be more accurate) et al degrades their impact and might be an indicator of a limited vocabulary. While the Brexit Remainer favourite of Crashing Out is inaccurate and emotive that is not the case with the Brexiteers’ use of the phrase ‘manacled to the EU’ since that happens to be true! I have found recently that Estate Agents  are the greatest purveyor of many of the others. As for false colours, The Guardian has now entered this group with its request for a subscription to support an alleged independently-minded newspaper.
  • Human Resources (HR). HR implies that people are a thing rather than a   person. What on earth was wrong with Personnel? I guess HR is another Management Consultant import designed to create the illusion of progress.
  • One Nation and Centre Ground. It is an illusion to think that the UK is one nation with all bonded by love of our allegedly beautiful country. Both terms are nothing more than a political ploy to garner votes. Our politicians do not enact their bogus claims or as Thomas Carlyle rightly suggested: “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct”. If our politicians really believed in the One Nation concept then such issues as Education and Health would be treated as apolitical. It can also be argued that middle ground and moderation indicate a lack of a belief system and imply cynical malleability to be utilised in the interests of political advancement. As pointed out in the Daily Telegraph (DT Letters 7th September 2019) Library shelves are not bursting with books on    “Great moderates in History”.
  • Back in 30 minutes. Although signage in general merits further observation, signs such as “Back in 30 minutes” or “Back Soon” strike me as being especially unhelpful; without a start time the guidance is pointless.
  • Customer Care. In the way this claim is deployed Customer Care has become   as genuine as an Oscar winning acceptance speech. It is probably another Management Consultant-inspired palliative term to create the illusion that a company or organisation really does care about the punter. Perhaps it allows them to classify customer complaints as caring thereby massaging the real statistics relating to punter discontent.
  • Momentum. The maintenance of momentum is a Principle of War and should only be used in that context.
  •  Kids. A kid is a young goat. Calling children ‘Kids’ is another manifestation of the imperative to be child-friendly like calling teachers by their first names. Children both need and welcome boundaries; for sure they generally have no desire to categorise a teacher as a friend.
  • Used to working to tight deadlines in high stress environments. 99.9% of Military CVs that pass over my desk make that claim. Some might argue that such a claim is axiomatic in the context of the qualities of ex Forces folk but that would fall into the same trap as designating them collectively as heroes. For my part its over-use has devalued the claim and is probably an indicator that a third  party has had a hand in writing the CV.
  • Posh & Toff. These pejorative words are too frequently used as tool in  maintaining class division.

Signage. Notwithstanding there are far too many signs, signage is important and if properly deployed can save lives but it needs to be current, relevant and accurate. Where the information is believed to be out-of-date people become blasé about the message which can eventually lead to a failure to heed a warning which, in turn, can lead to accidents; consider, for example, the Ice warning signs outside Mortonhampstead that were in situ all last Summer. As for relevance, the other day I drove the full length of a pothole infested car park to harbour the Fiat Punto under a small sign that read: “Beware of potholes” – not very helpful and, again, perhaps more to do with pre-empting litigation. Of course the great British public roundly ignores such signs dealing with: Placing feet on train seats; walking on grass; crossing yellow lines on railway platforms; leaving lavatories in the state that you would wish to find them etc. Having ignored those strictures the same public predictably reserves the right to complain about the consequences of so doing. National pride has taken a beating and could that be a reflection of the cumulative neutering impact of our deeply entrenched Welfare State with its attendant Rights (not privileges); the resultant prevailing philosophy being that the Government or the Local Authority or anybody else but me will deal with it.

Axiomatic Advice

A 75% majority of the population apparently believes Political Correctness (PC) has gone too far.  To us oldies this is an encouraging statistic since the percentage clearly embraces many of the young.  Is common-sense winning through at last?  The Army recently touched on this matter when it decreed that describing the sewing kit issued to soldiers as a ‘Housewife’ is nowadays an unacceptable appellation; as far as I know the search is on for a PC version and the Army might wish to consider the alternative of SKARRS (Sewing Kit All Races Religions and Sexes).  In a broader context, as previously mentioned, it is dispiriting to be told by staff of the Underground that in wet weather I need to be careful of slipping on the pavement when outside while in hot weather I need to drink water.  As described above, the most irritating mantra however, is SW Trains offering of:  “See it, say it, sort it”.  With so many activities in our lives given over to automation the young are correct in registering their misgivings of the Nanny State since the end-game is that will no longer be able to think for ourselves – consider GPS:

GPS Guided Missile

Wrongly Used Words. Top of my list in irritation terms is fulsome which, thanks to Tony Blair and others, is being misused as a compliment which it is not; that said, its excessive use is gradually being accepted to mean as it sounds (ie, full of some).

BBC Favourites. In a rant of this nature it would be a significant lacuna not to touch on the offerings of the Belligerent Broadcasting Company. Examples that are particularly irritating include: “That may be you opinion but it is not shared by many others” (end of interview pre-empting any right of reply by the interviewee); “I must ask you to be brief”; “Forgive me for interrupting” etc . It is understood that in a recent submission to MPs, the BBC firmly blamed Reality TV for the loss of courtesy, manners and empathy in public discourse. However no mention was made of the impact of the aggressive hectoring of media interviewers – I wonder why!

Pronunciation. How we pronounce words is often seen as another indicator of class; if one says ‘garidge’ rather than ‘garaaage’ one is condemned as lower class. But there are classless examples of changes that some find unappealing. In days of yore the BBC used to be the nation’s unofficial arbiter of correct pronunciation and Aunty’s influence remains and she seems to overseen such moves as: Schedule to Skedule[iv] and Temporarily to Temporaaaairily while harassed has transmogrified to haraaaaaaaaassed. It is accepted that these are minor irritations and probably merely reflect the influence of the USA. None-the-less many oldies are uncomfortable with change of any sort particularly when it appears to be factitious or merely kool [sic]..

Aptronym

What’s in a name? The Web is replete with example of aptronyms but here some that have crossed my own path: Nurse Slaughter who was the resident nurse for the Ministry of Defence in the 1970s and her name appeared in every single lavatory and on all information boards; in similar vein our neighbour was called Dr Butcher. Both Butcher and Slaughter were something of a disincentive for reporting sick. More pleasingly we found these very acceptable: The Reverend Heaven, owner of Lundy Island and the Reverend Paradise, our Parish priest in the 1990s.

Of more interest perhaps is the influence of the name in the perception of others and indeed on the success or otherwise of a person’s life. In his song A Boy named Sue Johnny Cash makes it clear that bearing an unhelpful name can be a useful motivator:

….It seems I had to fight my whole life through

Some gal would giggle and I’d get red

And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head

I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean

My fist got hard and my wits got keen……….

There can be little doubt that an inappropriate name condemns its owner to running through life with lead weights in his/her pocket; that being so, those who still succeed have done say in the face of adversity. Thus, the brothers Darling who both became Generals in the Post War era must have been rather special; as for Major Pretty it would seem that a senior rank proved to be elusive. Turning the coin over – are there advantages in having a name that suits a profession? In a military context, it seems obvious that Major Pretty was placed at a disadvantage when competing with the likes of: Buckmaster; Wildbore; and Wildblood. Whatever became of the Peter Sellers pop group Turk Thrust and The Y-Fronts?

Axiomatic Advice

A 75% majority of the population apparently believes Political Correctness (PC) has gone too far.  To us oldies this is an encouraging statistic since the percentage clearly includes many of the young.  Is common-sense winning through at last?  The Army recently touched on this matter when it decreed that describing the sewing kit issued to soldiers as a ‘Housewife’ is nowadays an unacceptable appellation; as far as I know the search is on for a PC version and the Army might wish to consider the alternative of SKARRS (Sewing Kit All Races Religions and Sexes).

With so many activities in our lives given over to automation the young are correct in registering their misgivings of the Nanny State since the end-game is that will no longer be able to think for ourselves.

In the final analysis, the misunderstanding of words can lead to confusion:

“Rounds complete”….

.

[i] Some military souls had the misfortune of serving under a particularly loathsome moustachioed florid-faced Brigadier – a prefect Extra for Oh What A Lovely War – who made a point of using the ‘F’ word first thing every morning in front of his female Chief of Staff; the, probably equally unpleasant, US President Johnson who used to urinate publicly in front of his Staff offers another example.

[ii] In ignorance I once signed-off my annual report that had described me as ‘lugubrious’ thinking it meant something rather good. Such ignorance may have inflicted lasting damage on my career preventing me from reaching the Army Board; it is recognised however there may have been other reasons.

[iii] A recent study revealed that far more students wanted to be taught leadership rather than learning a profession of trade. We cannot all be leaders the pyramid of life is not inverted with the number of leaders out-numbering the led. I think.

[iv] Foreigners must find English so tricky. After all, other than Gerald Scarfe, we do not say Skool notwithstanding it is spelt school.