It’s been a very long time since I posted here, so apologies for that.

But the reaction I had to a tweet today got me thinking, and I decided this was the best place to put it out there.

Here’s the tweet in question:

Okay, I know this is ‘classic me’.  Pontificating about the decline in standards of the English language, and complaining about all these weird words the kids use these days.

But then came a reply… actually series of 11 tweets from a follower, Fly.  I’ve edited it down into one post here, just for ease of reading:

Kamahl, you keep asking questions like this.

21st century tech requires & facilitates a huge increase in CASUAL written language, whereas previously written language was mostly formal and did not reflect the casual structure, flexibility and playfulness of spoken language.

AAVE is the form of English with the greatest pop-cultural/cool cachet (although conversely it is regarded with snobbish disdain by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power structure which prioritises Anglo-American upper-middle class dialects and creates an artificial hierarchy of linguistics. This is snobbery).

AAVE and indeed all other dialects are complex and nuanced and effective.

Anyway, you will note that language is in a constant state of flux, and that includes stodgy mainstream speakers of formal English gradually becoming aware of terms like ‘bae’, ‘on fleek’, ‘yasss’ etc, and either grumbling about them or starting to awkwardly use them.

I mean – come on, Kamahl. You know this, really.  “Yasss kween” carries concise connotations which would be absent from “yes”.  Ditto “yasss”.  These things exist and gain traction only because they are functional and express something not currently being expressed effectively otherwise; possibly something as subtle as membership of a group, even.

Now, believe me when I say I appreciate a response like this.  Actually I think it’s the second time I’ve had such a response from Fly.

There is undeniable logic behind what he/she says, and the reply makes a strong case for the evolution of language.  Of course, language must evolve.  It is a growing and dynamic medium, and indeed half the words we use today simply wouldn’t have been around 100 years ago (I’m generalising here, but you know what mean!)

But personally, I don’t buy into Fly’s theory of “snobbish disdain by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power structure which prioritises Anglo-American upper-middle class dialects”.

I’m not trying to be snobbish when I ask questions like I did.  I’m simply concerned that this is becoming the norm and that the ‘real words’ are being lost.  I worry about my eight-year-old daughter thinking that yasssss or any derivative of it is actually how you spell the word yes.  It’s not.  Spelling IS important.  Real words ARE important.


On a similar level, I also wasn’t a fan of the phonetic alphabet which kids are taught these days, although thankfully as they get older they revert to the regular ABCs rather than Ah-Buh-Cuh.

Yes I’m a traditionalist when it comes to language, but I’m also a realist.  You can’t stop the march of youth, social media, and the changes those will bring.  Heck, 50 odd years ago it would have been considered ‘wrong’ to use a word like cool to describe something that’s good, but these days I use it on-air!

Just as long as people, especially young people, are aware of etymology and where words come from and that they continue to be taught such things – not just by their teachers, but their elders and society in general.

Because yes, something might well be totes amazeballs… but if people don’t know that phrase actually came from the words totally amazing, then we’ve got a problem…


A message to iPhone typ-ologists


Very odd title I know.  I was trying to play on the word apologist but I don’t think it worked.


I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen this block of text, or something similar, at the end of an email message:

Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse brevity, terseness, and typos

My response to that – as a fan of the English language – is no, why should I?

I think we can all agree that, to different extents, technology has made us lazy. We abbreviate a lot more than we used to… we sometimes revert 2 txt spk which I personally h8… and we send a lot more emails, texts and instant messages in a day than we ever did before.

But all that means that technology IS an acceptable part of life now. No-one is special or unique because they have a phone with a touchscreen keypad rather than a keyboard. So using technology as an excuse for not being accurate, or being terse in an email? Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Sure if you’re a journalist in a war-zone with bombs raining down, I think we’d forgive a bit of brevity. Actually wouldn’t it be great to see an email signature that said “Sent from my iPhone in the middle of Iraq. Constantly have the s**t bombed out of me so, you know, sorry if I hit a few incorrect keys, dude.”

But short of that scenario, the pedant in me can’t find room for an excuse. Yes I blog about the English language so I’m likely to be a bit more fussy about such things. But I really do believe in standards, and I think they’re taking a dive with all this fast-and-loose emailing. One starts to wonder where the everyday English language will be in another five or 10 years if this is how it’s being treated now.

And consider this – if you were to make mistakes in an email typed from your computer, would you have an apologist signature there too?

“Sent from my computer keyboard. Please excuse typos… I’m just a bit rubbish”

A message to iPhone typ-ologists

Less vs Fewer: how to get it right!

So this is how pedantic I can be.

I tweeted my last post by saying “The words of my mentor, Tony Ciprian, in 140 characters or less”.

Of course, that should actually be fewer, not less.

And so I’m writing a whole new post to correct myself, and to explain the theory!

It appears a lot of people don’t know how to use the two words. I didn’t for some time.  But now I find myself shouting at the television whenever I hear broadcasters and guests using the wrong word in the wrong situation.

The basic rule is can what I’m talking about be counted?

And if it can, you want to go with fewer.

Are there less cars on the roads today? No, there are fewer cars on the roads today… because cars can be counted. However you could say there’s less traffic on the roads… because traffic as a whole can’t be counted.

Less cake? Yes, but fewer slices of cake.

Fewer raindrops… (admittedly not something you’d often say)… but less rain.

Less of a crowd. Fewer people.

Does it all make sense? Good. Now make sure you use the right one!

More here from Grammar Girl at quickanddirtytips.com

Less vs Fewer: how to get it right!


If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll possibly know that my mentor Tony Ciprian died recently.

Losing Cippo – and remembering all that he taught me – has brought on a very reflective period.

But in a professional sense, it’s been constructive. It’s made me look even harder at what I write and why I write it. I feel I’ve been subbing my scripts with more vigour, and with even less tolerance for ‘flimflam’ and sloppy writing.

Even this blog is a second draft.

It’s also prompted me to trawl through Cippo’s now-dormant twitter timeline… just to see if there were any more little nuggets there. Any more Cippoisms.

And the great man didn’t disappoint:

  • 9 July 2013: “The Andy Murray headlines have ignored the fact that a Briton – Virginia Wade – won a Wimbledon singles title in 1977”
  • 3 April 2013: “I wish my lawn had stunted growth”
  • 20 February 2013: “When will some journos learn? Cars don’t lose control – drivers do”
  • 8 December 2012: “Journos… stop writing crap about something or someone bringing closure to a situation. There is never closure… ask the victim”
  • 20 October 2012: “Please sports presenters and newsreaders – it’s triathlon… not triathalon”
  • 29 May 2012: “We are not alone. Lots of Aussies also say ‘somethink’ instead of ‘something'”

I can’t really argue with him on any of those points. They’re perfect examples of the kind of cliches, mistakes, and misguided phrases we should all be working to remove from our journalism.

Oh and there was one more, seemingly-random tweet of his which I found:

  • 9 April 2012: “Hey mate, you’re (sic) ego is now bigger than all outdoors”

You’ll note it doesn’t mention anyone in particular.

But a quick sift through my own timeline around the same time reveals a pointless and self-indulgent hashtag called #KamahlFacts.

With that in mind, I’m pretty sure I know who he was talking about!

Thanks Cippo. Love your work.


In defence of the word “selfie”


So here’s a blog from my good friend Glen McKay, in which he responds to my earlier post on bringing back old words.


Far from being full of flapdoodle, Glen’s a smart guy… and he puts forward an interesting and solid case for why some words fall out of use.

Put simply, easier and more generation-appropriate words come into usage and replace old ones.  His example was the word penultimate – which two of his former flatmates didn’t know – and which has been replaced by the basic second-to-last.

Glen also defends the word selfie which I have no problem with.  That one definitely IS here to stay!

I guess I’m just an old romantic when it comes to words, Glen. To me, a quick obambulate around the market on a Sunday afternoon sounds positively ambrosial 🙂

In defence of the word “selfie”

Bringing back old words

web-word-warriors-superstock-gettySo here’s a wonderful article I read recently in The Independent newspaper in the UK. Well, I think it’s wonderful.

Wayne State University in Michigan is bucking the trend of bringing new words into the lexicon, and instead encourages people to bring back old words which have fallen out of use.

So no more selfie and totes amazeballs (oh good lord, don’t even start me on that one… my AJE newsroom rant on it is legendary for those who witnessed it).

Instead we could have caterwaul (a shrill howling or wailing noise) or perhaps opsimath (a person who begins to study late in life).

Read the full article here

Bringing back old words

Lazy language: some questions


Think of this is an immediate followup to my last post, where I bemoaned the “ability” of journalists to draw from a well of boring and often-nonsensical ‘stock phrases’.

The following is an excerpt from a fantastic book about the English language called Many a True Word.  It’s written by Richard Anthony Baker, a man who spent 30 years as a journalist at the BBC.  His writing is brilliant and I really do recommend the book.  It’s one you can actually learn something from!

Under the subtitle LAZY LANGUAGE: SOME QUESTIONS Baker writes the following:

Why are readers so often avid?  Is a beautiful speaking voice not just a beautiful voice?  Has anyone heard of a dirty bill of health?  Does anyone aspire to be just a pianist, rather than a concert pianist?  Why is a hoax so frequently elaborate?  Why do we talk about free gifts?  Aren’t gifts always free?  What is rude about good health?  Shall we banish light entertainment until someone invents heavy entertainment?  Need an old age be ripe?  Are you allowed to be a recluse or must you always be something of a recluse?  Are campaigners always tireless?  Is it possible to be unaware without experiencing bliss?  May we talk about obscurity rather than virtual obscurity?  And will you allow me to be inadequate rather than woefully inadequate?

First of all, you can see where some of the inspiration for my last posting came from!

But Baker is so right.  Ripe old age… woefully inadequate… blissfully unaware… tireless campaigner… elaborate hoax… these are all phrases which we lean-on in our writing for no real reason.  Sure there’s nothing technically wrong or incorrect about them… that is, except for their overuse… and it’s that which turns them into those lazy stock phrases.

Richard Anthony Baker has another section in Many a True Word called SOME WORDS AND PHRASES THAT DAILY TELEGRAPH JOURNOS MUST NOT USE… but I’ll save that for another time!

Lazy language: some questions

Why did you write that? No, really…

One of the biggest issues I have with journalism and writing these days are what I call ‘stock phrases’

My friend Simon Torkington (‘tvscriptwriter’ on WordPress) has written about such things before, but I know he’d appreciate me banging on about it again.

Stock phrases are the things people write without even thinking.  Phrases, words, descriptions which have been used a thousand times before, and so people seem to think the thousand-and-first time won’t matter.

News flash: it DOES matter.

What am I talking about exactly?  Here is just a small, small sample…

  • Why is tension always ‘palpable’?
  • Have you noticed when it rains a lot how ‘roads turn into rivers’?
  • Your fellow countrymen?  Erm, that’d just be your countrymen.
  • Have you ever really heard a ‘gunshot ring out’? I’d say it did more than ring!
  • Wow that debate is really ‘raging’ isn’t it…
  • ‘But for the families, nothing will bring their loved ones back’… yep, that’s because they died in a massive hurricane/flood/plane crash.
  • People always seem to ‘flee their homes’ in times of trouble.  That MAY well be true, but they may have also calmly walked out of their house.

Do you see where I’m coming from?  These are the type of stock phrases we hear ad nauseum, particularly in television news. And why? Because writers simply default to them without thinking.

My advice, for what it’s worth?  Write like you talk.  Within reason of course, but broadly speaking just try to write like a normal person.

And if you DO actually use those sorts of phrases when you speak?… well, that’s beyond my brief I’m afraid!

Why did you write that? No, really…