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Tic talk moves English backward
The Georgia Straight (May 10, 2012)
We have professional marketer Hector Bremner uttering the following: “A name change or no, the party is in a very strong position moving forward [“B.C. Liberals say a new brand may save party”, May 3–10].” Leaving aside the pointlessness of asking a marketer about anything, what is the point of his last two words? The verbal tic “moving forward” means nothing, and adds nothing. It is empty, useless, and inane. What’s the alternative—moving backward? Yet marketing types and other undits increasingly tack this tic onto their speech in the mistaken impression that it makes them sound important. Any wonder that the English language is dying?

The media anesthetizes our minds to make us embrace war as freedom, and fraud as fact
Canadian Arab News (September 27, 2007)
In his famous novel 1984, George Orwell introduces us to “Newspeak,” the pseudo-language by which the Ingsoc (English Socialist) government of Oceania, led by Big Brother, sabotages independent thought and imposes a repressive conformity on the public. “The purpose of Newspeak,” wrote Orwell, “was to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all, and Oldspeak [standard English] forgotten, a heretical thought… would be literally unthinkable.” more

Speaking of nothing in particular…
West Coast Editor (March 2007)
To gauge the state of modern English, you need look no further than The Simpsons, arguably the most realistic show on TV, animation notwithstanding. Not only has it given us catchphrases and neologisms (d’oh!), but its satires on language turn out to be more than clever more

The orange—how sweet it isn’t
West Coast Editor (January 2007)
When I studied Spanish an ice age ago, I could not understand why the word for orange was naranja when cognate Romance languages French and Italian have orange and aranciata, respectively. Even German has “Orange.” “Where did the Spanish ‘n’ come from,” I wondered? Turns out, I was wondering about the wrong word, because the “n” justifies the means of investigating the answer. more

Political discourse needs more oration and less expectoration
West Coast Editor (November 2006)
When we speak of air pollution, we generally have in mind things like automobile exhaust and smokestacks that belch toxins into the atmosphere. We generally agree that this is an environmental problem that needs concerted attention, excepting the Harper government, which thinks the best way to solve the problem is to blow more smoke and hot air. Another kind of chronic air pollution that gets little or no attention, until its too late, is the debauched state of political discourse on talk (schlock?) radio. more

Much [ed.] do about nothing, or Being There is half the fun
West Coast Editor (June 2006)
The brochure for this year’s national convention…brought to mind the deep wisdom of Chance the gardener in the 1979 satire Being There: “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well, and all will be well in the garden. In a garden, growth has its season. There is spring and summer, but there is also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again.”… Whereas Chance is a simpleton whose inane utterances on gardening are mistaken for profound economic metaphors, an editor is a well-educated professional who should know better than to be fooled by such linguistic dross. more.

Who is a heretic?
West Coast Editor (January 2006)
Strange as it may seem, vast numbers of people still support the myth of creationism over the science of evolution. This intellectual anachronism has a lot to do with language. Contemporary concepts such as “reporting” or “knowledge” didn’t exist in the late Classical World when the Christian religion was formulated. more.

News these days a little hard to digest
West Coast Editor (October,2005)
What would news shows do without polls, surveys, and other sources of predigested factoids? It’s hard to imagine, because this kind of news is becoming the fatty snack of choice in our news diet. more.

Gee, English pronunciation rules are antiquated
West Coast Editor (September, 2005)
At some point, every schoolchild will be taught the dubious “g” rule—the consonant is pronounced “hard” [g], unless it precedes “e” or “i,” in which case it’s pronounced “soft” [j].Get me a dictionary and I’ll show you this rule doesn’t hold water. more.

It’s a man’s world after all—linguistically speaking
West Coast Editor (Summer, 2005)
Last time, we looked at our society’s absurd fetish with the word “virtual” to describe reality. Yet, there is strength in this weak word, and we know this by virtue of its spelling. more.

To be or not to be? That is the problem
West Coast Editor (April, 2005)
“Virtual reality”—a state of existence that, well, doesn’t really exist. This concocted computerese cliché is virtually unavoidable by virtue of the control that computer programmers have on the way we speak. more.

In the mood
West Coast Editor (June, 2004)
As we all know, English has three moods: bookish, slang…er, sorry—indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. The first two are pretty much self-explanatory and easy to identify. The third is not, and is routinely abused. more.

Sun editing spells disaster
West Coast Editor (April, 2004)
The front Sports page of the March 13 Vancouver Sun was noteworthy, but not for the write-up on the Canucks’ overtime win against the Oilers or for the follow-up on Todd Bertuzzi’s infamous sucker punch. It was noteworthy for its display of chaotic or non-existent editing standards. more.

I beg to differ
West Coast Editor (March, 2004)
Newswise, military matters have been all the rage ever since Dubya invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. For Canada, this militarism raises a host of problems, such as how to maintain respect for international law and follow an independent policy. more.

Unnatural extremes
West Coast Editor (February, 2004)
This is an extreme column on word usage. In fact, it might be the ultimate extreme column. I know if I put “extreme” and/or “ultimate,” before “column” it’s bound to be more impressive, regardless of what’s in it. more.

Relative difficulty
West Coast Editor (December 2003)
As I perused a Saturday Globe and Mail last month, the following passage offended my grammatical sensibilities, so I stopped for a closer look. In “Physical combat for white collar workers” (Nov. 15, page D5) the author rationalizes his decision not to deck a queue jumper at a take-out pizza joint, and proceeds to muse about the larger question of what constitutes correct masculine behaviour nowadays. more.

Response to Frances Peck
West Coast Editor (November 2003
After reading Frances Peck’s mini-quiz in the September edition, I am convinced that militant descriptivism will be the death of English. It is not enough for Peck to argue for a laxer standard; she denies legitimacy to those who would disagree with her. more

Dominion Day done in by deceit
Prince Rupert Daily News (June 24, 2002):
Removed—see updated column.

Popular jargon venerates the unreal
Vancouver Courier (August 20, 2000):
Thanks to our infatuation with computers, the ability to distinguish reality from unreality is becoming increasingly impaired. The proof is in our vocabulary, which is becoming as arcane and obscurantist as the mystical mutterings of your average sixth-century monk. Take the ubiquitous (and annoying) buzzword “cyberspace,” coined by sci-fi author William Gibson. It’s meaningless. “Cyber” has nothing to do with computers—it comes from the Greek kybern, meaning to steer (or govern)—and there is no “there” there, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland. more.

Tyranny of the minority is a human right
Vancouver Courier (April 16, 2000):
“Most illogical”—that’s what Mr. Spock would doubtless say if asked to apply his famous Vulcan logic to the advertising contretemps at TransLink. The fcuk clothing company entered into a routine $10,000 contract with TransLink to have advertisements run on city buses, but because of a complaint from one bus driver—not “some drivers” as the Vancouver Sun reported—TransLink pulled the ads. Even though the company’s marketing department vetted the ad, TransLink allowed itself to be intimidated by one peeved employee. more.

Garden of words overgrown with weeds
Vancouver Courier (January 16, 2000):
The Christmas tree is finally down and will soon become wood chips. The post-holiday tradition of tree recycling is not exactly romantic or inspirational, but useful nonetheless. Has a nice sense of finality about it, too. Too bad not everything can be dispensed with so easily. Some holdovers from this and other years pile up and smoulder like a peat fire. I refer to our mountain of clichés—that steaming pile of linguistic detritus for which there is no post-consumer use, assuming, of course, an original use actually existed. This month, Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., issued its annual list of overused, misused and generally useless words that deserve banishment from the English more.

Bad editing afflicts even the best publications
Vancouver Courier (November 14, 1999):
For top-quality journalistic writing, you couldn’t do much better than the discursive, thought-provoking essays in The New York Review of Books. more.

Oxford’s infinitive ruling hardly definitive
Vancouver Courier (August 23, 1998):
“Survival of the fittest” entered the language in 1865 courtesy of Herbert Spencer, a social Darwinist who applied Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection to human society. The term is generally held in high odour because it has been used to justify such things as eugenics and corporate selfishness. However, “survival of the fittest” accurately describes how human knowledge progresses.... read more.

Emotional language getting a little too personal
Vancouver Courier (July 12, 1998):
The first time President Bill Clinton used this oft-repeated phrase was in the early 1990s when he spoke to the American public about economic difficulties. I’m sure he meant no offence by it, but if you consider it carefully, “I feel your pain” is an absurd and highly presumptuous thing to say. ... read more.

Flurch of werish words enough to make one sloach
Vancouver Courier (April 5, 1998):
Now that the academy awards are over, perhaps the Titanic can again rest in peace, at least literarily. (I understand that a company is preparing to give undersea tours of the real ship for those with too much disposable income. That’s show business.) ... read more.

Language zealots lay waste middle ground of reason
Vancouver Courier (March 15, 1998):
Usually when people argue about an issue, they adhere to commonly accepted rules of argument in which all appeals are made to reason. In the end, either one side wins, or the argument ends in stalemate. At issue is always the search for a reasoned answer. more.

Bland is beautiful in argot of the age
Vancouver Courier (September 28, 1997:
Pretend for a moment it’s the late 1770s and you’re a misérable eking out a miserable existence as a factory worker in one of Paris’s less fashionable quarters. One day, someone hands you a dog-eared copy of The Social Contract, a modest political opus written by incendiary champion of liberty and spanking fetishist Jean-Jacques Rousseau. You start to read. The first sentence of Chapter One is underlined: “Man was born free and he is everywhere in chains.” ... read more.

NDP compromises freedom to publish
Vancouver Courier (May, 5, 1996):
I’m not sure, but I think it’s Ronald Reagan’s fault. At a press conference during the second half of his benighted imperium, Reagan, (or was it drug czar William Bennett?) first uttered the oxymoronic euphemism “zero tolerance.” more.