Lost For Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language

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His chapter on journalists and journalism - the professional category to which he belongs -- is particularly murky, and Humphrys all but gives himself a side stitch in disapproving of journalistic "mangling" of English while, at the same time, not criticizing his profession too astringently. His "Gosh, I do the exact same thing" commentary ultimately becomes repetitive and annoying: If Humphrys is guilty of the identical linguistic crimes and misdemeanors, and if everyone commits solecisms from time to time, and if people should thus be forgiven for the errors he finds so grievous, what is the point of the book?

Humphrys provides a reasonable analysis of general categories of malefactors politicians and advertisers, to name two and his overall point - that we are all too frequently hypnotized into believing that language has conveyed meaning when it has not - is well taken. It is in the specifics where he stumbles, and no more so than when he fails to address the most frequent rejoinder tossed at those who are alert to the necrosis that afflicts English: Surely there is a counter-argument to be made here the difference between the evolution of language, for example, which tends to be relatively slow, and the cleaving of language from meaning, a phenomenon that tends to be rooted in mass culture and which is no less fleeting.

Feb 01, Chris rated it liked it Shelves: For an English teacher, this is our bread and butter. One of the hardest things about teaching students English as a foreign language is the fact that the language is ever-changing. I try to tell my students that what is nailed down in the textbook is not "real" English. It's a useful variant of English that will help them get by until they can figure out what the real thing is, or at least which version of the real thing they want to end up speaking.

What surprises them the most is when I tell t For an English teacher, this is our bread and butter.

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What surprises them the most is when I tell them that even though I want them to pay attention to the rules of grammar, syntax, vocabulary and the like, they're going to run into native speakers who flaunt their ignorance of such things. That's where people like John Humphrys and I converge.

He has been working for the BBC for many years now, and has been watching English all that time. While not quite the rule-loving pedant that so many people imagine, he is worried about some of the ways that English has not only naturally degraded over the years he notes the emerging acceptance of "could of" and "would of" in this but also the deliberate use of language to obfuscate and confuse. Often it's simple evolution from generation to generation, and that can't be helped. But the more insidious change is deliberate. It's saying that people are not hungry, but have "low food security.

It is this kind of evolution that needs watching, and it is this kind of English that should prompt furious letters to the editor. Rather than sound off because the newspaper used a meaningless tautology like "future progress," it would be better to press our leaders to talk to us, rather than at us, to debate their points, rather than sell them. As though peace were a late-model Chevrolet that they were trying to get off the lot.

If you love your language, you'll enjoy this book Apr 18, Roshni Kanchan rated it it was amazing.


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The complete title is 'Lost for Words - The mangling and manipulating of the English language'. The author is very fair. He not only pokes fun at specific people and other professions for their contribution to the 'mangling', but also at himself as well as his profession.

Laughed out loud so many times. Thoroughly enjoyed the book. From the meaningless cliche to the split infinitive, Humphrys tackles the misuse of English by sales staff and politicians alike to persuade us and also to hide the facts. I shall be more careful about my use of words in future. Apr 03, Victoria rated it really liked it Recommends it for: This was a really amusing book about the abuse of the English language.

It is the perfect read for a pedant like me I often have to stop myself correcting the signs in shops! Jun 06, Lauren rated it liked it. The book jacket claims: I read the whole thing in a British accent in my head. I highly recommend that. Mar 31, Shafiyah Abdul rated it it was amazing.

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Lost For Words by John Humphrys

Politicians Speaking, well, you can listen to them but don't simply believe everything they say. May 15, Michelle Spaul rated it really liked it. John Humphrys tackles two of the world's bugbears about the use of words in everyday life. To start he shares stories of mangled English, poor grammar and the loss of meaning that results from both. He both laments the loss of subtly that results from the changing meaning of words and recognises that the language has to change.

Rather than make the case for a body to 'protect' our language, he calls for better education. Then he moves on to the way that people manipulate our language to say nothi John Humphrys tackles two of the world's bugbears about the use of words in everyday life. Then he moves on to the way that people manipulate our language to say nothing with as many grand sounding words as possible. If you have heard Humphrys interview a politician you will be familiar with the style and the source of his frustrations. While the second part of the book was more akin to a personal, albeit shared and well expressed, rant, it had me thinking and I have taken extra pains to avoid 'bullshit' in my business writing since finishing the book.

I am sure John would ask for no more. Mar 18, Raj rated it really liked it Shelves: This is a book about language. Subtitled "the mangling and manipulation of the english language", Humphreys is more interested in manipulation than mangling, although he has a a decent grump at the latter as well. It's when he starts discussing the mis use of language by business, politicians and journalists that you really feel his passion coming through.

A very informative read that helped open my eyes to the tricks and abuses that politicians in particular subject the language to, it's also This is a book about language. A very informative read that helped open my eyes to the tricks and abuses that politicians in particular subject the language to, it's also very entertaining, filled with anecdotes from the Today programme and beyond. Mar 05, Carpii rated it liked it Shelves: I read this shortly after reading Melvyn Braggs 'Adventure of English', hoping it would be similar.

In many ways it is, but it just doesn't flow as well, and ultimately isnt quite as interesting. I still kinda enjoyed it though. Humphrys is clearly very passionate about the correct use of English, but the book could have done with a bit more editing: Oct 18, Stringy rated it it was ok. Not quite my cup of tea. I agree with quite a lot of what he says, about how English constantly evolves yet we should always stand up for clear, understandable usage.

But his anecdotes weren't that interesting to me, and I found it too snarky to be an enjoyable read. Your mileage may vary - if you are a fan and are used to his style, I imagine it would read as being much funnier than it did to me. Jan 15, M. Although English is my second language, I have always been a stickler so I knew I would enjoy this book. John Humphrys put my thoughts into words.

No more loose talk

He is a great storyteller hence on numerous occasions when reading "Lost for Words" I was nodding and laughing. I also learnt a lot. It's definitely worth spending some time on even if you are not a grammar or spelling nazi.


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  5. Two crunch questions for me are what is the world that the young will inherit likely to be like, and what must education give them to let them make their way? We both want them to have a real-in-your-bones-knowing of how language works in its innermost ways, and I have no hesitation at all in giving them formal knowledge of that, for it will help them stand their ground against a world without bearings. Where we seem to differ is in the means for getting there.

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    I worry about versions of "grammar" as creaky conventions of another time, when other rules and kinds of respect had their place. It's a room kept locked for too long, too musty, too mouldy. We need air and light and movement, the means to keep up with the ferocious pace of change. Where you put "rules", I would put "regularities" - less fixed, open to change. And where you put "respect", I would put "ethical principles" - the means for navigating a difficult world. The young are highly sophisticated, and if they wrench language around and remake it to fit their needs, isn't that what, in other circumstances, we call creativity and innovation?

    Did you go home with apples instead, or ask "Tom's what"? You don't think inculcating out of date "rules" and insincere notions of "respect" is a likely means "to rumble those who would want to manipulate us", do you? And having given the young real means for understanding, would it be respectful to let them get on with it? Dear Gunther , Of course the young, like everyone else, should be free to "wrench language around". I don't want to curb creativity and innovation.

    Nor do I want us all to end up sounding the same. Teenagers have always had their own vocabulary - and a good thing, too. And I would expect the language used on the Millwall terraces to sound different from that used at an Oxbridge high table. Nor am I obsessed with rules for the sake of rules.

    I can't see why we shouldn't start a sentence with a conjunction or end one with a preposition. But there must be a common language we can all command to "stand our ground" and the issue, as you say, is how the young should gain formal knowledge of it. It's not happening at the moment, and vague talk about "regularities" and "ethical principles" is not going to help. A teacher told me that, when she left teacher training college, she did not know the difference between a noun and a verb.

    Another wrote on the bottom of an eight-year-old's essay: Dear John , You will agree that it matters how we use words: Rules imply rulers and ruled. Regularity implies that we have room to move. The idea of "regularities" allows for writing or speaking differently if you have a good reason for doing so. That achieves what you would like: I agree with you that schools should give children precise knowledge and insight: But should you be asked to design a website for a government department, your clients are bound to prefer this.

    Teachers now deal with this as a matter of course, and the English curriculum covers language in changing contexts. The complexity of language use is a mirror of the complexity of life. Dear Gunther , I'm not hung up on the word "rule", though as a rule I think it can be used without summoning up the spectre of class oppression. What all users of a common language need to know is that some discipline in how we use words is necessary, perhaps never more so than when we want to use them creatively and innovatively.

    Discipline does not limit: As Alexander Pope put it: True ease in writing comes from art, not chance As those move easiest who have learned to dance. My book is not about advocating mindless rules. It is about pointing out how widespread is the slovenly use of the English language and that mangled English impedes communication. Our readiness to accept indiscipline in language is an invitation to those who wish to manipulate it to hoodwink us.

    If people, young or old, are to be alert to this, I think they need sharper tools than your rather vague notion of regularities provides them with. They need to be able to complain about usage and explain why they are complaining. Dear John , Alexander Pope, as you know, wrote in the high era of Classicism, a time when rules really did rule!