Monday, 12 August 2013

Costume Drama in Modern English

 My point about "the White Queen" (BBC1) was not that I didn't like modern language versions or employing the writer of "Shameless" to write about the fifteenth century. The reverse, really.

 Is the BBC's aim to attract a younger audience? To a ten-part period drama? I doubt it will work. A better approach might be to do it in strikingly modern English. So that it looks like a conscious decision, comparable perhaps to setting Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" in the Yugoslav civil war.

 As it is, it just seems as if they are not sure whether it is period or modern. And they forget and get it wrong all the time.

A White Queen for today

 "The White Queen" (BBC1) looks pretty good, if very dark with only candlelight. But at least I don't keep shouting, "Switch the light on!" at the TV as I do with Scandinavian murder mysteries. Unlike the lighting, though, the language is very modern. We have "Who eltse?" with that epenthesis (extra 't'); we have things like: "That 's the safest option". We even have upspeak!

 But best of all we had Lady Margaret Beaufort praying and speaking directly to God: "Give me a sign. I need a sign right now!" Beyond Downton: spiffing stuff! 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Posh Options - discreet vs discrete

 When I first heard, or rather read,  "discrete" - it must have been in the 1960s or 70s - it was in an academic context and specifically that of language study or linguistics. Even then I wondered , I am pretty sure, if it added anything to "separate". But it did: it added a certain "cachet". Or would that now be spelt "cach√©"? (Btw, you will sometimes hear "a cach√© of weapons", nowadays.)

 Recently the spelling is showing signs of taking over from "discreet", defined in my Collins Cobuild as "careful to avoid embarrassment". (The pronunciation has not changed, and so remains the same for both, as far as I have observed. ) Those who use it like this, I would have been tempted to say, give themselves away: they cannot be real writers, or even readers, certainly not of quality or academic material. That now sounds a very snobbish thing to say. I apologise. You read it (when you might have expected "discreet") in the "quality press" and on websites that should know better (oops, sorry again).

 But, talking of snobbery, is it not part of what you might call the trend towards  "the posh option"? Those trying to impress use what they take to be a posher, a more distinguished word? It might be "word inflation", where a longer word is used, a syllable added, "competency" for "competence", for example. Or it might be that "fulsome" is thought to be a more substantial version of the rather plain "full". Or maybe a certain spelling is seen to be, as here, more learned. Of course, spellchecking and autocorrecting software creates further confusion with apparently authoritative but in reality, foolish and literally (ie in fact) brainless suggestions.

 I am not, of course, talking about long-established forms such as "transportation", even where "transport" is perfectly adequate. This is now used by UK local authorities, I suppose, for its sonorous effects. I have given up saying silly things like, "Surely we don't want to revive the penal colonies?"

 By the way (btw, earlier, sorry again), there is a subtle little joke about this in Patrick O'Brian's "Desolation Island". Aubrey is outraged that his new command, "the horrible old Leopard", is to be used for transportation. Is that not the prime purpose of a ship, asks Maturin, in apparent innocence.