Because I have been feeling below par, and spending a lot of my day doing not much, I have had time to get irritated by little things.
One is the modern custom of printing ALL instructions, be it for setting up electronic equipment or taking medicine, in something approaching 6 point. OK I know my eyes are not in the best of shape, but I defy anybody over the age of 50 to read these instructions easily. I suppose I should get some specs designed specifically to read very small print. In the meantime I now have magnifying glasses in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
I find it particularly inexcusable when the instructions are for taking medicine. So here I was at the breakfast table, with my kitchen magnifying glass in hand.
My second moan is perhaps less excusable: why do almost all men leave the lavatory seat up? I will exempt Chris – but then maybe I have forgotten nagging him in our early years together! I currently have guys sorting out the subsiding terrace outside my bedroom and get irritated each time I go into the bathroom. I’m not even sure if my irritation is defensible. Why should one half of the population demand that the other half leaves the seat in a position which suits them? But if nothing else, I find the sight of a lavatory bowl without its seat down distinctly undressed.
My third moan displays something of the crankiness of someone brought up in a different generation. This morning I heard a BBC journalist saying – yet again – “the majority of” when I would have said “most”.
An early proponent of using familiar words where possible was Sir Ernest Gower in what was, in 1948, a classic guide on the use of English. He acknowledge that there were often good reasons for importing foreign words into our vocabulary, particularly when we did not have a good equivalent. He gave a list of words (including “the majority of”) which tended to be overused in official documents rather than the every day equivalent.
When I was a young reporter in the sixties our paper had a style manual (which sadly I cannot find) which said much the same thing. In particular we were told to avoid words of a Latin origin (“the majority of”, “prior to”, “erect”) if there was a good anglo-saxon equivalent.
Ahem, I can still hear the news editor, a man of more basic language than the editor, pronouncing in a loud voice in the news room: “There is only one thing that is erect – and it is not a building…”.
Well, in those days it was a question of resisting the tide of ‘official’ English and replacing it by every day language. The problem now is that these words are no longer the sole province of council officials. Every time I hear “the majority of” used in a context which is not about comparing figures I grimace – particularly when the speaker does not know whether to follow this by a singular or plural verb.
Pedantic, eh? Mais non. It is about the regret that English is increasingly sloppy, without a sensitivity to the nuances of choosing one word rather than another.