Lost for Words – John Humphrys

There seems to be a bit of a red thread going on here, what with all these language-related books, and you might suspect I have been influenced by working at the department of language and communication studies. Which I have, I’m sure. You can’t just blame my employer, though, as we got John Humphrys’ Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language in a three for two sale (or something) while on our honeymoon this summer, and I hadn’t started the job then. You might blame my employer for the fact that I’ve just read the book, though, I suppose.

Anyway, Humphrys’ book is basically a collection of examples, or at least that’s what it feels like, with a little discussion around each one and with some conclusions drawn from the evidence. It’s hard to disagree with the conclusions. It’s also hard not to laugh at times, especially when Humphrys reminds me of why I had to quit reading feminist literary theory. It’s because feminists manage to write this sort of thing in good faith and expect us to take them seriously:

Is E= mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypotheses that it is insofar as it priveleges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to us the possibly sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having priveleged what goes fastest.

(Luce Irigaray, apparently.*)

I can understand that women feel uncomfortable being termed a “chairman” or a “fireman” or any of the other “male” words that have been and are still current in our language(s). I just think that sometimes, perhaps, the so-called feminists go over the top a bit. And that quote is a keeper**, and even if Humphrys’ book did nothing else, providing me with that would still be worth the time and money.

But it does do more. It’s funny, frequently lol funny, and it’s intelligent. In short, it’s a good read.

A thought: I wonder if I ever split infinitives? Let me know if you spot any, will you?

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* Actually, one thing this book is missing – which is a major drawback – is proper references.

**The more I read it, the more the mind boggles. Especially at these “other speeds that are vitally necessary to us”.