29 September 2021

"Come here" or "Become more adjacent"??


When and why did these words supersede the verbs 'to place' and 'to find' and their derivatives? 'He located [=placed] the wine-glass on the table'. 'He located [=found] the lost sixpence under the table'. Two perfectly decent monosyllables with totally different meanings seem to have been replaced by a single ambiguous latinism, thus affording opportunities for confusion. 

Latin Prose Composition (and, I suspect, its parallels in other ancient and modern languages) disciplined learners. You gave somebody the task of translating into Latin "What is your location?" You watched him flapping through dictionaries getting more and more worried. She then brought up to your desk some such nonsenses as "Quae est tua locatio? You then worried at him for a minute or two, getting her to think what the words 'really' meant, until ...Triumph of Paedogogy! ... he came back with "Ubi es?" 

Simple, clear, chaste, unpompous. Yet by diabolical malevolence, the Me-Important classes think that Latin is impressive ... so we get ad hoc and argumentum ad hominem and endless other latinisms which the poor silly fellows almost invariably misunderstand and misapply. Some of this may lie in the desire of clerklets to sound Important and Official. One train company (I'm not making this up) has this announcement: "Safety Information is located adjacent to the doors". I would have written "Safety Information is by the doors". 

 This is not simply a matter of words of teutonic origin being preferable to gallicisms, latinisms and grecisms (although it often may be ... I remember as an eight year old being - helpfully - advised to write begin rather than commence). The meanings of words have always been unstable: 'place' may itself have started its long life as plateia, the broad boulevard in Hellenistic town planning, upon which the confusions of Menandrian New Comedy were played out. The problem is not, I think, that curmudgeonly old retired Educators dislike linguistic evolution as that the evolution of modern English is dragging the language towards incomprehension and logical dissolution. You no longer listen to the words someone says, because they, in themselves, might give you quite the wrong 'take'. Instead, you attempt to guess, from context and tone, what the speaker might be getting at. And this is far more dangerous than allowing words to have meanings.


I am toying with the theory that the disintegration of our previous class-system may have something to do with it. Once upon a time, the gentle and the educated talked in one way among themselves; in a different way when addressing their social inferiors. (Does anybody nowadays ever read U and Non-U?) But today, We Are All Middle-Class. So everybody wants to sound Latinate ... and, for those who do not know Latin, that, poor things, is quite burden. But they work manfully at it, and for all their pains just end up looking silly. In the previous culture, only those who had done their mensa mensa mensam risked Latin. Now everybody has a (disastrous) go at it.

A fairly recent example: mitigate and militate. I was once at a Planning Enquiry where there was much talk of mitigation ... which, perfectly correctly, was used to mean moderating, making less dreadful, the results of building a new railway line: mitis+ago. But there is a similar word militate, which means fight: miles is a soldier. So now you hear poor confused people (ex.gr. Nicola Sturgeon the other day) talking about "mitigating against X". And I have not the faintest idea what that is supposed to mean: does it mean 'fight' or does it mean 'moderate'? . Perhaps I don't need to. Perhaps I am expected just to register that (a) the speaker is in an unspecified way opposed to X, and that (b) she wants to say this in a posh way ...


And there is the disintgration in the understanding of how to construct relative clauses. As in "This is the thing which everybody wants it." Very Semitic ...


Simon Cotton said...

Similarly, the word 'amount' seems to have replaced 'number' in the vocabularies of many.

Aegidius said...

I recall whiling away a journey in the Underground by musing on notice above the exit doors which read "Passenger Emergency Alarm located in Opposite Doorway". Paring words away one by one (and thinking of William of Occam) for instance, Why do you need the word "emergency" : for what other reason would you have an alarm? by the time I left the train I had reduced the seven-word (18 syllable) notice to "Alarm opposite".

Perhaps more worrying are those who assert that they prefer the Kyries in the original Latin rather than English.

Friedlon said...

"Instead, you attempt to guess, from context and tone, what the speaker might be getting at."
Reliable sources informed me that this is the way women converse since Eve first met her neighbour’s wife, for the double advantage of credible deniability to ever have said something specific, and of keeping her husband in constant fear of sudden seemingly unprovoked outrage over things he never uttered knowingly.
Thus, the tendency to expressional imprecision may be a consequence of the feminization of public discourse.

Jhayes said...

“ Triumph of Paedogogy! ... he came back with "Ubi es?"

Quite right, Father. But that is more dynamic equivalence than formal correspondence. Would Cardinal Arinze have approved (Liturgiam Authenticam, etc.)?

vetusta ecclesia said...

Funny thing, translation. “simile modo ” = “ likewise”, no? But in the improved Mass translation Rome ( I believe) insisted on “ in a similar way” , presumably because they thought it closer to the Latin

PM said...

Would Mr Johnson, I wonder, be brave enough imitate Churchill and send a piece of bureaucratic gobbledygook back to the department asking 'Please translate into English'?

PM said...

More seriously, I agree that this pseudo-Latininity introduces into English a vagueness and flabbiness entirely lacking in real Latin, that most logical of languages.

ALDU said...

"Decimate" when the speaker/writer means "devastate".

Grant Milburn said...

I think that the flood of Latin into Anglo-Saxon has always been a challenge for some: think of Dogberry's nightwatch comprehending two auspicious persons.

When choosing words as when choosing technogy, there is always a temptation to go for the fancier option. Latin had a simple verb meaning to eat- edo- an obvious cognate of the English word. But French now says 'manger' from manduco, a verb which does in fact have an honoured place in the Roman Canon. (Or must I now say, no longer Roman but still Venerable Canon. But I digress.) In fairness, the Gaulish habit of dropping stopped consonants between vowels must have rendered 'edo' rather indistinct.

'What is your location' reminds me of a text message I sometimes receive: 'Mana posisimu?', sometimes calqued into English as 'Where is your position?' I think that the Indonesian idiom is felt to be more gentle and less abrupt than 'Where are you?'

I don't know about 'Where is your location' but I believe that 'Where is your position' and 'Where are you' are addressing two different situations. The answer to "Where are you?' is: 'I'm upstairs at Macca's in High Street. See you in ten minutes.' The answer to 'Where is your position' is: '22° 13' 24" S, 174° 45' 36" E, sailing North-East.'

Scribe said...

One recalls that in the Prayer Book Communion service simili modo was elegantly translated as 'likewise'. Cranmer had his faults, but poor style was not one of them.

Greyman 82 said...

I have similar thoughts about the all-too-common "impact", both as a noun and a verb. I try always to use "effect" for the noun and "affect" as the verb.

Grant Milburn said...

Aegidius' application of Occam's razor reminds me of the Yiddish tale of the fishmonger who put up a sign outside his shop:


A helpful passer-by remarked that "fresh" implied that the fish arrived at least daily:


And- he was clearly selling the fish right there, and not across the street. And obviously selling them, not giving them away:


"Don't protest too much. If you insist the fish are fresh, people will start to suspect that they are not."


Perfect...until another passer-by pointed out that sight and smell rendered the one-word sign redundant.

John Nolan said...

I seem to recall from my military days the expression was 'send locstat'. I heard the following on the net during a night exercise on Salisbury plain in 1974:

'Hello one-one this is one-nine. Send locstat. Over.'
'One-one. Wait. Out.'
'Hello one-nine this is one-one. Locstat. Lost. Over.'
'One-nine. Roger. Out.'