On Saturday 31st January Paul was thinking to himself, as he normally does. He thought of what to do the next day. Suddenly he thought about how he was going to tackle the problem of ‘Superlativisation’ or exaggeration in English language. People say ‘very very’ so that ‘very’ has lost its meaning. And ‘yes’ has become ‘absolutely’. This word absolutely should be used only occasionally.
People say a thing is ‘huge’ when what they mean is ‘big’. They say ‘It was very, very interesting’ when what they mean is ‘It was interesting’. The word ‘very’ doesn’t add anything to the meaning. The means of emphasis, according to Paul’s nephew James, no longer applies. It’s like we’re at the mercy of the text messages which are flying around the world. Every child has a computer and they communicate by text messages with each other. But as the messages aren’t actually spoken, because you can’t speak by computer, in order to say something was delicious you can’t just emphasise by stress of your voice so you have to engage in some form of exaggeration: ‘It was very very delicious,’ or something like that. My friend Cristina says that messaging on mobile phones has the same effect.
This problem exists not only in England but all over Europe. The culture and civilisation and language and literature of English, all the way from the beginnings through to Shakespeare down to the lesser writers like Paul, might be seriously damaged if Paul is right. In order to deal with what is an awful prospect, it is best to adopt the principle of Dunkirk. There was little chance of getting the British out of Dunkirk, but there was a tiny possibility that something might happen and the army could be saved. They went for this tiny possibility and it worked.
Paul knows a lot about English grammar. He taught at Stanton School of English. He also did Linguistics at Oxford; that meant reading Chomsky and Saussure. Personally he preferred the subject verb object theory to the subject predicate theory. He is also keen on modern English and knows that in modern English there exists ‘gonna’ ‘gotta’ ‘wanna’ but there is no word ‘canna’.
All these text messages buzzing around the world have put holes in the language. This is why such a simple word as ‘yes’ becomes ‘absolutely’.
Why should this happen? Why does even Paul feel a buzzing in his head and the temptation to say things wrongly? Why do even people like Carole Vorderman and Richard Whiteley, intelligent people who are conducting a word game show where the meaning of words is important, make such mistakes? They surely must know that what they’re saying is wrong?
So Paul had this idea and on the Sunday he gave up the chance to read his poem at his Poetry Group and spoke about his theory instead. He got support from Simon and a few others.
On the Monday Paul decided to go for it, in the Dunkirk style. Even though severely disabled and with just a phone in front of him, he phoned the BBC and they kind of agreed with him. He then phoned Channel 4 and they kind of agreed with him too. He phoned ITV and they just listened.
On the Friday 6th February it seemed his words had had an effect. Paul couldn’t believe it at first but when other people said it was working he began to believe it himself. Paul thinks it is important to preserve this beautiful language. Just one glance at the Oxford Dictionary will show you how beautiful it is. Why are we destroying the beauty of words by this needless exaggeration? By this exaggeration we lose the essence of what we are trying to say. If someone starts off with a big adjective like ‘massive’ or ‘huge’ it’s impossible to get larger. Are we going to say ‘very massive’ maybe? Words have lost their meaning in all this. Language doesn’t develop like this. Language becomes simpler over time not more complicated. This exaggeration is a trend that is alien to language. Why are we doing this? The only solution is through television because people may copy what television presenters say. We are all sheep, in a way. We like to talk like other people talk. Surely it is better we talk correctly rather than incorrectly as has been happening recently.
Paul has friends from other countries in Europe and outside Europe too. They are noticing the same thing as well in their own languages. Could two of the greatest inventions of recent times, the computer and the mobile phone, destroy civilisation? It seems kind of ironic. We therefore make a plea for people to follow what Paul is saying. We all contribute to this exaggeration and we can all do our part in getting rid of it.
From Paul Norton
Last edited by Casiopea; 06-Dec-2004 at 11:57. Reason: email address removed
The is a tendency for 'superlativisation', often driven by the excesses of our over-excitable media, but isn't suggesting that civilisation is in peril itself possibly an exaggeration.