Magazine article The Spectator

At the End O F the Day, We Can't Do without Verbal Padding

Magazine article The Spectator

At the End O F the Day, We Can't Do without Verbal Padding

Article excerpt

I had last week the pleasure of lunch with Mark Mason. Between or perhaps while walking (overground) the route of the London Underground for his latest book, Walking the Lines, he has been writing occasionally for The Spectator. I had wanted to discuss with Mark his piece ('It's so annoying, ' 5 November) about the viral spread of the word 'so' as a pointless means of starting a sentence or conversation. Dot Wordsworth, too, has been confounded by the fashion, and I reported the phenomenon many months ago in the Times; though on this magazine's letters page a weary reader has reviewed the great debate and concluded 'So what?'

So - well, what? Our lunch led me to a whole new speculation about language. If I'm right then I've wasted most of my life in a permanent Vesuvian eruption of indignation about meaningless words and phrases.

I've missed the point. They're supposed to be meaningless. Only now, late in my life, have I come to understand this important function of language: to say nothing.

Even as a teenager I was railing against the How-do-you-dos, Beg-your-pardons and Your-good-selves that could so much more efficiently be conveyed by Hello, Pardon or You. In my twenties my bugbear was prolix Americanisms that gave us the redundant 'currently' or the sloppy 'at this moment in time' (or, worse, 'as of now') in place of 'now' or even just the present tense.

My thirties, as I was introduced to parliamentary life, were spent in a waste of fury at 'I hear what you say, ' 'at the end of the day' in place of 'understood' or 'finally'; or berating 'I really must, if I may, with all due respect, Mr Deputy Speaker, take issue with the Rt hon, Learned and Gallant Gentleman' in place of 'I disagree'. My forties, introduced to the journalist's trade, found me equally scathing about the way things had always 'emerged last night' when they hadn't emerged at all, and certainly not last night. I earned my crust as a sketchwriter and columnist in my fifties wondering why Tony Blair thought 'It's time to move on' was a better way of saying 'No comSpeaker. . .'

needed to preface the saying of Thought must race around, and language must dawdle while it does this verbiage has a function, but the function is not to add anything new, but to act as a kind of bubble-wrap for the more valuable and often more brittle things we do want to say.

And (no need for that 'And' - is there? ) the second is that mindless, voguish verbal padding and circumlocution are not unique to our times, but as old as language. …

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