Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Beware

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Beware

Article excerpt

My husband pointed with his stick, which he carries not to steady himself but to cudgel pedestrians out of his way, and said: 'What am I supposed to do about that?' His question was in response to a notice posted up on the wall by a platform at Vauxhall Underground station: 'Due to our works. Beware of noise. Beware of smell.'

It is part of the current conflation of the meanings of be aware and beware . The confusion runs both ways. That Underground notice was intended to make passengers aware that there would be noise and smell (of burning perhaps), so that they would not flee in alarm. A flight response would have been the appropriate one if instead the notice had said: 'Beware, Minotaur loose.'

In the opposite direction, the Met Office issues online maps with 'severe weather warnings' The parts shaded yellow give the warning: 'Be aware.' So the people of Galloway were recently told to 'be aware' of rain. If the warning had been orange, the meaning, according to Met Office conventions, would have been, 'Be prepared,' and if red, 'Take action.' I suppose it is good to be aware that it is raining, even if one if not preparing to put up an umbrella or taking action by doing so. …

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