Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

THE man from Railtrack said a surprising thing on the wireless the other day. He said that to avoid broken rails and accidents they were relaying track. It was as if he were in a relay race. The ordinary English way of stressing the word for `laying again' is to put a more or less equal stress on the syllables re-- and -lay. It is the difference between a clever remark and having to re-mark white lines on the road. (The more or less equal stress is also found in English words such as ice-cream; American kids all scream for ice-cream with a definite stress on the first syllable.)

Users of some computer software are familiar with a mechanism whereby an operation reverts to a standard preset pattern. This is often called a default. This I pronounce default. But I have heard computer-anoraks calling it a dee-fault. Indeed, I once shared a computer-training class with the lovable and unworldly A.N. Wilson, who thought that the teacher was saying D-fold, as if it were a cross between a D-cup and a centrefold.

I do not want to make a song and dance about the so-called regressive accent (or stress, since English is accented by loudness rather than length of vowel). It is just strange to hear people happily using English as if they were entirely new to it. …

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