Saturday, June 13, 2009

Language and Meaning

George Orwell would be chagrined, but not surprised, at the abuse of our beautiful English language by the media and advertising interests.

The Royal Bank of Canada television commercials extol the benefits of a new service plan. For $13.95 per month we get certain services including free cheques and free overdraft protection, and other no charge services. This is another version of the old joke about the person checking hotel rates. He is told that that the more expensive suite has free television.

The Ontario Government on May 14, 2009, ran a notice in the daily press about a proposed development of Highway 407. One sentence reads: "The pre-planning activities include planning and preliminary design." If pre-planning includes planning, what's planning all about?

When The Law Society of Upper Canada announces the disbarment of one it its delinquent practitioners, the reasons may be many. In its announcement, however, the Society mentions only the least trivial of the perpetrated behaviour. Rarely is there only one charge against a lawyer. Mentioning the least of the wrongs conveys the notion of an organization protecting the public at every turn.

The Globe and Mail recently welcomed its new Editor-in-Chief. The long statement praised the new comer, described his experience, and history. As for Edward Greenspon, the out-going Editor-in-Chief, the announcement merely said he was going on the "new challenges." Readers are left to read between the lines.

The media have been intimidated into describing a prostitute as a "sex-trade worker" and an abortionist as an "abortion provider." U.S. lawyers describe torture as "interrogation techniques."

People in law flatter themselves by referring to their business as the justice system, and our courts of justice. They are courts of law whose product may or may not be justice. Law is a process, justice the presumed goal of that process.

Hyundai commercials proclaim their cars come "loaded with standard features." That's a good start.

In half-inch bold red type, Flight Centre offers a flight to Athens for $235. Then in 1/16th inch black type "taxes and fees $513." Not to be outdone, Sunquest offers a vacation for $397 (again in half-inch type) then the sucker punch of $204 in taxes. What do travel people have against giving the full cost up front? Porter Airlines warns of "taxes, fees and surcharges" in a footnote. Failure to read the fine print will result in being stung in half-inch bold face type at the time of payment.

The "majestic vagueness" of the American Constitution (so described by The New Yorker) prohibits Congress from enacting laws respecting the establishment of religion. On the face of it, the amendment protects religions from government interference. Over the years, this obvious meaning has been turned inside out.

The self-styled tolerant members of the American Civil Liberties Union want banned all those crosses in Arlington Cemetery and any recognition of God on the U.S. one dollar bill. The foes of religion want destroyed all memorials to the war dead which display a cross or any other religious symbol. And we thought only the Taliban were so intolerant as to destroy other people's religious symbols. To their credit, the Taliban does not hide behind the baloney of thinly sliced legal niceties.

Around construction sites, we see posted signs alerting passers-by to Danger Work Overhead. It is a mystery as to what pedestrians are supposed to do as they walk under the scaffolding. Don't walk under the protected area? Be prepared to dodge falling construction materials? During the 9/11 crisis, the U.S. government to its citizens to enjoy the holidays but be sure to take precautions.

In its monthly statements, Bell Canada lists the client's choices among the plethora of options. This list includes a charge for Touch-Tone. The implication is that this is an option, when in fact it is compulsory. Strange, given that the old dial service (where it is still available) costs the company more to operate than Touch-Tone. This later should be included in the basic charge.

A new meaning to "battery" as in "assault and battery" was created recently in West Virginia. A suspect held for questioning in a police station "lifted his leg and passed gas loudly" and fanned the gas toward a policeman. The complaint: "The gas was very odorous and created contact of an insulting of provoking nature with the patrolman."

No comments: