Speaker by Various Artists

New Zealand's Leading Linguist Discusses Public Address

by David Haywood

There are few things I enjoy more than sitting down and reading Frank Haden's journalism. He is, of course, renowned for his balanced and insightful political writing. But, frankly, if you'll pardon the pun, I think I enjoy his linguistics column Words Worth even more. It's so satisfying to see Frank laying down the law, and sorting out those pointy-headed academics who have the nerve to call themselves language experts.

I was delighted, therefore, to open my weekend newspaper and find that Public Address had received a mention in the Words Worth column. Fairfax New Zealand have kindly given me permission to reproduce it here. I do so in the hope that it will offer some much needed guidance to the Public Address 'bloggers'.

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WORDS WORTH with Frank Haden

Although I never read Public Address, I have long been concerned with its role in the decline of correct English usage in this country. The letters given below -- just a few of the many complaints I have received about this website -- show why we should all be worried.

Douglas Myers of England writes: Whenever I hear Russell Brown on the radio, he seems to pronounce the word 'often' as "offen". Neither my nanny nor any of my tutors at my exclusive private school used this pronunciation. Is this just a quirk of Russell's state school accent -- or is he simply wrong?

Frank Haden responds: This question can be answered by recalling that the word 'often' is an oxymoron. This simply means that it is a new word which is made up of two existing words joined together. In this case, the component words are 'oft' and 'en'. 'En' is, of course, a preposition -- a word made up of only two letters -- and, as such, should never be 'stranded'. It is therefore quite incorrect to pronounce 'oft' with a silent 't'. Mr Brown would do well to remember his own basic errors before referring to leading New Zealand linguists such as myself as "nutters".

Susan Wood of Parnell writes: In a recent 'blog' David Slack quotes Descartes as saying "Cogito, ergo sum". What on earth does he mean by this? I understand the word 'sum', but the rest just seems like a foreign language!

Frank Haden responds: Academic linguists will tell you that English is a Germanic language. This is entirely wrong. It is actually descended from Greek and Latin, although it should be noted that the Ancient Greeks and Romans were not the slovenly 'dagoes' that we know today. They were more like British people. Mr Slack, as with so many other white-anting intellectual terrorists, has just joined together a string of meaningless syllables in order to make himself appear clever. It sounds like Latin or Greek, but it's not. Descartes -- who was born in Glasgow, and who only spoke English -- was actually famous for saying: "I think, therefore I am". Translated into Latin and Greek (it is the same for both languages) this is: "Iway inkthay, ereforethay Iway amway".

Katie Drager of Diamond Harbour writes: I was interested to read Damian Christie's comments about the Malibu Bomber. I have always wondered about the Malibu Bomber's famous manifesto which ends: "Meet my demands or I will blow up the whole of your motherf**king beach community". Surely this isn't grammatically correct?

Frank Haden responds: Like many terrorists, the Malibu Bomber seems compelled to split his infinitives. This is quite misguided, and will only make educated people lose sympathy with his bombing campaign. The correct way to communicate his message to the citizens of Malibu would have been: "Meet my demands or I will blow up the whole of your beach community, motherf**kers". Damian Christie should know better than to reference such ungrammatical rubbish in his web-log.

John Campbell, formerly of Wellington, writes: I adore Tze Ming Mok's marvellous poetry and prose, but in a recent blog I was disappointed to hear her admit that: "I punched Keith on the arm". This hardly seems appropriate.

Frank Haden responds: I quite agree. Unfortunately, like the offspring of many recent immigrants, Miss Mok has gone in one generation from pulling a rickshaw to writing poems and essays for so-called 'literary' magazines like Landfall. As a consequence, she seems to think she knows more about English than real New Zealanders such as myself and Max Cryer. She doesn't. Miss Mok is blissfully ignorant of the fact that the word 'the' is a vowel. Since English is what we call a CV language -- where vowels are alternated with consonants -- then the correct sentence should be: "The arm, the Keith, I punched". If Miss Mok has this much trouble navigating the English language, then one can only imagine what she's like behind the wheel of a car.

Jude Dobson of Auckland writes: I am a huge fan of Che Tibby's blog, but I've never been entirely sure what he means by 'metics'. Can you help? By the way, is it true that you can catch Hepatitis 'C' from shearing?

Frank Haden responds: Dr Tibby's qualifications have obviously not been awarded on the basis of his spelling. He actually means to use the word 'metrics'. This kind of schoolboy howler is inexcusable, particularly from a member of the medical profession. 'Metrics' is an adjective which describes the system of weights and measures invented by Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr Bonaparte also introduced the Acadamie Francaise, an organization which provides severe fines or even prison sentences for misuse of the French language. Of course, the politically correct linguists in this country would never dream of doing the same thing for English. I wouldn't want to live in France -- they eat too many onions -- but I think the French do have a point in terms of linguistic purity. And, yes -- since you ask -- I know of several people who have caught Hepatitis 'C' from shearing. It can also be transmitted via toilet seats.

Wayne Mapp of the North Shore writes: I think Jolisa Gracewood is a terrific writer, but I recently read that she has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. This sounds as if it might be a type of political correctness. Should I be investigating?

Frank Haden responds: Yes, you certainly should. 'Ms' Gracewood is a well-known radical who is at the forefront of a campaign to destroy the New Zealand way of life. Comparative Literalists (as they call themselves) have no regard for grammar or punctuation, and encourage the kind of lazy attitude that has seen New Zealand perform so dismally in the Melbourne Commonwealth games. For example, in her regular radio broadcasts, Ms Gracewood can be heard to pronounce the word 'sea' as if it rhymes with 'see'. It should, of course, be pronounced to rhyme with 'say'. Otherwise the opening lines of Shakespeare's famous Sonnet LXV: "Oh, I do like to live/beside the seaside/beside the seaside/beside the sea" would hardly make sense as a piece of poetry. Ms Gracewood's qualifications from Cornell University prove nothing more than the fact that she is a show-off. It is all very well to talk about literature, but it is a dangerous distraction when it is at the expense of our sporting achievements.

One wonders whether we would have lost the America's Cup if it weren't for Ms Gracewood and the rest of her 'comrades' at Public Address. Slovenly English has always been the enemy of athletic prowess, as it is of good singing articulation, and of healthy bowels.