Friday, 7 December 2007

A big ask

I'm currently reading John Humphry's excellent book "Lost for words - the mangling and manipulating of the English language". This has got me thinking about my own linguistic pet hates:

Firstly could people please stop using the phrase "big ask"? This is one of those insidious little ticks that have entered English language usage, with the verb "to ask" suddenly morphing into a noun. In particular, during ITV's otherwise solid coverage of the Rugby World Cup I noticed that a number of studio pundits insisted on using this phrase time and again. As the "Urban Dictionary" website tells us, "big ask" is generally used in sporting or business contexts. This makes sense, because rugby players tend to become businessmen after their playing careers and have subsequently picked up the phrase through their personal contact with corporate jargon.

Here's something else: the verb "to engage". This is not a case of misuse as such, but when used in a certain way "engage" is a verb that can irritate. Case in point: Kelly Holmes, the British women's Olympic 800m champion advertising a project to promote sport in schools. She was interviewed on television and must have used the phrase "engage young people" at least six times in the space of two minutes. There being plenty of perfectly good alternatives Ms Holmes could have chosen, such as "get young people involved", "attract young people to sport" or "get young people participating", etc. Thanks again to business jargon, the "engage young people" usage of the verb is becoming more common. Ms Holmes probably heard the phrase being bandied around by sports functionaries such as Lord Coe and thought she'd flog it to death herself. Though I suppose that the spirit of the project is ultimately all that matters and that I'm becoming more intolerant the older I get.

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