English is consistently confusing

Supplied picture

Supplied picture

One of the reasons why I have a fascination with the English language is because it allows its user to play around with it, as if it is a malleable piece of metal.

Depending on how much pressure is exerted on it, it can end up displaying play dough characteristics.

English is responsible for exposing our president as a less-than-average orator, especially when it comes to the way he breaks up words such as “dictionary” and the way he pronounces “country” as “cowntree” (yes, white people, I know you like that one, but us black people have developed a retort to that too: there is no pronunciation of the master).

Only English allows marketers to brainwash their audience with phrases such as “two in every three South Africans rate our product or service as the best they have ever used”, which is usually followed by a disclaimer stating just three people formed part of the survey.

The liberal use of the queen’s language allowed the government to use phrases such as “critical but stable” to describe Nelson Mandela’s condition, and doctors continue to baffle us all when they describe patients as “undetermined”. In Afrikaans, Xitsonga, IsiZulu and probably any other language, a person is either ill, recovering or dead and there is simply no grey area.

Speaking of murder, Oscar Pistorius will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he shot Reeva Steenkamp by mistakeā€¦ several times. Judge President Dunstan Mlambo granted the media’s request to be in the courtroom, but used rather interesting English words. He said the print media could set up two “unobtrusive” fixed still cameras to take still photos.

Most of us have had managers who claim to be “unobtrusive” but end up being all over our faces, all the time. Who is going to define what unobtrusive means for this trial?

The judge also ruled that no “extreme close-up” shots of witnesses, the presiding judge and legal representatives will be permitted. Again, what qualifies as an “extreme close-up” shot? Is this when we can count the number of pores on someone’s face, or are we referring only to when we can see large pimples?

A number of terms such as “premeditated” and “tragic accident” will cloud the laymen’s view of the trial. English is about to make this trial real interesting.


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