THIS CORRESPONDENT IS AGITATED by certain uses of conjunctions. My agitation has been aroused by the simplistic overtone prevalent in some journalistic house styles. In particular I refer to the practice of starting the sentence or paragraph immediately following the initial tantaliser with the conjunction ‘but’.
The maxim ‘keep it simple, stupid’ might well apply in certain business circles but I resent the practice described above: why must below average comprehension levels in the general populace constantly be pandered to?
For example, in the Daily Telegraph (August 24, 2011), Anne-Elisabeth Moutet writes:
‘The leaders of the French Socialist party may profess ‘satisfaction that justice was finally served in New York’, and claim that Strauss-Kahn can still take up his career where he left it, before that unfortunate incident with the chambermaid and the rape accusation. But don’t believe a word of it.’
In the interests of a ‘sound bite’ concluding phrase, the journalist has eschewed the convention of the sentence: her choice of words results in an unsatisfactory combination. This may seem a trivial matter to some, but what will become of written language if sentence structures are allowed to dissolve in such a way?
On a note probably more fraught with contention, due to the potential for subjective preference rather than rules of grammar per se, I draw attention to an article in the Independent (August 24, 2011) in which Andy McSmith writes:
‘Peter Ackroyd is the greatest living chronicler of London, particularly its seamy, violent underside. In an age when historians and novelists are encouraged to be pundits and personalities, you would think he would be in demand after recent troubles.
‘But for 24-hour news, Ackroyd is a wash-out.’
Disputing the validity of starting a paragraph with the conjunction ‘but’ may seem just a little too pedantic, but I uphold my contention on the grounds of some degree of standard language use. It is not enough to counter with arguments such as ‘this is the way that language is spoken’. Spoken language and written language can be two very different things.
Making reference to two supposedly more up-market British publications highlights the misconception that it is merely the proliferation of tabloid journalistic standards that exacerbates the issue. This is clearly not the case.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, expounds upon the notion of a ‘broken society’, but it is a broken language that affects a culture. I understand the argument that language changes, and I agree that language does change; however, this entirely misses the point that focuses on the fact that that change is not necessarily for the intellectual good. What transpires with just such a breakage of language is that the composition of prescriptive grammar, syntax and punctuation, in effect, decomposes. We are left with ‘social media language’ that manifests in examples such as ‘letz start a riot’ (as quoted by Nick Britten in the Daily Telegraph, with reference to a sixteen year old’s Facebook entry).
Without entering the argument for descriptive rather than prescriptive language use, the only conclusion that can be arrived at with any degree of cogency is that British society, at least, has descended into a simplistic linguistic morass. Journalistic standards must surely raise the bar, from their current position of pandering to the comprehension and attention spans of the populace, to aspirations of greater intelligence.
There can be no buts about it.
– Rafael Shareef
Britten, N. (2011), UK riots: 16-year-old accused of inciting riot on Facebook loses anonymity [online]. Available from: www.telegraph.co.uk (Accessed August 24, 2011).
McSmith, A. (2011), Peter Ackroyd: Rioting has been a London tradition for centuries [online]. Available from: www.independent.co.uk (Accessed August 24, 2011)
Moutet, A-E. (2011), Even the French won’t vote for Dominique Strauss-Kahn now [online]. Available from: www.telegraph.co.uk (Accessed August 24, 2011)