Of Loos and Language

Interested in the differences between American and British usage? If yes ,then do read Roger Cohen‘s delightful piece « Of Loos and Language ».Several years ago, Lynn Truss, the former host of the BBC Radio 4’s Cutting a Dash programme published an equally delightful book:Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation whose title derives from a well known amphibology :

 » A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

‘Why?’ asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

‘Well, I’m a panda’, he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. ‘Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves. »

Surely,Mrs Truss and Mr. Cohen are as aghast as I am at the American propensity to use « that » to refer to persons and to render obsolete the difference between « that » and « which » .As language is a symbolic way to express oneself, how can one express oneself correctly without correct use of the symbols? A mathematician misusing symbols is hardly likely to come to the right result.

2 Réponses

  1. Well done.good post.It is sad indeed as you point out that journalists use « that » to refer to people as in « the man that came to see me ».while « that » usually denotes a segregation of an object–the one in particular- it should not refer to people.How right you are to bemoan these abuses.

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