Abuse of language


My wife Angela, is a Learning Consultant who is, in my estimation, one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen for the age group she covers. When she worked in the UK education system, she often brought children from being barely literate to over three reading grades forward. For this alone she has my total awestruck respect and admiration. In her field I consider her an unsung genius.

Sometimes though, I have to raise my hand and say “No.” This should not detract from who she is or what she does, more to some in her profession who should be taken back to Junior High to learn the proper use of language. Failing that, beaten soundly with a copy of the OED, all twenty plus volumes, including the appendices until some sort of vocabulary sinks in.

Today’s foul neologism is ‘Languaging’. A war crime of a word if ever one was uttered. Essentially it’s an invented adverb, a polysyllabic nonsense to describe how language is used and perceived emotionally to convey ideas to children. In my English literature classes of long ago, we were taught to use the terms ‘context’ and ‘subtext’ to describe such usage. Inventing a term like this speaks to me of someone who can’t be bothered to pick up a dictionary.

My complaint stems not from the invention of the offending collection of semi-random syllables, but the $60 dollar a ticket price tag for a seminar to learn how to use ‘soft’ language and concepts to convey ideas to children. Angie was trying to persuade me to go to a seminar in Vancouver to see what the inventor of this bastardisation was saying. I declined. Sixty bucks is a lot of royalties right at this moment.

In addition my initial reaction to the word, which almost had me roaring with laughter, might have been a marital mistake. Angie became quite defensive and went into intellectual counter-attack mode. We occasionally fence with words and ideas, just for the fun of it, but this little bout had a different tone, like I had challenged something she valued and cherished.

In the end I conceded that this might be the vocabulary of the online world she inhabits, but with the rider that whilst English as a language evolves, that particular term should be buried in a deep Thesaurus at midnight with a figurative stake through its suffix.

Inventing terms for things which do not currently exist is for the creators of fictional worlds, and certainly not in the purview of educators. Language is a toolkit to give ideas shape and form, not for blurring the edges to create some pink fluffy la-la version of real life, then present an infantile world view as factual. Such usage only cheats the children it is used to teach because they are not being properly equipped to deal with the world.

My own point of view is that children will read what stimulates their imagination. Sometimes what children need to get them reading is perhaps not what their educators desire. Dressing it up with terms like ‘Languaging’ doesn’t help.

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

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2 thoughts on “Abuse of language”

  1. I’m just browsing around and stumbled on by random chance, but this is an interesting post. I, too, become frustrated with language abuse. I’m a teacher of English and quite passionate about languages and enjoy learning languages, so it distresses me to see the way languages are often treated now, especially English, and what seems to be its deterioration after repeated and long-term abuse… Sad. Anyway, just wanted to say that I appreciate your post. (o:

    1. Heavy sigh. I spent my commercial life listening to abuses of English like this and such usage often drove me to distraction. To me it seems the only reasons for abusing language like this are a) Self importance and b) Ignorance of English like wot she is wrote.

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