Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Words in vogue : whinge

Whinge : to whine, to complain peevishly; an annoying complaint
Whine : a shrill protracted cry, to cry in a subdued plaintive tone

Whingeing (or whinging - but I think it needs the 'e') and whining is what many of us, me included, accuse our children of doing all the time. (How do they learn so young how to strike that particular high tone and falling note? It gets attention but it's surely so irritating as to be counter-productive!) There's also, of course, that antipodean insult, "whinging Pom" - the Brit who is never satisfied with anything, and always complaining.

It's a word which seems to be getting a lot of airing at the moment. If anyone protests about anything, they can expect some commentator to describe them as "whingeing". I am thinking particularly of it in relation to protests at library closures, but I've seen it recently aimed at a wide variety of others too. It seems quite inappropriate to me, as angry people protesting at perceived injustices are not usually peevish or whiny, they are merely expressing a different point of view from that held by the insulters. We do, after all, still live in a society in which people are free to express a variety of opinions.

I don't mind the "whingeing Pom" jibe, but I do mind the spreading practice of dismissing legitimate complaint and protest. The clue as to why it is an unpleasant insult lies in what I said about children. It's an attempt to belittle others (by the implied likening of them to whiny children). Let's all agree to disagree without these unlovely attempts to disparage the views of others. I'm going to try not to use it at all - even under duress from child!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Punctuation as a weapon : or, the inverted comma rampant

I've been becoming increasingly conscious recently of the use of language to make a point. I don't just mean the actual words used, but their context. Anyone with an Internet connection can broadcast their views to the world at the press of a button. I'm all for free speech, of course, but I'm not so keen on reading a lot of spitefulness.

One thing which seems to be happening quite a lot is the use of the inverted comma (quotation marks, sadly also known as "quotes" - ugh) to belittle and demean whichever group of people are the target of scorn. Thus, James Delingpole on public sector "workers" here and Tim Coates on the "profession" of librarianship here are trying to convey the ideas that people in the public sector do not actually do any work, librarians are not worthy of the adjective professional, &c.. Jacob Rees-Mogg's articles are chock-full of inverted commas, to the extent that it's quite difficult to see which bit of what he is saying you are not supposed to be taking at face value. (He sounds cheerful enough, though, so perhaps he isn't really having a go at anyone!). This blog by "categorically not the other one" captures his habit nicely.
Has the inverted comma become the weapon of choice in the blogosphere? Has it replaced terms such as "so-called"? I'd be interested in any other examples people come across - I've only mentioned a few which spring readily to mind, and I'm sure there are a lot more out there!