viewpoint Small slips, if unaddressed, become big issues, says Ray Pearson

Fly the flag for good standards of English


s it old age or the experience of falling standards that focuses the ageing mind on matters which, in one’s

earlier years, one took for granted? Or is it because it used to be natural, with the old rote system of learning, that the rules of English were understood and followed? When I became a technical journalist,

the need to uphold these standards was obvious. As editor of various technical magazines, I ensured they were highlighted in editorial guidelines. Since I became a Chelsea Pensioner, and editor of our magazine The Tricorne ( uk/thetricorne), the failure to use the correct words in reference to the military has become more evident in print and broadcast media than ever. I cannot remember the misuse of the English language, when referring to acts of service and courage, being so prevalent as it is today. To what am I referring? One might

say there comes a time when the last straw breaks the camel’s back. And, for me, that was a reference by several major quality national newspapers, the broadcasting media and even a military web site – which should know better – that “65 Freemasons had won the Victoria Cross”. A small point, you may argue. But then so much around us consists of small points which, if not addressed, become big issues. As every military person will attest,

especially the 1,355 awarded the Victoria Cross or an award for bravery or service, they did not win it. It was not a competition of “first to the enemy trenches, lads, gets a medal”. It is awarded as a mark of respect and recognition, or given in honour of an

achievement through service or a courageous selfless act. Nailing down the meaning of courage is not easy. It can encompass so much: self-sacrifice, knowing the action one is taking may result in being killed; physical courage, where pain and suffering is ever present; and moral courage to speak out against injustice. There is no synonym of the word

award that has any connection to competition. Even so, there is a close affinity between the correct use of the words win and award, which confuses even Wikipedia as well as other sources. The two words can be used together in a sentence or separately. But their meaning is very different. To win is the result of competition. To be awarded a medal or prize is a recognition of an achievement. For instance, a person wins a race, the result of which is recognition by being awarded a medal. The NUJ code of conduct states a

“ 8 For all the latest news from the NUJ go to ” theJournalist | 9

This is not about grammar but the meaning and use of words. Words convey a special meaning that even scientists and academics cannot get right

journalist … “Strives to ensure that information dissemination is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair … does her/his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies”. This is not about grammar but the meaning and use of words. Words convey a special meaning that even scientists and academics cannot get right. How many times does one hear the phrase “It is five times thinner”? Times is a multiplication factor. One cannot multiply anything and make it thinner. The media, operating 24/7, is

so much more part of daily life so, if its standards are low and it doesn’t use English correctly, how can one expect the public, including school pupils, to know better? Another factor in this loss of correct

English is globalisation. English is becoming Americanised. While one can set the language on a computer to UK English, there seems to be a little bug that often prefers American English and suddenly, without you noticing, there is a subtle change in spelling. Interestingly, many places, including France, Quebec and China, have programmes or laws to protect their language. In America, the English Language Unity Act of 2017 has been introduced into the House and Senate to establish English – really American English – as America’s official language. So, to protect the Englishness of our language, check your editorial guidelines.

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