02 October 2009

Politics and religion

It's not often you'll catch me discussing politics or religion. Certainly not in public, anyway. Perhaps it's because, in terms of the first, I just can't make up my mind any more, having been let down so often in the past, like a lonely spinster; in terms of the second, I've made up my mind, but I don't really want to offend anyone unnecessarily.

Or, perhaps, I'm now old enough and wise enough to know it's best to keep my mouth shut on both thorny subjects, especially at family get-togethers, and especially when booze has been imbibed. Ah, Christmas 2007...

So anyway, I surprise myself to be drawing to your attention yesterday's Thought For The Day, from the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Newly woken and face still puffy with sleep, I was caught somewhat unawares and it took me a very long time (until the first mention of the Bible, actually) to realise there was a religious undercurrent as I perked my ears up to the talk of grammar.

"...when I was at school we were encouraged to be a bit suspicious of adjectives. Rules of syntax kept them firmly in their place. An adjective qualifies a noun or pronoun. They are not the important words like verbs: 'being or doing words', or nouns: 'names of persons, places or things'. For all their flamboyance they don't really tell you much. They may make you feel vital, vibrant and vigorous, but in fact their content is often vain and void. They represent aspirations, worthy ones, perhaps, but they don't come with dates, times or budgets; they are wonderfully cheap because they float free of concrete reality. They soar like helium balloons, raising our sights, but not delivering anything except, perhaps, hot air..."

It's interesting, this. I, too, GCSE guinea pig that I was (so grammar wasn't really up there on the curriculum's list of important skills to learn in English Language class; preferred were exploring abstract ideas and presenting your work at the front), was taught to be unliberal with descriptive words, and henceforth I've shied away from overly flowery prose and quickly developed a tendency to run screaming from anything written before 1950. (I'm getting better, but Thomas Hardy still brings me out in a cold sweat.)

I also find that excessive use of adjectives sees me getting my ersatz (now, that's a good adjective) red pen out straight away when I'm editing and have to cut to fit. Well, spurious adjectives and shit copy and crap structure.

Anyway, the full TFTD is here if you follow this link, and you'll see it sits in a wider context of politics, just to complete that circle of doom.


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